Thathai Bhatia Cuisine
Thathai Bhatia cuisine is the cuisine of a subset of the Bhati Rajput culture of India, who embraced the Bhakti sect of Hinduism while living in the Thatta region, and became Pushtimarg – strict vegetarians who eschewed even onions and garlic and devoted themselves to Srinathji, the child form of Shri Krishna.
Thatta was mostly a desert region, hot and humid. In the olden days, when the science of modern inventions had not been discovered, the cooking process was very slow using mostly charcoal or wood. The Thathai Bhatias devised different ways to make the cooking process simple and easy. The use of fresh vegetables and lentils made using minimum spices but cooked delicately to keep the flavour of the food intact was devised. They omitted the use of pungent flavours, that of onion and garlic, which emitted a strong odour and required a longer cooking duration. They also avoided the use of these strongly flavoured ingredients because food prepared was first offered to the gods – an act which the Bhatias call Bhog Dharanu. Use of onion or garlic rendered the food tamasic ("impure"), hence these were not used.
Bhog Dharanu is a ritual still followed in a lot of Bhatia households today, where the food prepared is first offered to the gods – as a token of love and to thank him for the daily meal. The belief is that god blesses the food. The food offered is then taken away by snapping the fingers twice to tell god that it is being distributed to the family members as Prasad.
Thathai Bhatias are a religious community, and observe fasts on auspicious days to please the gods. One such day is Ekadashi or Igyas, which falls on the 11th day of every Hindu month, i.e., twice a month on the Gregorian calendar. The number 11 has a special religious significance. The mind is considered the 11th organ after the 10 sense organs. To have a healthy body, one has to have a healthy and a spiritual mind. And to enhance the mind, it needs to be at peace. On Igyas or the 11th day, a meal consisting mostly of simple food, fruits and nuts is taken. This gives a break from the routine food habit and is a healthy alternative. It takes the mind off eating and a person is able to devote more time to prayers and devotion.
In contrast to days of fasting, there are days of feasting like Holi, Dassera, Diwali when special meals are prepared. One such day is the day after Diwali when 56 dishes are offered to God. This is called Chhappan Bhog or "56 offerings". This feast by Thathai Bhatias is called Ankoot where various sweets, savouries, rice, lentils, pappads, loar are prepared.
The cooking method adopted in Bhatia cooking is very simple. The vegetables are cooked with few spices and the tempering or the base spice is either of asafoetida (hing) or cumin (jeera). These serve the purpose of what onion or garlic is to other cuisines. Asafoetida and cumin are primarily used due to their medicinal properties of aiding in digestion. Vegetables commonly cooked in Bhatia cuisine are the ones which were abundantly available in dry places like Rajasthan or Thatta. The use of vegetables like brinjal (eggplant, baingan), courgette (turia) and bittergourd (karela) is extensive in the Bhatia cuisine. The concept of garnishing is quite simple and is mostly restricted to finely chopped coriander leaves or a dash of lime in most of the preparations.
Bhatias are amongst the few communities who commence lunch with a rice preparation and follow it up with breads (rotis, phulkas, poori) etc. Most of the other communities in India start their meal with Breads and follow it up with rice. The sophistication of Thathai Bhatia cuisine lies in its simplicity.
Cookbook & Website
The first ever book on Thathai Bhatia cuisine, Panja Khada (Sindhi: " اسانجو کاڌو Our Food") - A Culinary Guide to Thathai Bhatia cuisine, was launched by Deepa Chachara and Bharat Chachara in December 2002 at the Consulate General of India in Dubai. The book was launched by the Indian Consul General to Dubai, His Excellency George Joseph. The book contains over 150 authentic Bhatia recipes and is divided into ten sections. It has chapters on the history of Bhatia cuisine, cooking terminology, kitchen equipment used and a glossary of items in English, Hindi and Sindhi. The book went on to become a best seller in Dubai and till early 2013 has sold over 2000 copies locally. Following the success of the book, a website of the same name http://panjakhada.com was launched on June 28, 2010 by the Indian Consul General to Dubai, His Excellency Sanjay Verma in Dubai. The website contains over 250 recipes including a section on Bhatia fusion cuisine.
- Dubai Authors Bite into a Niche Market. Business24-7.ae, 30 June 2010
- Weekend. Khaleej Times, July 2010
- Food Network . The National Newspaper, Abu Dhabi, August 11, 2010
- United flavors of Sindh . The Express Newspaper, Dubai, September 16, 2010