FEAST LIKE A KING AT THE BOHRI KITCHEN
Mother-son duo Nafisa and Munaf Kapadia run The Bohri Kitchen out of their home in Colaba, serving a delicious Bohri thaal to diners who struggle to leave when the meal is over. They also run TBK Express, delivering the goodness of their food to your home.
Like all great plans, the plan to visit The Bohri Kitchen was made spontaneously, over a dinner. A flurry of internet searches followed by another flurry of Whatsapp messages and, just like that, within 36 hours of that night, I found myself walking up the two floors of Orient Building in Colaba to reach the Kapadia household, aka food heaven. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The Bohri Kitchen (TBK) is not only a gastronomic journey that is an amalgam of all the countries Bohris have lived in over generations but also one that invites you to share something intimate with complete strangers. The actual meal is just one part of the whole experience.
It begins with the formation of a Whatsapp group and a message with a handy Starter Kit that explains what TBK is about, followed by a detailed menu, instructions on the dress code (it advises you to wear "something expandable"), and other details about timings and address. I knew this was a commitment there was no backing down from. The hours that followed were an exercise in patience and restraint, because the menu looks that good on paper.
My excitement knew no bounds as I walked up the steps in anticipation. Until this point, I had to politely wait for that rare invitation to a Bohri friend's home to satisfy my thaal cravings, but here was a family willing to open the doors of their home to strangers just so that we can be fed! Indian mummies, FTW!
The Kapadias live in a charming apartment that is reminiscent of old Bombay. Nafisa, the matriarch of the house, is the genie behind the food. Munaf, her son, is the brains behind the business. He quit his job at Google to start TBK with the sole intention of sharing his mother's exceptional culinary skills, and his gamble has paid off. In the short time that TBK has been operational, it has fed thousands of hungry groups and expanded to include a delivery kitchen in Worli.
Our dining experience on that fine Monday night began with a welcome drink: a rose sharbat that reminded me of childhood Sundays spent visiting people with my parents and guzzling rose sharbat to colour my tongue in the brightest pink. As we sipped on our drinks, Munaf ran us through the meal we could expect and set some "rules" to follow. These include not attacking the food until he's done elaborating on each dish and is safely out of the way. And then it began.
The meal started off with the traditional Bohri custom of taking a pinch of salt on your tongue to help cleanse your palate and prepare your tastebuds for the meal. The thaal in all its glory was then brought out and laid down in the centre of the circle with condiments in a riot of colours arranged in little bowls. There was mint chutney, wedges of lime, khajoor and dry fruit chutney, pineapple and boondi raita, pickled jalapeños, Bhavnagari chillies stuffed with a peanut masala, and boiled beet with lime and sugar. We were so greedy by this point that we started eating the condiments by themselves; and the beautiful thing about TBK is that this is actually encouraged, and no one will judge you. By the time the first course was brought out, we were practically salivating. Chicken kirim tikka followed by kesar phirni followed by smoked mutton keema samosas, two types of dudhi halwa, raan (a full leg of lamb) in red masala.
While we were all given individual plates to serve ourselves off the thaal, there was no serving spoon, and Munaf encouraged us to eat the entire meal with our hands. The thaal is best enjoyed when you can lick your fingers at the end of the meal with satisfaction. With five courses stuffing our bellies, I was almost ready to call it quits. But the old hands that run TBK, having done this a few thousand times over, anticipated this and served us a jaljeera soda that is supposed to aid digestion. I'm not sure if it actually did, but this was a welcome break as Munaf regaled us with stories of previous TBK diners who have travelled from as far as Pune and Nashik just to eat a meal here, including a story of a diner who came for lunch, took a nap on their carpet, and stayed until dinner just so he could eat some more. A short walk around the living room and we were back in the game, ready to eat some more thanks to our expandable pants. It was time for the jaman (main course) consisting of chicken angara served with rotis and mutton kaari chawal. It was the perfect finisher to this meal fit for gluttons. The crescendo to the song.
But we weren't done yet; there was still some sancha ice cream, hand-churned at the TBK central kitchen, to be had. After that, there was utter silence; we were all happily in a state commonly referred to as “food coma”.
As the conversation picked up slowly once again, as Nafisa and Munaf chuckled at our inertia, as we collectively tried to motivate each other to get up and actually leave their home, my mind was busy trying to sum up the experience that is TBK. The many words I've used here don't quite do justice to what it really is as much as Munaf’s few words do: “When you come to The Bohri Kitchen, you’re of course coming in for an elaborate seven-course Bohri meal which will send you in a Bohri food coma, but more than that, you’re coming in for an experience which starts with us giving you stupid warnings like skip your breakfast and wear loose clothes. An experience where my mother is cooking food in the kitchen which guests are about to savour; an experience where my father is going around with the food to make sure that your plate is not empty at any given point, where I am constantly annoying everyone with the best eating practices and my weird sense of humour! Like my mom says, you enter as strangers, but leave as family!”
Photographs courtesy The Bohri Kitchen