Celebrating Bohra Tradition: A Journey With Taheri Delights
Image Credit: Avinash Mudaliar

Enter at your own risk! :)  This is a feast to die for!

This entire experience is rich and for the hungry only! 

Like the famous saying goes : “Be mithaas, be Khaaras ehna pachhi Bohra bhai nu bypass”

Which translates to….

“Two sweets/desserts and two starters and then the Bohra bhai had a bypass”

The experience however is one of the most amazing food experiences I have ever had at my home.

So a little background…

The Dawoodi Bohras, belonging to the Mustali branch of Ismaili Shia Islam, have roots in Yemen but have spread globally, influencing and incorporating diverse culinary traditions from the Middle East, Africa, India, Pakistan, and beyond.

The Dawoodi Bohra community, with a rich history spanning nine centuries, has significantly influenced its members' lives and contributed to their collective progress. Originating from the Gujarati term for trade, "vohrvu," the Bohras have established themselves as educated and self-sufficient traders, businesspeople, and entrepreneurs. They deeply value their cultural roots in the Fatimid imams' traditions, descendants of Prophet Muhammad, emphasizing a blend of traditional values and modernism in their lifestyle.

Their unique language, Lisaan ud-Da'wat, merges Gujarati with elements of Arabic, Urdu, and Persian, and is written in the Arabic naskh script. Bohras are distinguished by their religious attire, Libas al-Anwar, and the traditional practice of men growing full beards. Communal dining on a large plate called thaal during gatherings, and observing major Islamic festivals and practices like Eid celebrations, Muharram, and the Hajj pilgrimage, are central to their communal life. The majlis, a gathering for religious events, remains a cornerstone of their tradition, reflecting their deep-rooted religious and cultural identity.

Their cuisine, rich in history and flavour, reflects a blend of Arabic, Middle Eastern, Mughlai, and Indian influences, particularly notable in their adaptation of kebabs, tikkas, and other Mughlai dishes, alongside traditional Gujarati flavours, especially from their early settlements in Surat, Gujarat.

Food is central to Bohra culture, not just in the unique and flavourful dishes but also in the traditional ways food is prepared, served, and consumed. The communal eating from a large metal plate called 'thal' is a testament to their values of unity, equality, and sharing. This tradition involves the entire family sitting around the 'thal' placed on a 'kundali', with a 'safra' cloth underneath, emphasizing the importance of community and respect for food. Meals begin and end with a grain of salt for it's believed health benefits and taste-enhancing properties, and special occasions start with 'sodanna', a dish of rice with sugar and ghee.

Distinctively, Bohra meals often start with dessert, featuring sweets like Malida, lacchka, and Kalamro, followed by savoury appetizers and a full course meal, usually with a salad. Their cuisine is rich in rice dishes, from biryanis to various pulao, and specialties such as Bohra khichda, kheema khichdi, and mutton kari chawal. Soups, both cold and hot, accompany these rice dishes, adding to the variety and richness of the meals.

Meat in Bohra cuisine is typically boiled with spices before being added to sauces or gravies, a method that ensures tenderness and is reflective of Arabic culinary traditions. While beef is not commonly used, chicken and mutton are staples in their curries and other meat dishes.

One cannot discuss Bohra cuisine without mentioning the iconic Dal Chawal Palidu (DCP), a vegetarian dish that combines rice, lentils, and a vegetable stew, sometimes accompanied by boiled mutton for a non-vegetarian version. This dish epitomizes the fusion of flavours and traditions that define Bohra food, making it a unique and integral part of their cultural heritage.

We recently had the pleasure of hosting a Bohra meal at our home, catered by the remarkable Taheri Delights. Founded by the dynamic duo, Alifya and Aziz, Taheri Delights began as a modest venture but quickly gained recognition, especially after fulfilling an impressive order of 650 shawarmas for our community kitchen. This event marked a turning point, inspiring Alifya and Aziz to share the rich tapestry of Bohra cuisine and culture with a wider audience.

The evening was nothing short of magical, with Taheri Delights bringing their unique selling proposition – authentic Bohra cuisine – to our dining table, alongside an array of other delectable cuisines and baked goods. Alifya and Aziz's hosting skills were impeccable, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere that made everyone feel right at home.

Their culinary expertise was evident in every dish they served, each bursting with flavours that spoke volumes of their passion for cooking. The service was seamless, with Alifya and Aziz ensuring that every guest was attended to with the utmost care and attention.

What stood out most, however, was their deep-seated knowledge of the history and culture of Bohra cuisine. They didn't just serve food; they took the time to share the stories behind each dish, weaving a rich narrative that highlighted the significance of the cuisine in Bohra culture. Their insights added an educational and enriching layer to the dining experience, allowing us all to appreciate the meal on a much deeper level.

Thaal se Taal milaa….

Eating on the Thaal is a distinctive and cherished tradition among the Dawoodi Bohra community, reflecting their deep-rooted values of unity, equality, and sharing. The Thaal is a large, round metal plate, often beautifully decorated, serving as the centrepiece of communal meals. This tradition transcends mere dining; it is a ritual that fosters a sense of belonging and togetherness among participants.

The process of eating on the Thaal is ceremonial and follows a specific etiquette. Participants wash their hands before sitting on the floor around the Thaal, which is typically placed on a raised platform called a 'kundali' with a 'safra' (a square cloth) spread underneath. This arrangement signifies the communal and egalitarian spirit of the meal, where all diners, regardless of their social status, sit at the same level and share the meal from the same plate.

The meal commences with a pinch of salt, a practice believed to cleanse the palate and imbue the meal with positive energy. The Thaal is then filled with an array of dishes, often starting with sweets, a unique Bohra custom that inverts the conventional meal sequence. This is followed by a variety of savoury dishes, allowing diners to experience a wide range of flavours and textures. The practice of starting with dessert is symbolic, intending to begin the communal experience on a sweet note, fostering goodwill among the diners.

Eating together from the Thaal is not just about sharing food; it's about sharing experiences, stories, and conversations, strengthening communal bonds. The act of serving and being served by others reinforces humility and gratitude, while the shared plate symbolizes the collective joy and sorrow shared by the community. This tradition underscores the importance of togetherness, respect, and the communal spirit in the Dawoodi Bohra culture.

Moreover, the Thaal embodies the concept of moderation and mindfulness in eating. With everyone partaking from the same plate, individuals are more conscious of others' needs and are encouraged to eat in moderation, ensuring that there is enough for everyone. This communal eating practice also emphasizes the importance of gratitude for the food shared and the company present, making each meal a meaningful and bonding experience.

The Menu…

What was interesting is how a savoury dish was always followed by something sweet, be it a dessert or anything else 

- Namak: A traditional practice of starting and ending a meal with a pinch of salt, believed to cleanse the palate and reputed to ward off 72 types of diseases, according to folklore.

- Sodannu: A celebratory dish made from rice, ghee (clarified butter), sugar, and nuts, symbolizing a sweet start to the festivities.

- Sekelo Dudhi No Halwo: A unique preparation of Dudhi (bottle gourd) halwa enhanced with the richness of browned mawa, offering a delightful blend of sweetness and texture.

- Smoked Mutton Kheema Samosa: Crispy samosas stuffed with smoked and flavourful mutton kheema, combining traditional spices with a smoky twist for an irresistible snack.

- Apricot Prune Souffle with Vanilla Ice Cream: A luscious dessert featuring the creamy goodness of apricots and prunes, perfectly complemented by a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a refreshing finish. (The only Non- Bohra dessert. But the shuffle was super creamy and rich like any Indian mithai)

- Tandoori Bawda with Gravy: Slow-cooked mutton shoulder served with a rich and vibrant red cashew gravy, showcasing the depth of traditional tandoori cooking.

- Khopra Pak: A coconut-based sweet treat made with mawa, offering a dense and rich flavour characteristic of the classic Barfi but with a distinct coconut twist.

- Dabba Chicken: A luxurious dish featuring chicken in a cashew and white sauce gravy, adorned with eggs, tomatoes, and a drizzle of ghee, presenting a harmonious blend of flavours and textures.

- Chicken Kaari Chawal: Aromatic chicken curry prepared with a homemade spice blend, including cashews and fennel seeds, enriched with a touch of coconut milk, served alongside fragrant rice.

- Tandoori Roti Dunked in Paya Masala: Hearty mutton trotters cooked slowly in a flavourful onion-tomato gravy, enjoyed with freshly made tandoori rotis for a satisfying meal.

- Gosht Masoor Pulav: A layered dish featuring masoor (red lentils) masala and rice pretzels, combined with tender mutton and boiled eggs, offering a symphony of flavours.

- Tomato Soup:  This tomato soup is not your normal restaurant soup. It is essentially Bohri and goes well as a gravy with the Gosht Masoor Pulav. It sets the tone for the main course with its comforting warmth and simplicity.

- Gol Paani with Takmaria: A refreshing beverage made with jaggery, water, lime juice, and sabja (basil) seeds, perfect for cooling down and cleansing the palate.

- Paan Balls: A creative twist on the traditional paan, these balls offer the quintessential after-meal refreshment in a bite-sized delight.

- Smoked Dal Samosa: Another innovative samosa variant, filled with smoked dal (lentils), offering a unique and savoury taste experience.

- Masala Bateta Topped with Kokam Chutney: Spicy and tangy potatoes tossed in masala and topped with kokam chutney, presenting a delightful combination of flavours.

- Dal Chawal Palidu and Bhartu: A layered dish of toor dal (pigeon pea lentil) masala and rice, served with drumstick gravy and a distinctive version of Baingan Bharta (mashed eggplant), showcasing the diversity of Bohra culinary traditions.

In conclusion, the tradition of eating on the Thaal, beautifully upheld and showcased by Taheri Delights during our recent gathering, has not only enriched our dining experience but has also deepened our appreciation for the profound cultural heritage of the Dawoodi Bohra community. The meticulous preparation of dishes, the ceremonial presentation, and the communal sharing under the expert guidance of Alifya and Aziz have brought to life the essence of Bohra hospitality and culinary tradition.

We extend our heartfelt thanks to Taheri Delights for not just the delicious meal, but for the memorable experience that came with it. Their dedication to preserving and promoting Bohra cuisine, combined with their exceptional hosting and culinary skills, made our event truly special. We are grateful for the opportunity to partake in this unique cultural experience and look forward to many more delightful occasions with Taheri Delights.

It's important to note that this expression of gratitude comes from genuine appreciation, and is not a result of any paid promotion. All the food and services provided by Taheri Delights were fully paid for, and our commendation is based solely on the quality of experience and the deep cultural immersion they offered.

“When eating fruit, remember the one who planted the tree.”

—Vietnamese Proverb