Warmth, humility and hospitality of Sindhis in Pakistan is an integral part of their culture. However, to experience this truly one has to drive to the real Sindh.
An authentic home of a Sindhi family and their warm welcome is best enjoyed in the summer over thaadal and rabrri. But being a tourist myself I have no acquaintances in lower Sindh, hence the local market will have to do, for now.
The buzz in the Shahi Bazaar of Hyderabad is electric; noise, people, food stalls, chhann chhann of the Sindhi bangles, music and the loud Asr aazaan scoring to the carnival of life. I walk with a hurried pace towards Rabrri and Kheer Centre hoping to beat the heat, and the foot traffic customarily headed the same way after Asr prayers.
A sip of chilled thaadal amidst the madness of the rush hour is nothing short of heavenly. And then I spot the rabrri shop diagonal to Navalrai Clock Tower, the colonial landmark, I am so desperately looking for.
I block the din and focus on the bowl of rabrri. My hungry gnawing insides ready to savour the sweetness of the delicious cool dessert, my mouth eager to taste the layers of thickened milk skin reduced to condensed perfection. The very first bite and I am euphoric.
I muse the journey of the milk; the fodder consumed by the cow so its body can produce milk, the calf may have been denied milk so it could be transported to Rabrri and Kheer Centre, the slow cooking of the milk to reduce its water content, in essence encouraging its creaminess and natural sweetness centre stage, the low heat evaporating the water until there is only cream and sugar and the heady scent of cardamom.
I was in a state of sweet nirvana. I smile to myself and think of the simplicity and joy of the moment. Milk and sugar served in an earthen bowl to beat sweet cravings, and a sip of chilled thaadal to quench the thirst and beat the heat.
Yes, simple pleasures make the best treasures, this world’s best-kept secret for sure.
2 litres milk
3/4 cup sugar
12 each almonds and pistachio
7 cardamom pods
A pinch of saffron
½ teaspoon rose water
Peel and chop the soaked almonds and pistachio. Soak saffron in hot milk and crush to make a paste. In a heavy lidded pot or wok, pour milk and bring to boil on medium flame. Once milk comes to a simmer and cream sets on the top, gently move cream to a side and stir in the centre to ensure that the milk does not stick to the bottom.
Keep repeating the process until milk is reduced to one-third. Add sugar, cardamom and saffron and boil for 10 minutes. Sprinkle the chopped nuts and turn off flame, stirring the pot to mix the cream on the side of the pot. Cool to room temperature, add rose water and chill in refrigerator. Serve chilled.
1 1/2 litres water
1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
1/2 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon cantaloupes seeds
1 teaspoon watermelon seeds
250 ml milk
Sugar to taste
20 dried/fresh rose petals
Soak sugar in half litre water. Wash all ingredients and soak in two cups of water. Let soak for three to four hours. Grind the soaked ingredients, sieve through a muslin cloth and strain through water, repeat four to five times, straining through the same water, or i.e. until paste renders no essence. Add the remaining water and milk. Serve chilled.
BOMBAY BAKERY CAKE
7 oz flour
1 ½ tsp vanilla essence
1 cup castor sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
8 oz butter
Cream butter and sugar with cake beater. Sift flour and baking powder, adding one tablespoon of the dry mixture and one egg at a time into sugar/butter. Using cake mixer beat until all four eggs and vanilla essence are added. Add the remaining dry mixture, and mix with a spatula. Divide the batter into two eight-inch cake pans and bake in a pre-heated oven (350 degrees F or 180 degrees C) for 20 to 22 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack and ice.
In a pan, melt 6 oz butter and three-fourth cup white granulated sugar, set aside to cool. Add three beaten eggs to butter and sugar and cook on lowest heat setting until sugar dissolves, and icing has thickened, set aside to cool. Once cool, add one tablespoon coffee (dissolved in one tablespoon water) to the icing.
Set the icing in fridge for 20 minutes. Put the icing on one cake, top it with the second cake, and apply icing on top and all around, set in the fridge for 20 minutes. Your cake is ready for devouring and sharing.
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, August 5th, 2018