It is by observing her family cook that Lamiya Amiruddin developed a strong understanding of her community’s rich culinary heritage.
My mother is one of the most talented cooks that I know, and I suppose I got twice lucky when I got married: my mother-in-law is exceptional in the kitchen, and a trained cook too. Lamiya Amiruddin, my mother-in-law, grew up in Hyderabad where she spent a fair bit of time in the kitchen watching her mother, Tahera Saleh Shipchandler, cook. This is how she learnt to cook traditional Bohra dishes, and developed a strong understanding of the Dawoodi Bohra culinary heritage. (The Dawoodi Bohras trace their roots to the Fatimi Imams, direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima.)
“As a child, I used to watch my mother roll out malai na khajlas—these sugar-dusted flaky pastries filled with fresh cream which are unique to the Bohra community. The long and tedious process needs patience and passion, and is part of the trade secrets that have been passed down from my great grandmothers. The roll-and-wrap process of making the pastry always fascinated me, and I try to churn out malai na khajlas at least a couple of times a year,” Lamiya told me. (Read her recipe for malai na khajlas here.)
Years later, Lamiya also studied Catering & Food Technology from Kamla Nehru Polytechnic for Women in Hyderabad. After getting married, she got an opportunity to learn from another great cook, her mother-in-law Rummana Firoze Amiruddin. “I watched her spend hours stirring pots of pineapple murabba, a speciality jam that we used to savour with tea and toast during breakfast,” said Lamiya.
I’ve spent countless evenings watching Lamiya (who I call Mom) in the kitchen, not really contributing much to the cooking process, to be honest, but hoping somehow to be the first one to taste some of her most exquisite creations, like her paani ni murgi (whole spring chicken in almond soup), or cream tikkas. The beauty of Mom’s cooking is that it’s a mix of age-old recipes—carefully passed down through generations in the family—along with her own interpretations of everyday food.
It should come as no surprise that the kitchen happens to be her favourite part of our house in Mumbai’s Byculla neighbourhood. In fact, when Mom is away from home, and travelling for extended periods of time, she actually ends up missing our kitchen. On one of her recent trips, she decided to make a jam with berries at eleven in the night in her Airbnb home. She couldn’t help it, she’d missed her kitchen that much!
When I asked her what she loved the most about the kitchen, she said, “I just love all of it because when we remodelled it, we made everything accessible. The fridge used to be in the passage earlier, but now it is inside the kitchen. Each gadget has a specific place, so nothing comes in the way anymore, and we have a wonderful counter. With bigger windows, the space is also nicely lit and airy.”
Often, at the start of the golden hour, it’s just Mom in the kitchen—bobbing around, humming a tune, topi-clad, the sun’s rays on her face. You can tell she’s always having fun cooking. When she sees me, she looks at her creation proudly, beaming, and holds out a spoon for me to try it.
There are traditional dishes that Lamiya continues to cook today that very few people know how to create from scratch. She adds, “I have great faith in Kumail, my son, to carry on this legacy of being a great cook, as it isn’t uncommon in our family for men to take over the kitchen. My grandfather Zainulbhai A. Tapia broke gender stereotypes long ago, and was a connoisseur of biryani and roast mutton, which to me remains the world’s best.”
I have great faith in Kumail, my son, to carry on this legacy of being a great cook, as it isn’t uncommon in our family for men to take over the kitchen. My grandfather Zainulbhai A. Tapia broke gender stereotypes long ago, and was a connoisseur of biryani and roast mutton, which to me remains the world’s best.
But guess what Mom’s most known for? It’s her signature mustard sauce—something that she’s been gifting family members and friends for years during Ramzan. I learnt that this was inspired by rai uthavanu (which translates to bringing out the flavour of mustard seeds), a preparation common at home in Hyderabad during her growing up years. In fact, Lamiya’s mother used to grind whole mustard seeds, and beat it with a little warm water until it became light and aromatic. Since this paste was usually used in mutton sandwiches in her home, and people tend to make sandwiches for iftar, Mom figured that this would be a good gift during Ramzan.
When a year in between, she decided to switch it up and gift house plants instead, it was met with strong reactions. House plants were welcome of course, but it was the mustard sauce that people were longing for. Fortunately for them, she’s back to cooking this much anticipated mustard. (You can reach out to Lamiya to order your own jar of mustard here.)
Zainab Kapadia works as part of The Locavore’s marketing and social media team.