Tag Archives: Sindhis

Stomach full of memories

Food can evoke memories, create a sense of belonging and define a person’s story. Dubai-based Prakash Dadlani takes a gastronomic trip down memory lane to relive all things sweet and nice about Sindhi cuisine.         

I was approached by one of my friends to share my thoughts and memories on Sindhi cuisine. Normally, I would have said no, but this time around, I tried to scuttle my way out of it by saying that I am not a foodie because that is what my daughter believes, and for obvious reasons. I show no excitement for food, and that earns her ire. She will happily give me a pasting (in words) if I do not react to her mother’s yummy food, which I normally don’t.

After having said no to my friend, I started pondering that am I actually not a foodie? Then who is not a foodie? I believe everyone is, albeit with varying degrees. I am privileged to be blessed with two amazing women who are wonderful cooks, and thanks to their culinary skills that I always have had the yummiest food served with love. Be it, my mother first, and now my wife, I must admit both have been a blessing. I can’t thank them enough. I am guilty of taking them for granted, though.

Since my friend’s request was to share memories, I had second thoughts. Nostalgia gives me a kick and brings a smile to my face. So I thought, why not pen my memories around Sindhi cuisine.

A majority of my life has been spent in metropolis cities that are melting pot of varied cultures. As you know, Sindhi’s aren’t a vast populace, so its food culture remains mainly under wraps. I had spent my childhood on the outskirts of Mumbai (then Bombay) in a place called Ulhasnagar, where I was born and did most of my primary schooling. Ulhasnagar was one of the refugee centres at the time of partition, and so it is dominated by Sindhis, who migrated from undivided India in 1947.

My earliest memory of Sindhi food was the breakfast item called Daal or Chola Dhabal (Pav). There would be enterprising people out with their carts with about three aluminium handis placed on a charcoal burner on the streets. One handi used to have cooked chana daal, another one chickpeas (super soft, treated with tea powder to give it a dark colour) and the third handi had moong daal. He would also have containers with finely cut onions, chutney, pickle and coriander leaves as condiments as per his clientele’s taste. He would have many ladis of pav (it was called dhabal – double roti in Bambaiya). It was the most filling breakfast for us on Sunday mornings.

Pav with either daal or chola or mixed. And this yummy delicacy cost just for 25 paise back in the early 70s. Yes, yes, 25 paise! Unbelievable, isn’t it. My parents sent me with a rupee note (it was a note back then) to get the daal-chola-dhabal for the entire family. And so was the popularity of this that you would find all neighbourhood lining up for this breakfast.

Check this video to see how popular this item was for Sindhis. It is not as widely available now, but the memories are so fresh in my mind.

Two other Sindhi delicacies that have retained their popularity are Daal-Pakwan and Koki. These are widely available in metropolitan cities (we get them in Dubai too) and are very popular amongst other communities. The drill for Daal-Pakwan is the same – handis with the same ingredients. The pav is replaced by deep-fried layers of dough made of maida and is deep fried. On the other hand, Koki is like a paratha but with onions and spices mixed with dough and roasted on tawa on low flame. It is served best with yoghurt. Both, Daal-Pakwan and Koki are mainly breakfast items but are quite filling.

Another lesser-known Sindhi food is lotus stem or Kamal Kakdi. We call it bhee. It’s a Sindhi delicacy and is not easily available in the market. It’s priced more than other vegetables. Cleaning and cooking it is a task. And you must know how to relish it.

My friend asked me why do Sindhis add potato to all vegetables. Well, I don’t have an answer to it. What I know is that we are fond of eating a good quantity of bhajis (veggies) at every meal. To increase the amount of the vegetables, you add potato to it as a universal add along. In fact, potato in black pepper and cardamom curry is a popular dish during the big Ekadashi called Gyars in Sindhi.

Another potato delicacy of Sindhis is called Aloo-Tuk; a simple dish that goes perfect with Daal-Chawal. Potato would feel left out, so we add brinjal for the company. And it reminds me of another Sindhi breakfast delicacy called Seyun-Patata (sweet vermicelli with Aloo-Tuk).

Another breakfast delicacy in our home (me and my brother’s favourite) is Seyal Mani. It is made of leftover chappatis cooked with garlic, onion and tomato. Such was the craze for this delicacy that my brother would tell mom to make more chappatis for dinner to have leftover chappatis for the following day. This dish doesn’t taste the same with freshly made chappatis. When I moved to Muscat for a job, I came across this dish called Kuttu Paratha. Similar, but nowhere close to the yummy ‘Seyal Mani’ that my mother used to prepare.

In the Sindhi festival called Thadri, you are not supposed to light stove/gas and have to consume cold food. Delicacies are thus made the previous day and consumed the whole day of Thadri. It’s a much-deserved rest day for ladies and family would have fun by playing cards and other games while relishing Thadri special food.

As they say, karoge yaad toh har baat yaad aayegi. The gastronomic trip has left me nostalgic and I food and those times. There are so many more Sindhi dishes viz. Sai Bhaji, Bhuga Chawal, Sindhi Kadhi, Tayri, and the list goes on and on. I now realise that if I start recounting and writing about all the Sindhi dishes, I will need to write a book.

Last but not least, the most popular Sindhi delicacy is and will forever remain – papad. It is believed that Papad is originally a Sindhi item and was adapted by various other communities, and Lijjat made it a household name in India. No meal would be complete without papad, and hence a Sindhi household would have papad as the first item on their grocery list. Papad making is a tedious exercise, and many Sindhi ladies used to make papads and pickles as business to cater to the heavy demand.

The most popular Sindhi delicacy is the all-time favourite papad. It is believed that a Papad is a Sindhi item and was adapted by other communities in India. No meal in a Sindhi household is complete without papad, and it is the first item on their grocery list. Paniwari Khatair or water pickle is another Sindhi speciality. It is made of turnips and doesn’t contain a drop of oil. 

So am I a foodie? I think I am now with all these memories gushing in. I just realised that Sindhis do have a long list of delicacies. My wife will surely hate me for placing a request for Seyal Mani and Gyars Patata, and I must thank my friend for making me revisit these lovely food memories. 

Jai Jhulelal!

(Cover image by Ritesh Uttamchandani)

Sindhi or not, Sindhustan tugs at your heartstrings

The maiden project by celebrity hairstylist Sapna Bhavnani is a journey to trace her Sindhi roots. The documentary uses food, music, and art forms – Ajrakh and Madhubani – as tattoos to narrate the displaced and dispossessed community’s poignant tale spread over generations.

“All I knew about my culture was Sindhi kadhi,” pronounces celebrity hairstylist and filmmaker in her documentary Sindhustan and on that note, she sets the tone of a poignant tale spread over the last few decades before and after partition to retrace her Sindhi roots. The ubiquitous flavour of vegetable-rich kadhi makes Sindhustan a delectable watch as it meanders through the lanes and bylanes of Sindhis’ memories, whose quintessential identity is synonymous with their kadhi that’s like no other.  

Trailer of Sindhustan.

The kadhi also becomes the documentary’s access point; Bhavnani’s aunt Kamla Thakur’s kitchen conversation and verses by the renowned 18th-century Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif becomes a crucial cinematic tool for the filmmaker. The unobtrusive camera captures her cooking, from start to finish, and the tedious kadhi-making process serves as a metaphor for Sindhis in general and Bhavnani in particular. It manages to create a steady simmer in the storyline, from the moment her aunt places tur dal in a cooker on the stove to painstakingly following the rigours, till it is ready to be served on a carefully laid out table filled with other Sindhi delicacies. The brilliant move not only adds a rich flavour to her storytelling, but the shots, panning in and out the kitchen, and shifting focus on the lives and times of other Sindhis, then and now, takes the story forward. “Food is something big for us, and so it made sense to weave the story around it. Kadhi is my favourite, and it was my only choice because it is also our identity in a way. Also, so many stories happen in the kitchen and around the fire, so it was my best bet,” tells Bhavnani.

The entire process of making a Sindhi kadhi takes about three hours, and Thakur, a chef herself, gives us a sneak-peek into the Sindhi household and tells us how Sindhi kadhi is different from other kadhis in the course of the filming. “It is made from toor daal. We boil it with tomatoes in a cooker, then seave and use the soup, cooking it on slow fire much like a mithai. It is nutritious as we put lots of vegetables in it,” says Thakur. 

Another thing that stands out in Bhavnani’s maiden project is the story that her legs carry – the fusion of two dying art forms, one from Sindh and another one from Bihar in the tattoos; while her feet reflect her rootlessness with an image of fish on each to show how the waves have given them a sense of fleeting sand, lashing it with memories, time and again.  The use of alta (red liquid dye) to decorate her feet and fingers is another fusion of culture that Bhavnani has used to her advantage in the documentary, and the ease with which she has used ink to tell the story of the largest migration of a culture in history is truly commendable .

“My one leg has motifs from Ajrak, a predominantly Sindhi art form. Here the cloth was first washed in a solution of water and ajrak berries. It was then steamed and stamped with wooden blocks injected with dyes. The printed cloth was then dipped in a solution of indigo and washed in water so that colours came out sparkingly bright. The other leg reflects the popular Madhubani art form from Bihar. The only common thing between the two cultures is fish. It is predominant in Madhubani paintings and also in ours because it is believed that our presiding deity Jhulelal rode a fish,” she recounts. The beauty of this amalgamation in her passion project makes Sindhustan a mini piece of art in itself.

The pain and trauma of those who lived and survived the painful partition echoes louder in each person’s account. Their sense of longing and belonging and connection with the land of their origin – Sindh – where they or their ancestors once lived tugs at the audience’s heartstrings.

Sindhustan is a must watch if you are a Sindhi because it has high nostalgic value.

It is even more important to watch Sindhustan if you are a non-Sindhi because it is a ready reckoner to understand a community that has been dispossessed and displaced but still retains its enterprising, industrious, zealous, benevolent and cosmopolitan nature transcending barriers of castes, race and religion.

Thakur is the go-to person for Bhavnani for food, and she loves to feast on her “Teevan, Sai Bhaji, Seyal Beeh Patata, and, of course, Kadhi on Sundays.” Also, don’t forget to feast on Sindhi kadhi that Thakur’s French neighbours in Paris referred as the water of gods. Bon appétit!

(Text by Shillpi A Singh; pictures from Sindhustan; the film is streaming on https://www.moviesaints.com/movie/sindhustan; it is also the official selection at the upcoming Wench Film Festival https://wenchfilms.com/)