Aromas of Cutchi Memon delicacies
Anu Prabhakar peeks into a Cutchi Memon kitchen to find out what’s cooking and talks to the community’s ladies to understand the intricacies of the cuisine
It doesn’t take Sanah Gubitra long to throw a food challenge at us. “Try to find a small cooking vessel in my kitchen,” she says. We look on expectantly, until she finally chuckles. “You won’t find one,” she laughs. “There are only big cooking vessels in my house. We always cook food in large quantities and distribute it to our friends and neighbours. In fact, all Cutchi Memons are like that. They are very hospitable.”
Sanah Gubitra at her Bandra residence with bowls of Muthia, Naram Khichadi and Lapai (below), which is a popular Cutchi Memon dessert. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Cooking it right
A Muslim community which migrated from Sindh to Kutch in Gujarat, almost 400 to 500 years ago, Cutchi Memons are renowned for their love for food — something that is reflected in the way they talk about it. “Even while having breakfast, the conversation at the dining table will be about what to have for lunch,” says Sanah’s husband, Rizwan Gubitra, who is a trustee of the Cumoo Jaffer Girls School and College at Masjid Bandar.
So, in keeping with tradition, we carry our conversation about the cuisine to the dining table, where bowls of Muthia, Naram Khichadi and Lapai await us. The Muthia, which is consumed with dried fish or pomfret fry, has several elements — pulses such as chawli and chana, vegetables such as gawar, peas, potatoes, eggplant, the reddish brown gravy and steamed dumplings made out of bajre ka atta.
The atta balls crumble at the lightest touch. “We make these dumplings with our fists, hence the name Muthiya. Cooking them is the trickiest part as they should not be soggy or too thick,” says Sanah. The Naram Khichadi, a delicious rice and green moong dal-based dish, is usually savoured with malai, butter or milk. “The older generation cannot live without this,” says the homemaker. And Lapai, is a popular (albeit, now rare) Cutchi Memon dessert made using jaggery, asli ghee (in equal proportions) and sauf (or, fennel seeds). Just as we get used to the chewy consistency of the dish, a surprise is sprung at us as small, delightful pieces of coconut announce their presence with a crunch.
The history of Cutchi Memon cuisine
The cuisine has some Arab influences, says New Yorker Fareeda Kadwani, who was raised at Memonwada Road off Mohammed Ali Road in Bombay more than 60 years ago, with other Cutchi Memon families for company. Kadwani remembers it as a time when the women would travel in horse-drawn carriages draped in purdah, as they were forbidden from travelling alone after sunset. There are other memories too, mainly of food. Families used to draw out a huge bedsheet on the floor, where they would sit and share a meal. “Cutchi Memon recipes are passed down through generations. Kutch was a barren land where nothing grew, except dal and vegetables that didn’t need a lot of water to grow. There was no rain and people made and stored homemade pickles and papads, which they could use later. All this influenced our cuisine,” says Kadwani. “The China grass-based Ghaas ka Halwa is a very popular Cutchi Memon dish. I also remember at home, as a welcome drink, we used to serve Gur Ka Sharbat, which is a concoction of jaggery, basil seeds, lemon juice and pepper. Even our kadhi is different, which we make with malai. We add bhajias, pakodas, drumsticks and even papads to it,” she adds.
Lamb is king
At the Rizwans’, the vegetarian dishes may have left us impressed, but it’s the cuisine’s many non-vegetarian dishes that set it apart from Mughlai, Lucknowi and Hyderabadi cuisine. At the Cutchi Memon Jamatkhana near Minara Masjid in Mandvi, where marriages are held, serving the Yakhni Pulao, Zam Zam Pulao (with chicken, meat, meatballs and boiled eggs) and Dal Gosht (which is a must-have at a Cutchi Memon household, especially on Fridays after namaz) is almost a given, says Sanah.
Popular Cutchi Memon dishes Gosht ki Biryani and Teen Masala Gosht
The cuisine has a wide variety of kebabs — there is the Chapli Kebab, Kaccha Kheema Kebab and what is perhaps the mother of all kebabs — the Nargisi Kebab — which has a boiled egg coated with a layer of minced meat mixed with masalas, which is then dipped in beaten egg before frying.
Husna Rahaman, the author of the recently-released cookbook on Cutchi Memon cuisine, Spice Sorcery, explains that Lal Masala Ka Korma, Hara Masala Ka Korma and —Rahaman’s personal favourite — the tamarind-based Khatta Salan, are the three pillars of the cuisine. “The food is light and flavoursome. We grind our masalas at home with precision and a lot of care,” explains the Bangalore-based author.
Husna Rahaman, the Bangalore-based author of the cookbook, Spice Sorcery
To the community, lamb meat is king, as is evidenced by the number of lamb curries in Rahaman’s cookbook. “We like to throw our lamb into every vegetable curry and dal,” chuckles the author. Hence, there is the Teen Masala Gosht, Aloo Gosht ka Korma (which is also used while layering a Cutchi Memon biryani), Gosht ki biryani, Karela Gosht, Shikampur kebabs and Sara Masala ka Roast among many others.
Rahaman, who was born in Mauritius but raised in India by her grandmother, remembers sitting in the kitchen while her granny cooked, where warm conversations revolved. “I have travelled around the world and I can appreciate all kinds of cuisine. But when that plate of biryani is placed in front of you, that’s the one thing that reaches into the depth of your soul,” she laughs.
Lending a unique flavour to Cutchi Memon Cuisine
According to Rahaman’s book Spice Sorcery, must-haves at a Cutchi Memon household include cumin-fenugreek powder (made from cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, rice grains and husked Egyptian lentils/tuvar dal) and whole spice powder, made using green cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks and cloves. The other kitchen essential is tamarind pulp. Authentic Cutchi Memon dishes include Gur Ka Sharbat, which is a delicious concoction of jaggery, basil seeds, lemon juice and pepper and the Nargisi kebab, which has a boiled egg coated with minced meat mixed with masalas. Lapai is a popular Cutchi Memon dessert made using jaggery, fennel seeds and ghee.
Afghan kebabs (Baked spiced lamb)
>> 1/2 g boneless meat cut in one-inch cubes
>> 2 tsp garlic paste
>> 2 tsp ginger paste
>> 9 dry whole red chillies
>> 2 tsp cumin powder
>> 1 tsp carom seeds
>> 1 medium-sized onion, ground
>> 3 tbsp yoghurt
>> 2 tbsp vinegar
>> 10 one-inch cubes each of raw papaya
>> 2 egg yolks, well-beaten
>> Salt to taste
>> 1/2 cup oil
The Cutchi Memon cuisine has a variety of kebabs, such as Afghan Kebab
>> In a bowl, make a paste with the garlic, ginger, cumin, whole red chillies, carom seeds and ground onion. Use your hands to smear the meat thoroughly with the paste. Make sure that the meat is well massaged. Add the raw papaya to tenderise and leave it for a couple of hours in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
>> Remove the papaya before you place the meat in a cooker with 4 tbsp of oil. Add three cups of water and pressure cook until you hear four whistles. This is as long as the meat usually takes to cook.
>> Open the cooker and reduce the gravy until you are left with tender meat in dry masala. Leave it to cool for a while. Now fold the egg yolks, vinegar, yoghurt and ketchup into the meat and masala. Grease a baking tray and scoop the contents into it. Bake at 180°C for half an hour. The aroma, when the meat absorbs the heat and flavours, is fantastic.
Recipe and pictures courtesy: Spice Sorcery, published by Collins