The Sindhi Food Festival – on till the 9th of November at the Taj Vivanta, Begumpet — was a first of its kind for me. For many reasons too. I grew up eating the very food served at the festival and it brought back a rush of memories of watching my grandmother cook, sharing her tips for the dishes with us. Besides, it felt strange to be sampling food that is cooked on a regular basis at home by my mum, aunt and sister and occasionally, me.
The thing about Sindhi food is that while there are several dishes like the Took — potato quartered and fried, then flattened and deep fried again — which are heavy on oil and delicious to taste; there are also dishes like Sai Bhaji – an oil free spinach dish which is extremely healthy and goes with rotis, rice or khichdi and is equally tasty.
We started with the Sindhi Chapa – a patty made with boiled potato and a chana dal stuffing.Any Sindhi joint selling chaat in Bombay will have these Chapa for patties. Since the festival included Punjabi dishes [Sindh and Punjab were neighbouring states in the pre-partition days so there are a lot of similarities in the food] there was Amritsari fish and Murgh Tikkey — chicken marinated in garlic and grilled.
But it was the mains that really delighted my palate. There was the Sai Bhaji I mentioned earlier and a long-forgotten childhood delight — Sat Saagi. The Sat Saagi was a dish that involved cooking seven vegetables together. I am guessing in those days when there were no refrigerators around, to finish off smaller quantities of vegetables, some creative housewife came up with this dish. It is essentially vegetables such as okra, beans, carrots, brinjals, tomatoes and potatoes plus whatever you have in small quantities like spinach or cluster beans pressure cooked in a little water after the tadka of mustard seeds and cumin seeds. It is a dish I always associate with my grandmother as she made it really well. We used to have it with rotis.
The stuffed paratha and the Satpura — a light and flaky paratha cooked with salt and red chilli powder are as familiar to me as the back of my hand but they were enjoyable nonetheless. We missed out on the traditional Sindhi Curry — which in our house was made practically every Sunday, so as kids we referred to it as Sunday Curry. This tur dal preparation made with okra and other vegetables is always made for all auspicious occasions from weddings to pujas to even the 13th day ceremony after someone has passed away. The Curry is made with chickpea flour and dal and enhanced with spices and vegetables. The best part about this Sindhi Curry is that it tastes great with rice and bread so there are no leftovers when this dish is made and on festive occasions, it is served with sweetened boondi [tiny chickpea dumplings, fried and sweetened with sugar syrup] and the combination is surprisingly very tasty.
Then came the dessert — Moong Dal Halwa and Pragri. The Halwa is made by most Sindhi and Punjabi families but it is the Pragri – a pastry stuffed with mawa that is a delicacy made and sold by Sindhi sweet shops during the festival of Holi. To have the enterprising Sindhi ladies who had made all these dishes make even this complicated sweet was a pleasant surprise.There are many such gems to be found in Sindhi food. Someday I will post the making of Kokis – the onion parathas we make. For now, if you like to try some unusual food from the northern part of the country, check out this food festival.