By Anju Maskeri
Nov 06, 2016, 11:52 IST
Priya Jham was all of 10 when she first tried her hand at preparing the atte ka sheera her mother taught her. “Back then there was no concept of fusion and fancy cuisine. So, the only type of cooking that my mother knew was the traditional Bhagnari, that she picked up while growing up in Karachi,” says Jham, whose parents migrated to Mumbai in 1947, after the Partition. “There would be days when she would head to the market, and I would sneak into the kitchen and start my experiments with dal and aloo fry,” she recalls with a laugh.
That was in 1973. Over 40 years have passed now, but her experimental streak is still intact. Even now, when Jham enters the kitchen, it is to experiment with her repertoire of Bhagnari dishes that have been passed down generations and are savoured to this day at her Mahim home. Items like stuffed aloo tikki with poppy seeds, mutton chops in the traditional Bhagnari masala, which is basically double chops of ribs cooked slowly over low flame for over three hours and finally pan fried, the beh (lotus stem cooked in a clay pot), khatti dal with steamed rice, are delicacies one can probably find in every Bhagnari household, Jham says.
The Bhagnari version of mutton chops. PICS/The Gourmet Food Co
The Bhagnaris are the original inhabitants of the villages Bhag and Nari in the princely state of Kalat, in the plains of Southern Balochistan. According to statistics, there are approximately 2,500 Bhagnaris living in Mumbai and another 750 settled abroad, mostly in Dubai. Balochistan, being an arid region, dry fruits and meat were intrinsic to its cuisine, says Jham. “As our ancestors came from the northern parts of undivided India and lived mostly in cold climes, their food was cooked with lots of strong spices like red chillies, cardamon, cloves, shah jeera, black pepper, most of which was combined to make the garam masala, as we know it presently. This was to generate more heat within their bodies to prevent themselves from sicknesses like common cold, cough and other ailments.”
Bhagnaris are often confused with Sindhis, but Jham underlines how they are different. “Although we come under the Sindhi sub-caste, our eating habits are very different,” says Jham, who recently launched a series of YouTube videos with CookBook, featuring tutorials.
The differences between the two cuisines are evident in many aspects. While the Bhagnaris use tamarind as their main souring agent, Sindhis opt for tomatoes. “Also, the seyal masala we make is different from what the Sindhis cook at home. They make their seyal masala with tomatoes and we make it with coriander and tamarind.” This, she says, lends their food a whole different look. “While Sindhi food is red, ours is green. Even to make our masala, we grind our chillies, garlic and ginger by hand instead of using the mixer grinder. We prefer it coarse,” says Jham, who also runs a catering service that she launched in 1987.
She, along with her son, Amit, a pastry chef recently hosted a pop up called Forgotten Baloch after being
approached by Gourmet Food Company for their Kitchen Dining series, where they rediscover vintage cuisines. She picked a menu comprising succulent mutton chops, aloo patty with a mildly sweet stuffing and a coating of khus khus on top, the traditional khatti dal, a close cousin to the sai bhaji and the sayal mayal , a vegetarian dish made with the tinda.
“Twelve people turned up and that, I feel, was a great response, because nobody outside our community has even heard of Bhagnari,” she says with a smile