‘Cutchi Kitchen’ documents Kutchi cuisine through memories and recipes.
Almost 200 years ago, Sajida Aslam’s grandfather moved to Alappuzha from the Kutch region of Gujarat. Seventy-five years ago, her father moved to Kochi, where she was born among the growing community of Kutchi Memons in the city. Today, Sajida’s daughter, Shazia Wahid, is the founder of ‘Cutchi Kitchen’ — an initiative that documents through history and memories, the rich cuisine of the migrant community.
‘Cutchi Kitchen’ runs a website and a catering service primarily of Kutchi delicacies, with world cuisine as well. While Shazia runs the website from her present home in London, her mother Sajida, aunt Munira Munir Sait, sister Nazia Tamir and cousins Ruqia Suhaib and Sabiha Munir man the local orders from their homes in Ravipuram and Kaloor. “Shazia was inspired to begin ‘Cutchi Kitchen’ after she left the country,” says Ruqia, “She gave us all the first big push and we’ve completed almost a year now.”
‘Cutchi Kitchen’ opens with Shazia’s tribute to her ummima’s (maternal grandmother) special Kutchi chicken biryani. It is a detailed affair with three layers of rice sandwiching chicken in between, and served with raita. This recipe has been a favourite in our family for three generations for its minimal standing-by-the-stove time, writes Shazia. While two generations of Sajida’s family are involved in the daily workings of ‘Cutchi Kitchen’, Ruqia and Nazia say their children have taken a keen interest too, often chipping in with the preparations and tasting.
‘Cutchi Kitchen’ now has an active Facebook presence with over 3,000 fans and several followers on Twitter too. “We try and post at least once a day — either tips, or full recipes,” says Nazia. Thus far, they’ve had two online competitions too — the more elaborate one after they completed 100 recipes.
Their popularity rose most during the Ramzan fast, when they put together nine special Iftar menus, each with six dishes from starter, drink and main course to dessert. One of the highlights of these menus was their falooda recipes. While Sajida created an unusual falooda pudding made from China grass and cut into diamonds once set, Munira prepared the falooda drink, served cold and with jelly or ice cream. The menus were then released as an e-book.
The fasting season also brought with it almost daily orders for homemade frozen chicken fillets, samosas and rolls that only have to be fried before consumption. Their most ordered dish was also ‘Cutchi Kitchen’s’ most prized recipe — the goond jo laddoo, a powdery, sugary dessert served for auspicious occasions, given to brides before weddings and to mothers after deliveries. Explains Sajida, “The goond (acacia gum) has medicinal properties, and though the recipe for the laddoo is simple, it takes years of practice to get the mixture to hold right without giving way or being too sticky.” Sajida and Munira are the only ones in the family who prepare the laddoo, even today, as the next generations are still grasping the knack.
Time has changed much among the Kutchi Memons, says Sajida. Old, prolonged rituals have turned brief, and with it, the associated foods have morphed too.
For example, by tradition, the peeti (haldi) ceremony for brides lasted several days and the household favourite was muthiya, a steamed rice dumpling dish that could be served dry or with gravy. “I remember my ummima sitting and shaping the muthiyas all by herself, not trusting anyone to make them correctly with her special mix of spices and ingredients,” writes Shazia. Peeti ceremonies now are associated more with quicker dishes such as kaaja (a badusha-like savoury) and paalchaya, a condensed milk-based drink. Hot favourites are also the Kutchi koottan (a dal curry served with pathiri), beef kofta (boneless beef meatball curry), buttery, cookie-like nankhatais and mitta ghatia, a deep-fried flour-based snack.
Sajida counts among her most prized possessions, a kombi, a 100-year-old bandini shawl bordered by gold, traditionally placed over the bride’s head at weddings. What they also cherish is their Kutchi language — a conglomeration of Sindhi, Gujarati, Urdu and Hindi, reflective of the community’s wide travels.
“We still speak it at home and though it has no specific script, all our children have learnt it too alongside Malayalam, Hindi and English,” says Sajida in fluent Malayalam. Someday, they hope to bring out a book of their family’s recipes. For now, ‘Cutchi Kitchen’ conducts workshops on their food, alongside those on Arabian recipes and world cuisine. Find the ‘Cutchi Kitchen’ at www.cutchikitchen.com