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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Pehli Raat Struggle: Thaal, Maal and Halawaal
By: Modern Bhen
October 22, 2014

The tradition of the Bohra New Years Eve feast holds steadfastly to the one thing held dearest to a mumeen’s heart and the soul of Bohra culture: Bohra cuisine & the Thaal.

Throwing caution to the wind, along with our be kharaas/be mithaas rule -- Pehli Raat is a chance to give free reign to our gluttonous ways, unencumbered by the usual surroundings of a Bohra feast, such as weddings, darees, shitabis. On this night, and this night alone, we can shed the pretense and admit it. We’re just here for the food.

There is a vague cultural significance to this holiday that’s been explained a few different ways. Some believe the Thaal should be adorned with as many dishes as possible to signify the hopeful prosperity of the upcoming year. Fish, chicken, beef, lamb, samosas, fruits, nuts, soji, halwa, kebabs and daal chawal are just the beginning of a standard Pehli Raat meal.

All great stuff so far, but besides the nostalgic fuzziness this holiday inspires, Pehli Raat can also be a pretty stressful event. The advent of modern social media has kicked the Bohra competitive spirit into high gear this time of year. Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Viber and Whatsapp are inundated with #PRM, #DMY, and pictures of three-tiered thaal monstrosities covered with succulent, savory and sweet dishes. (Everyone that’s anyone has at least two-tiers and 53 dishes). The Pehli Raat Struggle is real.

The standard Pehli Raat meal involves anywhere from 21 to 153 dishes. Have you ever had to prepare a 153-course meal?!?
… or better yet…. Eat a 153-course meal?!?

Here are a few simple tricks to physically and mentally prepare yourself for the big day.

Dish Count

If you’re hosting Pehli Raat, your first task should be delegation. Ask each of your family members to bring a couple of items. (Start by assigning the fish and the dal chawaal, as those are the most essential dishes, and best handled by the tried and true culinary skills of your mom or grandmother.)

Still only hitting 147 dishes? Beef up your plate count by visiting your nearest produce market and grabbing a variety of fruit -- you only need one of each, and you can count each as a separate dish.  

Another great source of last minute dishes to add to the count: your freezer.  Those leftover kebabs and samosas from Ramadhan will come in handy now.

Marathon of Gluttony
You can’t consume a meal of such epic proportions without some preparation. Here are some thoughts on ensuring you get the most out of your Pehli Raat meal:
  • Train your tummy: Contrary to popular belief, starvation is not the key! You need to train your stomach for the big event by keeping your meals short and sweet for a day or two preceding the event.
  • Exercise: The day of, make sure you get some exercise, whether it’s a sweaty cardio session at the gym, or a short walk around the block. At the very least, do a few laps up and down the stairs carrying a thaal (also a great way to retrieve your thaals from the basement), or a couple of repetitions of bicep curls with a naryal in each hand.
  • Attire: Dress for the occasion. If you’re not wearing a rida to the big event, loose clothing is your friend -- and I cannot stress the importance of an elastic naara enough on this auspicious night.
  • One-Bite Rule: When you finally sit down to the big meal, pace yourself -- slow and steady wins the race. No matter how appealing that first lamb shank looks, you still have 152 dishes to go, so one boti and move along.

After the sumptuous meal has been consumed, and you’re reminiscing with your family about your favorite dishes of the night and avoiding questions about who’s kebabs were better -- (your chaachi or your phuphi’s) -- you may also want to consider getting some fresh air.  This will not only aid your digestion, it will also rid your hair and clothes of the Eau De Biryani.

Now that you’re fully prepared for tomorrow’s marathon --

Pehli Raat Mubarak!
Time to loosen those naara’s, my friends, ‘tis the season to Eat, Drink (lassi), and Be Merry!

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