Sindh: Recipes and Stories from a Forgotten Land by Sapna Ajwani

My travels in Pakistan started in Sindh, the third-largest province of the country. The ancient Persians referred to the land east of the river Indus as hind and the word Sindh was their variation on the Sanskrit, Sindhu, meaning ‘river.’ Wherever you are in Sindh, you’re conscious of the great river that still defines the place, its geography and mindset. I would follow the Indus throughout Sindh, and when I finally deviated from its course, I missed the river and its mighty presence. It cast its spell on me as surely as it did on Alexander the Great who conquered Sindh in 325 BCE and referred to the river as Indós.

I miss many things from Sindh besides the river: the friendly disposition of its people, the stunning historical sites that make ancient Greek ruins seem modern, the bejeweled shrines, the sandstone temples. I also missed Sindhi flavors, the unique combination that reminded me more of refined Persian cuisine than the earthy flavors of the neighboring Punjab.

I was determined to replicate the food I had tasted at home, but to my disappointment, the culinary tradition of a large province like Sindh was not captured in any of the books I found. Part of the reason is the current deep poverty of Sindh and its post-Partition split between Pakistan and India. While certain Sindhi dishes have entered the Indian culinary repertoire, like Sindhi kadhi or dal pakwan, they’re often a pale version of the originals.

Fortunately, I could turn for help to a friend and a walking encyclopedia on all things Sindhi, Sapna Ajwani. Born in Mumbai, in a Sindhi family that fled their land after Partition in 1947, Sapna grew up speaking the language and learning about traditional arts and foods. I first met Sapna when I came to London to join one of her famous supper clubs that showcased Sindhi food at its most exquisite. Sapna fed me lamb curry flavored with cardamom, silky dals accented with dill and lotus root stuffed with green chutney. I wrote down her recipes and begged her to record them for posterity. I’m certain that many people who tried Sapna’s food did the same, because she introduced us to another world of aromas and textures. It was memorable and addictive.

This year my wish came true as Sapna Ajwani published Sindh: Recipes and Stories from a Forgotten Land. The book is a labor of love, replete with stories about Sindh and its foods. I was one of the recipe testers for the book, so I know how much effort went into crafting each chapter.

The result is a volume that explains the basic flavors of Sindh that combine herbal, sour, salty and spicy nuances. The quantity of fresh herbs used in many recipes is impressive and it gives Sindhi dishes a bright, effervescent flavor, which is quite different from other styles of cooking in the Indian subcontinent.

Sapna is an experienced cook, and in her book, she offers clear guidance for novices in the kitchen. I like the layout of the recipes and the sections explaining how to buy and prep the most essential ingredients for Sindhi cuisine.

Some of my favorite recipes in the book are of fish dishes such as Kok pallo, Twice-cooked fish, or Bhinri macchi, Soupy fish in green cardamom and garlic. The generous use of cardamom alone makes Sindhi food an exciting experience for me.

The sections with vegetarian recipes likewise feature interesting combinations and a wide variety of produce. Patri peeri dal, Soupy yellow moong lentils, is one of my staple recipes. Sapna’s Taryal bhindiyoon, stir-fried okras, is a recipe of minimalistic perfection, requiring nothing more than salt, turmeric, amchoor (sour green mango powder) and chili to flavor okra. I often make a large batch to keep for a couple of days and enjoy the okra wrapped in flatbread or instead of falafel in pita.

Beyond the wonderful recipes and beautiful photos, Sindh: Recipes and Stories is a unique record that pays homage to an ancient land torn apart by the politics of the past century. Sapna’s book gives a sense of what was lost and what remained preserved and vibrant, which in itself is a testament to the resilience of Sindh. And food is the ultimate embodiment of its multifaceted and rich culture.

Sindh: Recipes and Stories from a Forgotten Land by Sapna Ajwani. Available from Sindhi Gusto (worldwide shipping).

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11 Comments

  • Jesse: Thank you for mentioning this book. I traveled widely in India, but I don’t think that I’ve tried any Sindhi dishes, or nothing that I knew to be Sindhi. I’ll have to follow Sapna and see when she offers her supper club again. I’m also in London. June 7, 2024 at 10:15am Reply

    • Victoria: Sapna’s supper clubs are a treat. I highly recommend them. June 7, 2024 at 11:25am Reply

  • Sandra: I wish you would share at least one of the recipes with your readers. I like a good lentil dish June 7, 2024 at 11:03am Reply

  • rickyrebarco: This book looks amazing. I will definitely seek it out. June 7, 2024 at 11:55am Reply

    • Victoria: Sapna did such a wonderful job on it! A true labor of love. June 7, 2024 at 12:05pm Reply

  • rickyrebarco: I ordered a copy for myself and my daughter-in-law. I think she will really enjoy it. June 7, 2024 at 12:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m so happy to hear this. Thank you very much for your support. I hope that you enjoy the book. June 7, 2024 at 12:06pm Reply

  • Fazal Cheema: I remember mention of your friend Sapna in your old instagram posts and they almost always focused on Sindhi food. That is how I was virtually introduced to her. June 8, 2024 at 11:50am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s right! She has a page on Instagram called sindhigusto. June 8, 2024 at 11:59am Reply

  • Aurora: Thank you very much for highlighting this book, Victoria As a vegetarian I am drawn to anything with lentils as they provide protein, plus they’re delicious. June 9, 2024 at 10:49am Reply

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