Thaal Tales: Pakistan’s Bohra Community

An insight into Community Eating with the Bohra Community.

Bohra Curry with Chicken (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Historical Significance of the Bohra Community

Originating from the Bohra community, a sect within the Ismā'īlī branch of Shia Islam, the Bohra thaal is closely associated with regions including India, Pakistan, Yemen, East Africa, and the Middle East. Notably, the largest populations of Dawoodi Bohras inhabit these areas.

Bohra Dastarkhwan Custom Designs (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Food forms an integral part of this community fostering togetherness in joyful and challenging times. Communal meals are shared by eight to nine people, typically a family, eating from the same thaal (large platter) atop a kundali (stand) to uphold respect and keep the food from touching the ground. 

The Bohra thaal with all the courses (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

A Bohra meal comprises of multiple courses, each requiring completion before the next is served, reflecting the value placed on avoiding food waste. A Bohra thaal offers a comprehensive dining experience, ensuring there is something delightful for everyone to relish.

Inside area of the home based restaurant with two Safras (square pieces of cloth) (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

The Bohra community originates from Yemen and Egypt, from where they migrated to Gujarat, India. Hence, there are strong influences of Middle Eastern and Gujarati cooking traditions found in their eating habits. For example, a meal is begun with a pinch of salt to cleanse the palate, as Prophet Muhammad was also recorded to do the same.

The Bohra thaal with all the courses (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Similar to Middle Eastern cuisine, Bohra dishes achieve a harmonious blend of flavors rather than overwhelming the senses. Chicken, lentils, and vegetables take precedence. The Bohra community's distinct communal dining goes beyond food, showcasing their culture and traditions.

The Bohra Dastarkhwan Experience (2023)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Watch our film on Bohra Dastarkhwan.

The seven-course meal on the Bohra Thaal (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Thaal Tales

Unlike other cuisines, dessert is served first in a traditional Bohra meal. After dessert, follow appetizers such as Shami Kebab or khattay aloo, but the main stars of the show are the rice and meat dishes often accompanied by soups both hot and cold, and salads.

Raw Chicken is one of the ingredients of the Bohra Curry (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

From tasty biryani to the fragrant pulao, Bohra rice dishes are given extra care. What sets them apart from all other cuisines is that unlike traditional grilling, frying or roasting meat, Bohras traditionally boil their meat with garlic, ginger and chili sauce.

Samosas being fried (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Mini homemade samosas being fried as an appetizer.

Adding mint leaves (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

A sprig of fresh curry leaves.

Tarka for Curry (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

The spice tadka (seasoning) being prepared for Kaadi Chawal.

Mixing the curry (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Chicken Kaadi, coated in spices.

Fresh Cream being poured in the curry (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Coconut milk being added to Kaddi Chawal (with chicken).

Frying chicken drumsticks (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Chicken drumsticks are an appetizer in their menu.

Owners of Bohra Dastarkhwan , Muffadal Moiz and chef Maria Ajmerwala (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Karachi’s Bohra Dastarkhwan

Armed with a desire to share their love for Bohra food with the world, Bohra Dastarkhwan is a Karachi-based pop-up home restaurant run by a married couple who take pride in their culture and heritage.They follow the basic tenets of Bohra dining; the seven course meal is served in a large thaal perched upon a stand and a group of eight to nine people eat with their fingers from the same platter while seated on the floor. Hands are washed in a chilamchi lota (a portable basin and jug) before the meal begins with a Tamarind drink sweetened with gur, more commonly known as jaggery which is served cold with fresh mint as a refresher.

Bohra Dastarkhwan Recipe: Kaari Chawal (2023)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Watch the making of a Bohra Thaal as part of our series on Bohra Dastarkhwan.

Malai Khaja (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Following their tradition of serving dessert first, the guests are served their first course with a malai khaja, a traditional dessert, similar to Baklava, made with wheat flour.

A Bohra tradition is having a pinch of salt before the main course (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Along with a small container of salt, which the hosts encourage guests to begin and end their meal with, Kachori, Boondi raita (savory yogurt mixed with bite-sized balls of fried gram flour) and green chutney are served as sides.

Frying chicken drumsticks (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

The second course is the famous Bohra Fried Chicken, known for its crispy exterior and juicy interior which is coated in its own spice mix.

Mutton Leg Roast on the Thaal (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Then follows the showstopper of slow cooked mutton shoulder which is garnished with elbow pasta and fried spicy julienned potato chips, locally known as Slims.

Adding water (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

The next main dish to be served is the Bohra Chicken Kadhi, served with steamed rice and topped with fried onions, which enhances the spices and delicate coconut flavor base.

Orange Ice cream is a favorite on the menu. (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

Hand churned, homemade ice cream (made with seasonal fruit) is the final dessert to end the meal.

Rounded Paan Balls (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

A locally made Paan ball is served rolled in fennel seeds and coconut shavings.

The Bohra thaal with all the courses (2020)SOCH Outreach Foundation

The owners of Bohra Dastarkhwan believe that more than the food, they deliver an entire cultural experience, which is an important part of their community and it is the novelty of this experience which keeps people coming back for more.

Credits: Story

Produced by SOC Films
Project Director: Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy
Producers: Syed Ayub , Sameer Khan
Project Manager: Huma Shah
Director of Photography: Murtaza Ali
Photography: Karim Baig , Murtaza Ali
Photography Editor: Karim Baig
Additional Video & Photography: Khurram Victor
Exhibits Writer: Nazia Latif , Sameer Khan
Exhibits : Syed Ayub , Sameer Khan
Art Direction : Rahat Niazi
Associate Producer : Asad Pabani
Video Editors: Nina Zehri, Farhad Jamali
Color Grade: Sourath Behan
Additional Video Editing: Mishal Adhami
Sound Design: Sameer Khan

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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