Indians love to stereotype themselves, especially when it comes to food.
Punjabis are hearty eaters and drinkers, loud and loutish, given to consuming dal makhani and tandoori chicken. Gujaratis are vegetarians, partial to sweetish food. South Indians—oh yes, we are one amorphous mass—are meek idli-dosa-sambhar and curd-rice eating vegetarians. Bengalis are intellectuals, their senses honed by fish and rosogollas. North-Easterners love music, especially Korean pop, and they—whisper—eat dogs and insects.
Many of these stereotypes have some truth, but in our rush to slot each other, we remain spectacularly ignorant of the larger facts. For instance, south Indians are decidedly more accommodative of meat-eating than chicken-loving Punjabis. Along the highways and in small towns, you will find on offer meats that would likely horrify the Punjabi and average north Indian: beef, pork, rabbit, duck and crab, to name some.
I, too, was guilty of serious stereotyping when I married a Sindhi hottie 13 years ago. I thought I was marrying into a people who loved diamonds and were mostly vegetarian.
I was right about the diamonds, but I was wrong about their food habits, although my wife is indeed vegetarian (not even an egg crosses those ruby lips). My friends never let me live it down because I had frequently proclaimed that I could never marry a, well, grass-eater.
Today I cringe at my ignorance and shameful stereotyping. It is true that my in-laws prefer vegetarian food, occasionally allowing themselves minuscule pieces of chicken or fish—politely refusing any other of God’s own creatures, which my parents and I tend to put on the table.
What I did not know was that Sindhis in general love meat and fish, cooking up some of the healthiest non-vegetarian food available in India. It isn’t too spicy, but it certainly isn’t bland.
At this point, I must tell you that as a son-in-law, I hold pride of place in Sindhi society. In my parents’ families, sons-in-law are what they are, no more, no less, just another addition to a family that has always placed girls at the centre of their universe (this trend continues with me and my daughter), especially the dinner table. Among Sindhis, however, a son-in-law is called first to the table, given his choice of seat and generally fussed over.
Unused to this VIP treatment, my reaction when this first happened was to look around and say, “Who me?” Soon, I learnt to relax and enjoy the attention. To a glutton like myself, the realization soon dawned: I was in heaven.
This was particularly so at the home of the Rohiras, where Poonam, my wife’s aunt, had adapted her Punjabi roots to the great tree of Sindhi life, especially their cuisine.
From my lofty perch at the Rohiras’ table, I soon realized that while my wife’s favourite sai bhaji—a healthy spinach-based, dal-like melange of vegetables—and tuks (spiced, deep-fried potato slices) were always cooked especially for her, the repast now always included fish and meat, done Sindhi style.
Unlike the coconut-based Goan fish curries of home, Sindhi-style fish was decidedly lighter. For me the real killer was always the meat, made minced as a fragrant kheema with no floating, extra oil, or as a simple, equally fragrant curry made from lamb chops.
Teewarn, as these curried chops are called, are now my absolute favourite when it comes to meat, and because they are so low on oil and heavy seasonings, it isn’t difficult to consume Kkg for dinner. Every Sindhi family makes these curries differently—as I can now testify.
The great pity is that unless you marry into a Sindhi family or get invited for dinner, there is no chance you will get to taste a teewarn. Sindhi food is rarely available in restaurants.
I am unhappy to note that Sindhi culture is substantially endangered in India. As a people without a homeland and a refugee past, Sindhi Hindus tend to be fatalistic. Young Sindhis struggle with the language, which is still written in an Arabic script (in the Naskh style, with unique Sindhi additions), though Devanagari is increasingly used (the government of India recognizes both). To add to this diversity, Sindhis frequent gurudwaras, so religious texts use the Gurmukhi script.
“It’s a dying language, what’s the point?” my wife and in-laws say when I ask why they don’t speak to our toddler in Sindhi. This may or may not be so. But as far as I am concerned, I am satisfied that whatever else happens, the teewarn will live on—as, I hope, will the Sindhi urge to spoil the son-in-law.
Poonam Aunty’s Teewarn
Kkg mutton chops
3-4 medium-sized onions, grated or finely chopped
3-4 medium-sized tomatoes, puréed or grated
Paste for marinade: grind 1-1K-inch ginger, an equal amount of garlic, 6 cloves, a small piece of cinnamon, 2 black (or green) cardamoms, 2 green chillies and 1 tsp coriander leaves. Should be about 2 tbsp
2 tsp red chilli powder
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp whole cumin
1 tsp garam masala
3 tbsp oil
1 cup curd
Salt to taste
Wash the mutton pieces, add 1 tbsp ground paste and curd. Mix. Marinate for at least an hour. If you prefer to marinate longer, refrigerate. Heat oil, add cumin, cook for 2 minutes and add the onions. Brown the onions uniformly on medium flame. When light brown, add 1 tsp turmeric. Keep cooking till a rich brown, not dark or crisp. Then add the red chilli powder. Stir the onions for a minute so that they are a rich red. Add the marinated mutton and mix well. Add garam masala, coriander powder and salt.
Let the mutton cook until the oil separates and floats to the top. Use a medium flame if you are stirring. Otherwise use a slow flame. This should take 10-15 minutes. Then add the tomatoes, grated or blended. Cover and cook on a slow fire for at least 45 minutes. Keep checking to prevent drying or burning. Pour some water on the lid, and if the meat looks like it is getting too dry, add this water into the mutton. Maintain the desired thickness of gravy. It can also be pressure-cooked after adding tomatoes and a little water, but Sindhi mutton is best cooked slow.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar also writes the fortnightly science column Frontier Mail for Mint.
Also Read | Samar’s previous columns