Khoja food: This lesser-known cousin of Bohri cuisine celebrates a rich Iranian heritage
From kheema samosas, paaya to raan and muthiya, Khoja food is defined by the simplicity of its flavours. Though it doesn’t follow the same dining traditions as Bohri cuisine, Khoja food has the power to bring the community and families together.Updated: Feb 27, 2018 09:35 IST
Housed in a quiet Bandra bylane in Mumbai, The Curry Brothers has been dishing out family secrets through its menu. Right from daal gosht to kosha mangsho, the food here is sprinkled with stories from grandmums’ kitchens across the length and breadth of the country. Now, in a 13-day long festival (ending February 28), the restaurant is celebrating the lesser-known cuisine from the Khoja community.
Khojas follow the Ismaili branch of the Shia sect of Islam. The community is close-knit and is found in Mumbai, Kutch, Gujarat and Hyderabad. “My ancestors came to Bombay from Iran, via Gujarat. So, the food has heavy influences of Iranian and Gujarati cuisine,” says Neha Manekia, co-owner, The Curry Brothers.
The community is known for hosting lavish meals over the weekends and special occasions. Until now, the only way one could experience this cuisine was either at a Khoja home or at a wedding. “Our whole life centered around food. My father was a phenomenal cook and his day started with an 11.30am drink at the bar, followed by a few hours cooking in the kitchen, with Rafi playing in the background. He would make the raan, slow-cooked for four hours or the biryani, which was a Sunday ritual,” says Manekia. Naan chaap, raan, cutlets and fish curry rice were staples on Manekia’s Sunday table.
In an attempt to recreate these family traditions, Manekia has designed the menu to include traditional Khoja dishes such as bajra lasan (bajra roti topped with green garlic), kachche keeme ke kebab, khoja chicken biryani, paaya, among others. Ingredients such as dill (representing Iranian influence), tamarind (from Gujarati cuisine) and coconut are used in abundance. For instance, the kheema samosa has a generous sprinkling of dill leaves, adding to its smokiness.
“You’ll notice that some of these dishes seem similar to the ones found in Bohri cuisine, which is gaining popularity these days. However, there are subtle differences. For instance, we make muthiya, which are basically bajra nuggets mixed with coconut and the dish is cooked with mutton and vegetables such as broad beans,” says Manekia. The dish is similar to a Gujarati undhiyu, a winter staple. Even Bohris have a version of undhiyu made with mutton.
However, unlike Bohri food, which follows a certain sequence of eating on the large thaal, Khoja food traditions are more liberal, just like the community. “There’s always an element of sweet and savoury in our food. For instance, dal gosht chawal is typically eaten with a laddoo and gathiya,” adds Manekia.
Back to the roots
When Manekia decided to showcase her ancestral recipes, she got in touch with aunts in the family to help her find long-lost recipes. “When we started putting the festival together there were some recipes that were my great grandmother’s and they were written in Gujarati. The funniest thing was everything was written in “tepris” since standardised weights and measures didn’t exist back then,” says Manekia. “Tepris” was used as a unit of measurement, roughly the size of a can of Milkmaid.
Regional food has taken off in a big way over the last couple of years. Dishes from Bihar, Kashmir, Konkan and those belonging to various communities such as Bohri and now Khoja are moving out of family recipe books into commercial kitchens. “Until a couple of years ago people didn’t even know about Bohri food. So, now it’s time to explore beyond the butter chicken and kaali dal and dig deeper into the food traditions from different communities,” adds Manekia.
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First Published: Feb 27, 2018 09:27 IST