Sindhi mutton curry for the soul

The welcome back to Mumbai meal of Sindhi mutton curry,
dodoh, mango pickle and papad from House Panjwani of Khar
Post synopsis: In this post I have written about home cooked Sindhi dishes such as the Sindhi mutton curry and a roti called dodoh that we had for dinner recently. I have also written about where to find Sindhi food in Khar and about how the Sindhis came to Mumbai and Khar. It is based on oral history so please write in if you have anything to add or correct about what I have written. Will be happy to incorporate with due credit. There is also a discussion on the side on whether curries HAVE to be coconut based

The story of a delicious welcome back to Mumbai

We were checking out of our hotel in Gurugram the other day and were about to leave for the airport when I received a call from Dr Jawahar Panjwani.

Dr Panjwani lives in Khar in Mumbai and is an orthopaedic surgeon. He's treated me and members of our family and many of our friends too over the years.

This phone call though had nothing to do with back pain SOS relief, which is what my calls to him are usually about. Turned out that he had called to tell me that his wife, Nikita, had made a Sindhi mutton curry and a type of Sindhi paratha like roti or flat bread that evening. He wanted to send me some.

Doc and I share a common love for food and often talk about it after his consultation is over when I visit him. I usually leave his clinic with a smile even if I am in terrible pain when I go in.  Doc wanted me to try out the mutton curry as he had told me about this dish in the past. He kindly offered to drop it at home when we landed in Mumbai. This was an offer I couldn't and wouldn't refuse. 

I called the doc, the moment we landed in Mumbai, even though it was past 10 pm. I took the cab down Khar Subway instead of the usual W E Highway and met the doc at Linking Road near his house to take the 'consignment' from him.

Doc greeted me with a big smile when I got off from the cab and gave me a bag. 'The mutton might be a bit bland,' he said almost apologetically.

'The roti is like a paratha and is called dodoh. There's also some papad and pickle. All home-made,' he said with a smile.

'You cooked it?' I asked.

'I don't cook,' he replied with a smile. 'My wife cooked it. She cooks acceptably.' (I do not remember the exact word he used but it was something like that and I don't want to cause the good doctor any trouble at home).

Dr Panjwani and his wife Nikita
She is the lady behind the amazing curry
(from his FB page)

I gratefully took the bag from him and then went home. I unpacked, showered and then sat down for dinner around 11.30 pm. What the he had sent was a welcome meal especially since our cook, Banu, is on a long leave.

Thanks to the generosity of the Panjwanis, we didn't have to order in.

The incident made my mom in law tell me about a time when, on hearing of my late father in law's love for mutton, her colleague Mr Lalwani brought a huge dabba of mutton for him. The mutton was cooked by his wife too. Mom in law said that the mutton was tender, the curry thick but not too spicy. The quantity so ample that it lasted three days. Mom in law send a note to Mr Lalwani's wife saying, "Poonam you have won my husband's heart." The Lalwanis were Sindhis.

The magical curry

Nikita Panjwani's brilliant Sindhi Mutton curry

The meal turned out to be the perfect home coming meal.

The mutton curry was anything but 'bland'. It was light and soothing and yet very flavour packed. The curry was mellow and not oily or too spicy at all. Doc had told me that this is a cardamom based curry. Despite the cardamom base, I found the flavours to be quite well balanced actually. This was definitely not a curry whose taste was dominated by a single ingredient. It was all about harmony here.

I had once eaten Sindhi mutton curry before this. This was during a tasting of food from a new restaurant. That was very oily and spicy and had scarred me for life as I don't like food which is high on chilli. Nikita Panjwani's mutton curry, on the other hand, was just what the doctor ordered. (Do ignore the potentially sexist pun). My guess is the modern sensibilities and a more sedentary lifestyle makes today's Sindhis use less oil and spice at home that their forefathers did. This is true for many of us urban Indians.

The mutton or goat meat in the curry was quite tender. It was served on the bone and the fun of the meal continued well after the meat was over as I chewed happily on the bones too.

Coconut or no coconut? How would you like your 'curry'?

There was a bit of a debate recently on Kunal Vijayakar's Facebook page after he had posted his weekly column piece. The topic this time was West Coast curries. Kunal said that to him a curry has to have coconut in it, though he also sportingly added that most people don't agree with him on this.

The discussion that followed seemed to indicate that in the west coast a 'curry' refers to coconut based dishes while other non-coconut based gravies have their own distinctive names. Those of us from east said that while our 'curries' had individual names in the local language, we referred to them as 'curry'n English and that most of these are sans coconut.

The Sindhi mutton 'curry' doesn't have coconut either just as the Punjabi mutton or chicken 'curry' of Khane Khas doesn't.

The good thing about discussions like these is that they make you think about what you are eating. The truth is, as I has once said on Mathew Amroliwala's show on BBC Worldwide after the Curry Awards, we Indians are not as obsessed about curry as the British are. There's a lot more to Indian food than curry. Moreover, definitions of food terms in India are a bit fluid unlike in the west where there is no ambiguity about what goes into a Hollandaise sauce for example.

Anyway I digress so let's get back to the Sindhi food that I tried from the Panjwanis.

The goodness of grains

The roti, dodoh, is made with a millet called jowar and was spiced with masalas. It was quite tasty by itself and didn't really need an accompaniment with it. It was quite filling too.

I later spoke to food blogger and my go to person for info on Sindhi food, Alka Keswani, about the meal. She told me that me that pav (soft bread local to Mumbai) topped with mutton curry with boneless mutton chunks, sliced onions, green chutney and crunch sev was quite a Sunday dinner favourite in their house while growing up.

Nikita Panjwani's dodoh with mango pickle

About the dodoh, Alka said, 'interestingly there are certain kinds of temples known as Tikanas that are visited by Sindhis and they still follow the tradition of serving juar dodoh ( sans onions and garlic) with mint coriander chutney ( again, sans onion and garlic) as prasad. This tradition dates back to pre partition era, and was a famous prasad of ' Sadhubela' now in Pakistan.''

Grains like jowar are better had in winter from a digestion point of view my granny told me. Though Bengali, she had lived in Delhi and was familiar with grains such as jowar and bajra which are not that common in Bengal.

Going back to the care packet that we got from the Panjwanis, I found the mango pickle quite interesting too. The pickle was a sour one but had slight sweet undertones to it. Again, not very spicy. 

The papad was roasted and not fried. It turned out to be a nice accompaniment the dinner.

Sindhis of course are famous for their love of papar.

The Sindhis of Khar

Dal pakwan from Sindhful. The pakwan is made with maida and is served with
Bengal Gram. Similar in composition to the luchi chholar dal made by my granny
Granny was born in Dhaka in modern Bangladesh.
The Sindhis had come to India from Sindh which is now in modern Pakistan
Both are immigrant food in a sense

In my last post, I had written about the East Indian community of Bandra in Mumbai. This time I thought I will try to find out a bit more about the Sindhis of Khar and tell you about what I found out. While the East Indians were the original resident here, the Sindhis were immigrants though they are now an integral part of the local society.

Khar is a small suburb neighbouring Bandra in Mumbai, where we stay, and has a large Sindhi community. The first house that we had rented when we got married was in Khar and was owned by a Sindhi family. Our landlord was a pleasant man and very professional and proper to deal with. The first apartment that we had bought in Bandra was owned by a Sindhi too. We became friends with this gentleman and we used to call him Uncle. He would often meet us and take us out for tea or a meal well after we had bought his house. He is no more unfortunately. We've had many more Sindhi friends here over the year. There is doc of course. Then Arpana who runs Gostana. A former market research colleague of mine, Meghna, who lived in Khar. We would often chat during lunch hours and she would offer me some of the Sindhi food that her mother would pack for her lunch. Then there is Mahesh Gidwani who lives down the road from where we stay now. I often drop in at his place to chant.

Chasing the scent of Sindhi food in Khar

Mutton kheema kofta from Sindhful
A spicy and flavour packed dish. It is not actually as red as it looks
Blame it on the lighting

While the Sindhi presence in Bandra Khar is quite prominent, there are not too many Sindhi food outlets here.

There is a sweet shop called Tharu Mukhi Bhandar at Khar which is quite the favourite with the community and on Sunday mornings makes dal pakwan. There is the recently opened Sindhi delivery based outlet called Sindhful. It is run by a mother and son duo, Kanchan and Sannat Ahuja, and they offer traditional Sindhi dishes in their menu. They have a small outdoor seating section too. The Khar Gymkhana Club, from what I gather, is Sindhi dominated though I do not know if they offer Sindhi dishes. There is Karachi Sweets (Hill Raod) and Kailash Parbat (Linking Road beside Di Bella) which offer a few Sindhi dishes on Sundays from what I gathered from their menus. The popular Elco chaat place, which I once knew as a cart and not the restaurant that it is now, is Sindhi owned but they don't seem to offer any major Sindhi dishes from what I figured out from their menus online.

There are a couple of grocery stores in the Khar market which stock masalas and papads used by Sindhis. Outside the shop sits a gentleman who sells lotus stems and seeds which Sindhis use in their cooking.

Chef Vicky Ratnani is Sindhi and we have had some lovely talks on food together including on Sindhi food. According to him, the core essence of Sindhi food is its frugality which has been necessitated by their tough life. Nothing is wasted in a a Sindhi kitchen, be its stems of a plant or meat offal says Vicky. I have tried some of his cooking and it is indeed delicious. I do hope that Vicky someday introduces some Sindhi food in his restaurant which largely serves international cuisines. It is located in Khar after all!

Turning poison into medicine

I spoke to my Sindhi friends and tried to understand the reason behind for the Sindhi presence in Mumbai in general and Khar in particular. This is what I have gathered so far.

As you probably know, the Sindhis are a migrant community. They are originally from Sindh in what is now Pakistan.

Alka Keswani tells me that Sindhis were businessmen who travelled out of home for trade. Some had apparently settled in Bombay when the British East Indian set shop in Bombay in the 1600s.

Post the partition, many Sindhis came to Mumbai as refugees as they had relatives here. They often came by ship as roads and trains were considered unsafe due to robberies then. Mumbai was the port of destination of the ships that set sail from Karachi. The Sindhi post-partition refugees were initially settled in military camps in places like Deolali and Kalyan in the outskirts Mumbai and camps set up across India. During my recent visit to Gurugram I saw a shop dedicated to Sindhi provisions at Sushant Lok and there were Sindhi Camps in Delhi.

They moved out of these camps as they began rebuild their lives. I guess Khar is one of the suburbs they chose to settle in. 

The Sindhis who I know in Khar and Bandra today are second or third generations immigrants. They told me about how their grandparents and parents came to India after partition. Some came to Mumbai as business was better here. Some of them moved to other parts of India seeking to build their fortunes as accommodation was a problem in Mumbai. The later came back to Mumbai after things became better. Some took up governments jobs in fields such as the railways and came to settle in Mumbai where they retired. Khar was a favourite of many to settle down in as land was cheaper then. Plus there were already some Sindhis that had settled here and they helped the new Sindhis feel at home. Plus Bandra and Khar was supposed to have better schools and colleges than where the Sindhi camps had been set up.

When I heard these stories, I felt a sense awe at the magnitude of struggle that the forefathers of my friends had been through.  It is not easy to be a refugee or an immigrant and to have to start life again from scratch after having lost everything.

Yet the Sindhis tried to do so, have emerged victorious and have integrated into the landscape of their new homes. 

That's quite an inspiring story no doubt and is best enjoyed when dished with some great Sindhi food.

Also read:

1. My recent article in NDTV Food on Sindhi Dishes
2. My article in NDTV Food on dal pakwan
3. My blog post on the East Indians of Bandra
4. Alka Keswani's award winning blog, Sindhi Rasoi
5.  Link to the discussion on Kunal Vijayakar's page on coconut in curries