Of Dodos And Puff Pastry – Tales From A Bohra Kitchen

Banjara Hills, Hyderabad, where I grew up is a bustling ‘happening’ neighbourhood today. When I was growing up, it was however out in the boonies and beyond. So chances of finding a Bohra (Dawoodi Bohra Muslim) in the vicinity was as rare as finding a real live Oompa loompa.

So all things Bohra were imported as it were from Mumbai. Then there were those things that were created at home. Of these my favourite was the malai nu khajlu (a flaky layered puff pastry with a filling of fresh malai).

The thal in the Shipchandler home on navu waras or shabe-barat was loaded with traditional delicacies that my mother pulled out of her arsenal on those special occasions. Now when I prepare my thal in Mumbai I send off to N. Lookhmaji or Tawakkal for the flakiest khajlas; but in many families from Surat, these things were made at home (and in our case, if we wanted ‘em we had to make ‘em).

A child’s memory is so pictorial – I remember mom pulling out a thin smooth rounded wooden stick, which she brought with her all the way from Mumbai. I remember the tinkle of gold bangles – which to date I associate with mothers in general – as she rolled out thin little diamond shaped sheets of dough, wrapped them round the stick layer after layer. Then she slit one side to peel off the whole thing. This she gently rolled out and kept aside. She made several of these then put a dollop of malai on one and pressed the other on the top, clothing the malai into a pastry –covered bump. She then deep- fried these (oh please we’re Bohra, we don’t do fat-free). Lo and behold they blossomed into golden brown layers with a magical gooey soft filling that perfectly complemented the crunch.  A plateful of these garnished with powdered sugar held pride of place in our thal (like the beignets I later discovered in New Orleans).

Mum has long since moved to Mumbai, and doesn’t use the stick much– she’s spoilt for choice in mithaiwalas. And now given how time consuming it is, not many women will attempt it. Not many will even get the opportunity to learn first hand from a skilled cook. Then again, some things are worth taking the trouble to preserve. What if someone said it was too hard to save the Taj Mahal? Where would we be, if you please? And the dodo, remember what happened to it?

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