A Bohra-style lunch

The Bohras are Gujarati Shia muslims, largely involved in business. My gateway to their food was the Bohra biryani and the many sweets, but then I discovered so much more. As the Bohra new year approached, the beginning of the month of Muharram, our thoughts turned to this cuisine. The Family dug into her contacts list and talked to a few Bohra caterers and decided to get the typical food with which you break the fast of Muharram; we broke tradition and had it for lunch. You see in the photo a box of khichda, a meal by itself, to be accompanied by a kadhi (in the bowl), kolu (pumpkin) and chauli (amaranth leaves). The meal ends with a halwa. I realized later that we got the food on the 10th of the month, the specially holy day of Ashura for Muslims.

The khichda is one of my favourite foods from the Bohra kitchen: a mixture of rice, broken wheat, four dals (chana, masoor, tuvar, and moong) soaked and pounded to a paste before cooking with mutton, served with a sprinkling of deep fried onion ribbons, ginger and garlic, and fresh mint leaves. The kadhi was mildly sour, the kolu was sweet and the garlicky chauli bitter. Its a great combination of tastes.

The freshest of food

A wonderful thing about eating in Kenya was the freshness of the ingredients. Two decades ago a person I used to meet often on wildlife trips in India was involved in setting up cold chains across the country. He was starry-eyed about the potential to bring fresh fruits and vegetables into the city. Now, when I see tasteless one-year-old tomatoes on sale in a supermarket in Mumbai, his words sound to me like the shattered dreams of internet pioneers. Kenya is not linked together by cold chains. The food is brought into markets as quickly as possible by those who grow them. The outcome is fresh and flavourful.

Neighbourhoods vendors in Nairobi have fresh produce, and even out on highways you pass long lines of green grocers. The one you see in the photo above is a typical shop. We bought a bag of oranges, like those you see hanging from the roof, and they turned out to be immensely juicy, sweet, but with the tartness of a citrus. We were looking for something to eat on the move, so we weren’t interested in the potatoes and onions , although they looked pretty good. I eyed the tomatoes longingly, I knew how good they were here, but the rest of the party was not interested.

The watermelon is great is Kenya, and it is possible to buy just a slice. Anthony had one while we dithered. The pumpkin caught my eye. I hadn’t tasted the pumpkin in Kenya yet. MONT made some at home later, and they were as nice as I could imagine they would be. I didn’t see pumpkin flowers on sale; that’s a great delicacy, but one that seems to be unknown here.

It was curious that there were no interesting new things to discover. Potatoes, onions, and tomatoes exhausted the list of vegetables on display. I’d expected to find lots of leafy vegetables: amaranth (lidodo in Swahili), cow pea (likhubi), even jute and pumpkin leaves, but they weren’t visible. Maybe there is some degree of specialization, and we needed to look for a different shop for those. But that was for another time. Now we’d found enough fruits for the journey.

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