EN ROUTE SINDH
WORDS BY MILI SEMLANI AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA
“Sindhi food is better than Gujarati food any day,” said my Gujarati boss over lunch once. He went ga-ga over his neighbour Gurbaxani aunty’s Sindhian delights.
I only stared at him in surprise.
Glorious (and fattening) Gujarati snacks have surrounded my Jain lineage and my life, so I strongly disagreed with his claim. His controversial statement encompassing both the communal and the culinary would have been enough to strike a riot. Fortunately this one was only in my mind.
The Sindhis came to India as a result of the 1947 Partition. Most of them started out as refugees, but they are indeed a powerful community today. The Sindh trust owns some of the most reputable colleges in Mumbai, and many of its members own some of the plushest houses in Churchgate and Colaba.
The kilos of Tharu’s laddoos exchanged at weddings determined the rich Sindhian status.
Think “Sindhi” and the first person that comes to mind is the dean from my college. Dressed in white from head-to-toe, he was the epitome of an affluent, SoBo Sindhi. He walked down the aisles of my graduate school as if personifying the true Sindhian who takes pride in their business capabilities and their cultural heritage.
But can the Sindhi curry outdo the Gujarati dal dhokli?
Taste is the most important aspect of food for me, which is why Kailash Parbat has always scored full marks on my food chart. It was a perpetual pit stop after wee hours of bargaining at Colaba Causeway during my college years. Their gol gappas called out to me, but the jumbo Sindhi puri filled with tangy juices seldom fit in my mouth. That didn’t stop me from going for the kulfi falooda and kachori. The typical billing teller with the “ting” sound still is a trademark here, and the menu hasn’t changed much, but the waiters now wear gloves and caps.
The ground level of the restaurant itself packs quite a punch, but every now and then I took a trip seven steps above this sugar haven only to get a taste of the Sindhi curry and bhee chana. The restaurant continues to feed many college students and working professionals in the vicinity. And every time I bump into an old Sindhi aunty relishing some dal pakwaan, willing to tell a tale, my purpose is served.
Gurukirpa in Sion is also doing its bit to preserve the culinary heritage of the Sindh. It’s famous for samosas sold across theatres in Mumbai, but there’s more to this typical Sindhi joint. Tucked away amidst Gujarati households in Sion, the courtyard of Gurukripa is always brimming. Metal trays full of sweets, large woks bubbling with walnut halwa and aromas of dal pakwaan and aloo tikki fill the atmosphere at any given time of the day. The joy lies in fighting to get the server’s attention over the counter and bag the coveted, pre-paid entree. The struggle doesn’t end there. Food in tow, it’s time to find a suitable seat in the small area with tables crammed next to each other or stand and relish my crispy delight.
Another Sindhi special food spot with its trademark long queues is Tharu’s Mukhi Bhandar in Khar, popular for large crowds on festivals and their special dry-fruit laddoos. The significance of the laddoo is not simply attributed to its rich ingredients. A Sindhi colleague once told me that the Tharu’s laddoo was a symbol of affluence amongst their clan. The kilos of Tharu’s laddoos exchanged at weddings determined the rich Sindhian status.
I’m glad my Sindhi sounding surname gets me quick access to some of these legendary Sindhi institutions each time I am craving chole samosa.
Kailash Parbat, Shop No. 5, 1st Pasta Lane, Colaba, Mumbai 400 005. Phone: 022 2287 4823 / 2284 1972 / 2287 5222
Gurukripa, 40, Guru Kripa Building, Road 24, Near SIES College, Sion, Mumbai 400 022. Phone: 022 3371 6059
Tharu Mukhi Bhandar, 7-8, Madhuban, Opp. Canara Bank, P. D. Hinduja Marg, Khar (w), Mumbai 400 052