Unveiling Sindhi Cuisine: A Gastronomic Adventure Through Traditional Dishes
Sindhi food not only reflects the legacy and traditions of the waste-free cooking culture but also highlights the art of cooking and the perfect utilization of flavours. Experience the cultural richness of the Sindh region while enjoying a delightful discovery of regional flavours.
Sindhi cuisine encompasses the gastronomic customs and delicacies that stem from the Sindh province, situated now in Pakistan. This particular cuisine boasts a myriad of delectable flavours that are a result of its rich cultural heritage, drawing inspiration from the culinary traditions of Central Asia, Persia, and the Indian subcontinent.
The culinary tradition of Sindhi cuisine is renowned for its opulent and hearty taste, liberal application of aromatic spices, and extensive selection of meat-based and plant-based delicacies. The cuisine uses a wide range of foods, including wheat, rice, lentils, vegetables, and meats, to represent the cultural and ethnic diversity of the Sindhi population.
Some of the most well-known dishes in Sindhi cuisine include Sai Bhaji, a hearty stew made with a variety of leafy greens, lentils, and vegetables, and Sindhi Curry, a tomato-based gravy with a blend of vegetables. The distinctive and colourful flavours of Sindhi meals come from the use of spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, red chilli powder, and unique ingredients like tamarind and kokum. The flavours in cooking are well balanced between sour, hot, and fragrant to provide a wonderful meal.
While delicacies like koki and sindhi kadhi and sai bhaji have become synonymous with their culture, other culinary masterpieces have fallen out of favour. The soul of a culture and its culinary traditions can be found in the recipes that have been passed down through the years. These recipes are being lost, either because they are no longer popular or because no one bothered to write them down. Recovering and preserving old recipes calls for extensive digging, interviews with wise cooks, and the use of long-lost ingredients and techniques. Restoring long-forgotten recipes is a great way to keep the traditions of earlier generations alive in the kitchen and in the minds of modern diners.
Bharat Khemani, Chef & owner Karachi Halwa (since 1943) in New Delhi says, “The evolution of Sindhi food is based on zero waste principle. Geographically Sindh province has proximity to the Thar Desert, therefore it experiences extreme climatic conditions and ingredients which have long shelf life are consumed for cooking.” After partition when Sindhi’s migrated to India, the same zero waste principle was followed, and nothing was wasted. Leftover food was used to prepare new dishes like Seyal double or Seyal maani, leftover dry bread and chapati tossed with garlic & powdered spices which are enjoyed for breakfast or for lunch.
Dal tikra or dal pakwaan again is based on the zero waste principle. Sindhi food is rich and ingredients like lotus stem is used to prepare Kunhe Wara Bheein. It is a slow cooked lotus stem in an earthenware with onion and powdered spices. Some other lost dishes include Maajoon, Sindhi paragiri or sindhi satpura and Aani basar, he adds.
We spoke with Deepa Chauhan, a Sindhi cook from Bangalore who competed in the seventh season of MasterChef India. Deepa’s nuances and ability to connect with her Sindhi community are well-known. She specifically talks about Sindhi Khoya, a winter-specific dessert that is inching towards becoming a lost recipe. She says, “It’s not only time-consuming but also difficult to locate ingredients like dhaniye ka magaz and dried dates if you don’t happen to live near a large Sindhi population. The pansaris (grocery shopkeepers) only store seasonal items, even within the community”.
She shares a beautiful anecdote while growing up when she use to witness the special event of making khoya every winter her grandmother and mother. It used to hurt her that whenever this was made – with expensive ingredients and with so much time and love, the first portion used to be kept aside for my bua (aunts) and then the rest was kept for the house. It is believed that it is always the daughters of the house first. The daughters of the home are traditionally thought to be the first to be served.
Unhyara (summer goods) and Seeyarah (winter goodies) are two of our traditions that involve sending gifts to newlywed daughters. Khoya, a seasonal treat, is included in the Unhyara gift package. If there is a new grandchild that needs pampering during his or her first winter season, the basket may also contain sweaters or blankets.
While competing on MasterChef India, she took a chance by attempting to make Khoya, a delicate, seasonal, and rare dessert, for the episode focusing on childhood memories. Since the traditional method of making khoya can take up to six hours, and they only had ninety minutes to complete the work, she was confident that she could not produce a satisfactory imitation. Because of the extensive preparation and lengthy cooking time required, khoya, a traditional sweet from the region to which she originates, is increasingly difficult to find. Even the local halwais who used to produce are hard to find. It’s possible that there is no more a demand for such a calorie-dense dessert.
Here’s a Khoya recipe by Deepa Chauhan
Total time: 5-6 hours Makes 2.5-3 kg of khoya
Full fat milk – 5 liters
Ghee – 500-750 g
Kharik/chaura (dry dates) – 250 g, seeded and quartered
Dhaniye ka magaz – 100 g
Khus khus (poppy seeds) – 250 g coarsely powdered
Almonds – 100g soaked, peeled and halved
Sugar – 750 g or to taste
Green cardamom – 25-30 pcs lightly smashed
Black cardamom – 6-8 lightly smashed
Nutmeg – 2 wholes, powdered
Salt – a generous pinch
In a large utensil, set the milk to boil, add the lightly smashed cardamoms, and dry dates and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, heat 500 g ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan and roast the dhaniya magaz and khus khus till they are a nice brown and fragrant. Tip this in the milk and continue to stir regularly to avoid the mix sticking to the bottom of the pan. Do ensure you make the khoya in a thick utensil to avoid accidents. Once the milk is reduced to 50% of its volume, add the almonds and continue to stir till the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and has turned a rich brown colour and fudge-like consistency. Now add the sugar and continue to stir until the sugar is completely combined and the ghee separates and floats on top. If you feel the quantity of ghee released by the khoya is insufficient you may add a little more. The layer of ghee on the khoya is necessary to preserve it through the winter. Finally, add the nutmeg powder after removing it from the gas and allow it to cool completely. It stays well in the refrigerator for a month at least provided the quantity of ghee is sufficient.
Magaz is the heart or core of the coriander seed – not to be confused with dhaniya dal. If it is unavailable where you live, lightly toast the seeds and blitz them very carefully on the pulse mode of your grinder so that the outer shell breaks and the core remains separate. Winnow this to separate the shells and use the core for the khoya. The lighter shells are good for using as you would normally use dhaniya powder