Bohra thaals baffle most first-timers. It’s hard enough to get used to the communal meal, in which eight people share food on a single large plate, but it is even stranger to stomach the unusual rhythm of the cuisine’s courses. Sweet dishes and savoury preparations are served in alternating order – a meal may begin with sitaphal ice cream followed by chicken tikka, then a plate of firni and red chicken curry with garlic bread, only to end with pulao or mutton biryani and soup. Though some traditional Bohra delicacies like khichda are served at establishments like Shalimar on Mohammed Ali Road, these restaurants don’t serve a whole thaal, as at weddings and community functions. Caterers usually agree to prepare thaalstyle eight-course meals only for big groups but Al-Saif Caterers allows you to take home one thaal. Run by Shahin Pacha and her father-in-law Yusuf Pacha, Al-Saif Caterers, popularly known as Pacha Caterers, churns out food for large weddings and small gatherings from their kitchen on Clare Road with a team of 15 cooks. Orders need to be placed only a day in advance. Their large menu features Bohra and Mughlai delicacies like mutton khichda (R600 per kg), biryani (R700 per kg), paya (R400 per dozen) and yakhni pulao (R700 per kg).
Ordering a Bohra meal isn’t just about picking the star dishes, however. Let the experts help you assemble a thaal, in which there are two starters, two desserts, one main course, a soup and two “salads” – an easy way to supplement the eight-course meal – like bhel, dahi wada or spicy red potatoes with kokum chutney. We suggest you find a way to include the cheesy Russian kebab (R10 per piece), made of a mix of potatoes, carrots and beans cooked in white sauce, shaped into oval cutlets, then coated with rice noodles and deep fried; the greasy and flavourful biryani layered with golden brown birasta masala and large hunks of potato; and the rich and glutinous khichda served with fried onions and mint leaves. There are Bohra desserts too – remember to start, not end your meal with them – like thuli (R250 per kg), a sheera made with broken wheat, ghee and jaggery, and dudhi halwa (R250 per kg) but steer clear of the essence-packed pineapple halwa (R250 per kg) unless you’ve got a sickeningly sweet tooth. They even make handmade ice cream in seasonal flavours for R300 per kg.
If you do leave the components of the thaal to Shahin Pacha, don’t be surprised if you find Italian, Chinese or continental preparations on your plate. A substantial portion of the menu dedicates space to new-age concoctions like chicken cherry kebab, lemon grass soup, chicken-mayo salad, chicken baked in macaroni red sauce with garlic bread and chicken lasagne. Such dishes have become staples at community functions – it is the odd combination of cuisines and flavours that makes the thaal such a unique experience. “Today, most people don’t want a complete traditional meal,” said Shahin Pacha. “They like to try many different kinds of cuisines. It is usually a mix of dishes you would cook at home and those you order in restaurants.”
Even if the authenticity of the mix can be questioned – the Bohra community doesn’t seem to care about that – you can at least eat the traditional way as Al-Saif Caterers provides the large plate or thaal for a day with the meal.
Orders must be placed at least a day in advance. Thaal R1,000 onwards. Delivery charges extra.
By Zeenat Nagree on June 22 2012 6.24am