Cook up a storm, Sindhi style


EXPLOSION OF FLAVOURS  Bhee, a  quintessential Sindhi preparation made with lotus stalk.Food habits of a community are usually a reflection of its lifestyle and so is the case with Sindhis. They are known for their hospitality — nobody leaves a Sindhi household without something being offered to eat.

The specialty of Sindhi dishes is that they do not have any elaborate or complicated methods of preparation. Most of them do not involve any grinding except perhaps, for pureeing of tomatoes. A typical Sindhi breakfast is either plain parathas with curd or koki — a special kind of roti, spiced with onions, ghee, shah jeera, green chillies and coriander leaves, eaten with curd or boondi raitha. Koki is also relished with hot tea. A special heavy breakfast could be dal-pakwaan.

Pakwaan or tikra is nothing but rolled out dough kneaded with salt and cumin seeds, deep- fried on a low flame till it is crisp and golden brown, served with chana dal with chaat toppings. Cold winter mornings generally start with a breakfast of jowar jo bhuth — a porridge made of coarsely- ground millet (to generate heat in the body). It is seasoned with mustard spluttered in hot ghee and can be eaten either sweet (by adding milk and sugar) or as a savoury (by adding curd and a pinch of salt). Sindhis with their culinary skills, turn plain, ordinary bread into tasty snacks like seyal dabal and bread pakoras.

The basic gravy recipe followed for most Sindhi dishes is sautéed onion and tomato – cut or pureed with chilli, dhaniya and turmeric powder, and yet surprisingly each dish tastes unique depending on the main ingredient used. Perhaps the most popular of all Sindhi dishes have been the Sindhi curry and sai-bahji. The curry has a tangy taste, and is made with either thuvar dal or tomato pulp as the base ingredient. The latter is a recipe that is rich in iron containing spinach, sour greens and a variety of vegetables. Sai in Sindhi means green. Curry is served with plain steamed rice, sweet boondi and alu tuk (salted potato quartets deep fried on low flame, flattened and then refried on high flame till crisp).

Tuks could also be prepared in a similar manner with pre-boiled yam and arvi. The importance of the curry for Sindhis can be estimated by the fact that ‘Curry-Chawal’ is the name of a ceremony that is a ritual on the day before a wedding, where this meal is served first to the Brahmins and then the guests. Another favourite is vadi alu. Vadi is made of spiced urud dal, potatoes and brinjals. This dish is prepared on auspicious occasions like the wedding day and the 7th/9th month ceremony of a woman expecting her first child. A quintessential delicacy of the Sindhi community is the bhee or lotus stalk. It is cooked with either spinach and potatoes, or kheema (mince meat) or just made into tikkis (boiled, dipped in gramflour, fried, flattened and then refried).

Sindhis also have some custom and ritual-related special foods and menus. Til and rice are donated to the needy on the day after Lori. A daughter of the house is not neglected even after her marriage —where food is concerned. Every summer, her in-laws are sent a variety of sherbets and pickles. No winter passes without sending her the traditional khoyo — a rich sweet dish prepared out of soaked and ground khus-khus (poppy seeds), lots of ghee, milk, sugar, almonds, pistachios, cardamoms —  both big and small, saffron and a whole lot of things to heat it up! This dish is one of the rare elaborate procedures, taking 8 to 10 hours of preparation. Soon after a daughter delivers a child, she is sent lolas (sweet rotis roasted in ghee) and dry fruit vadas (chikkis prepared with nuts in sugar and poppy seeds).

Two sweets customarily mark the festival of Holi – Pragri and Gheear. Dhingri or dry mushroom is an exotic, expensive dish that is made during Holi. A spread of non-vegetarian snacks and meals are the usual fare of this festival.

One day before Krishna Janmashtami happens to be ‘Thadri’ — an entire day devoted to consumption of cold food. Koki, lolo, moong dal parathas and even papads are made and stored on the eve of Thadri. These are eaten with raitha. ‘Thadri’ is auspicious during which the kitchen fires are not lit the whole day. This is done to appease the Mother Goddess and seek her protection for the family and children from heat-related infections throughout the coming year. Then there is the special menu on days that ‘Shraadh’ and ‘Khyaav’ are observed, in memory of the departed souls. Onion, garlic and gram flour are avoided.

Sat-saagi or seven different vegetables are fried and garnished with masalas on these days. And baatth jo seero or broken wheat halwa is the common choice on these occasions.

Sindhis follow the lunar calendar and most of them abstain from eating rice on Ekadashi or the 11th day of the lunar month. Non-vegetarian food is usually taboo on full moon days when most households perform the Satyanarayan Puja. The big Ekadashi or ‘Vadi Gyaras’ is one day in a year when very few ingredients are permitted —  like sweet potatoes, potatoes, pepper, lotus stalks, coconut, milk products and puris and alu tikkis made out of only rajgiri atta, a special flour. Fresh Thandai is still prepared in many houses on Shivrathri.

The papads that they are so famous for, are distinct because of the excessive jeera and coarsely-pounded peppercorns. And they pickle, besides the usual lemons and mangoes, some vegetables too — like onions, carrots, cauliflower and even ladies fingers. A special pickle of theirs is the grated raw mango, pickled and tied in small muslin pieces to form bundles and huddled in air-tight ceramic jars until it is ready to be opened up and eaten. This is called bindi khatti.

To end on a sweet note, fried slices of bread or malpura (flat, fried pancakes of condensed milk and flour) dipped in sugar syrup are the common desserts. Tosha, (sweet flour or mawa rolls), wheat flour laddoos, kutti (sweet crumble made from either wheat flour of paranthas roasted in ghee) are other popular sweets. Halwa is prepared from quite a few ingredients —soaked and ground moong dal, bottle gourd, red pumpkin, poppy seeds or roasted semolina and refined flour. The last mentioned sweet is karao, a dish that is often prepared to offer to the gods. 

Sindhis have come a long way and so influences of other cultures on their lifestyle and food habits cannot be missed. They have also spread far and wide, across the country and the globe. And so has their cuisine, to bring the kind of cheer and contentment — that only the tickling of the taste buds can.

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