"All that I knew about my Sindhi culture was kadhi," says celebrity hairstylist and filmmaker Sapna Bhavnani in her documentary Sindhustan. A Sindhi's quintessential identity is indeed synonymous with this yellow-coloured curry.
Bhavnani's aunt Kamla Thakur explains the tedious kadhi-making process in the film from start to finish, with the camera following the rigours. "Food is something big for us, and so it made sense to weave the story around it. Kadhi is my favourite, and it was my only choice because that is a Sindhi’s identity," says Bhavnani.
Sindhi Kadhi is distinctly different from other kadhis. "It is made from tur daal. We boil it with tomatoes in a cooker, then seave and use the soup, cooking it on slow fire much like a mithai. It is nutritious as we put lots of vegetables in it," she says.
Chef Sanjeev Kapoor couldn't agree more. "Sindhi Kadhi is full of flavour. I like the veggies that go into it. Kadhi elsewhere uses curd, but the Sindhi one doesn't," he says.
What sets Sindhi cuisine apart from others is its use of vegetables, spices, and cooking method. "They use both leafy greens such as spinach, fenugreek, etc, and also other vegetables such as okra, potatoes and drumsticks," says Kapoor.
Mumbai-based home chef Poonam Shahani, who runs Mamma's Cucina, agrees. "We use many vegetables that aren’t common in other cuisines. We also use a technique to allow the food to cook in its juices called teewan, a gravy made of tomatoes, onions and spices." When made with rice, it is Seyal Teewan; with bread, it is Seyal Dabroti; with roti, it becomes Seyal Mani.
Kapoor thinks that Sindhi cooking is an amalgamation. He says, "They have a unique cooking style and have their favourites when it comes to spices. They like to play with the base of their dishes." But God is in the details. Chef Satyajit Kotwal of Satyajit's Kitchen elucidates that the most common type of Sindhi cooking is Daag Mein (onion-tomato-based-curry).
"It brings out the sweetness of caramelised onions to provide a balanced flavour to the curries. In Seyal, the quantity of onions exceeds that of vegetables that are cooked till translucent. Saye Masale Mein uses coriander leaves, garlic, ginger and green chillies cooked with grated tomatoes and spices; the mix serves as a base in many Sindhi preparations," he explains.
Another popular Sindhi cooking method is Daas, where whole vegetables are stuffed with a mix of grated onion and Sindhi pesto, and cooked till tender, says Kotwal.
Sindhi cuisine has a lot of exciting items too. "The accompaniments are also imperative. Dishes such as fried potatoes or fried okra, papads, dahi, sweet boondi, etc, are the common ones. There’s an array of sweets, snacks, and bread to choose from," says Kapoor.
It was a rather sweet initiation into the home-grown food business for Mumbai-based Uttamchandani siblings - Ritesh, Shirley and Sonia - who made their debut with Sev Mithai or Singharji Mithai and Mohanthaal during the lockdown. "It was around Ritesh’s birthday in July last that this idea first cropped up. We were thrilled to bits, so we started it," says Shirley.
The trio was wary of people's reaction, especially from the traditional Sindhis, but the sweets tickled their taste buds too, besides finding favour among the non-Sindhis. Ritesh attributes it to the "curiosity factor".
Delhi's Archana Manwani loved to host non-Sindhi friends. "It was their encouragement that led to this food business. I take orders 24 hours before the delivery. I prepare food with specially sourced ingredients, be it vegetables or spices," she says. Giving a rundown of her story, Shahani says, "Not many people are aware of the range that Sindhi food offers. Also, there’s a dearth of places that serve authentic range in Mumbai."
Chipping in, Sonia highlights how most upmarket eating places don’t even have Sindhi foods on their menu. "There's a mention of all but not Sindhi, and that's sad," says Sonia, who with Shirley and Ritesh has added many traditional Sindhi foods, and Ritesh’s special - jaggery Sev Mithai - to the menu.
Shahani also got into the business to "preserve her culture’s flavour for those youngsters who are losing touch with their roots".
Manwani is quite keen to promote Sindhi cuisine among Delhiites. "I approached the Director of Tourism in Delhi for a stall in Dilli Haat. But I haven’t got any response," she rues. Thakur is the go-to person for Bhavnani, be it "Teevan, Sai Bhaji, Seyal Beeh Patata, and, of course, Kadhi". Yes, Kadhi, because it is unlike others of its ilk.