The melting pot: The evolution of Parsi cuisine

  • Kaushani Banerjee, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Aug 12, 2016 07:38 IST
Dhansak (Photo: Perzen Patel, Bawi Bride Kitchen )

Parsi cuisine comprises a medley of dishes that are as rich as the culture itself. The community settled on the coast of Gujarat after migrating from Persia. The tradition of eating stew, meats, dry fruits and nuts, draws its influences from Iranian fare. They added fish to their diet after settling on the coast, and later, with the British influence in colonial India, they took to snacks and desserts.

“It is one of the oldest and most recognised cuisines in the world. But the food that we are familiar with today is an adaptation of the dishes that were served traditionally. Predominately, our food is sweet, sour and spicy; khaatu-meethu-teekho, as a Parsi would say it,” explains Darius Madon, executive chef, Kaboom, Lower Parel.

Read: These young chefs are here to make Parsi food cool again

Distinct Flavour

Traditional Parsi cuisine combines the spiciness of saffron and cinnamon, the sweetness of jaggery, and the tanginess of barberry. Most preparations are also topped with dry fruits and nuts. The result is a dish with not just one flavour, but many. “Most dishes require onions, tomatoes, ginger and garlic. It is Indian in that sense, but it also includes vinegar and jaggery. Salli Chicken, for instance, is slightly sweet, and then it turns sour. Finally, you can feel the spices at the back of your throat,” says Perzen Patel, caterer and author of the blog Bawi Bride.

Non-vegetarian fare forms a big part of the cuisine. “Traditionally, Parsi weddings would only serve mutton. However, with the advent of the poultry industry, the focus has shifted to chicken. The fascination with Patra Ni Machchi is a recent phenomenon,” says Kurush Dalal, archaeologist and caterer at Katy’s Kitchen.

However, vegetables are an important part of the cuisine as well. “Most people learn about the cuisine from weddings and Navjotes, where grand meals are set up. Vegetables have largely been forgotten. For example, Chorpat Par Edu is essentially made of eggs and bitter gourd. People relate to Dhansak as the most common Parsi dish in the world. Not many know that, traditionally, it is something that people have four days after someone’s death,” says Madon.

Salli Per Edu (Photo: Perzen Patel, Bawi Bride Kitchen )

Multicultural influences

Over the years, the cuisine has become more Indianised. “It still has a few influences from Iranian food. For example, the Salli Jardaloo Chicken is cooked with dry fruits. Parsis only took to fish after coming to India, since Iran is a dry to semi-arid country. Patra Ni Machchi is completely Indian. The pomfret, which is wrapped in a banana leaf, is found on the west coast,” says Dalal.

When talking about desserts, a popular term that is often used is ‘monu samarva’ (to repair the mouth). Parsi desserts take their cue from British ones. “Most of the desserts and condiments are inspired from colonial India. The Lagan Nu Custard is a pudding, and Chapat, which is served with tea, is nothing but a pancake,” says Patel.

Patra Ni Machchi (Photo: Perzen Patel, Bawi Bride Kitchen )

What the city offers

Unfortunately, with iconic Irani cafés slowly shutting down, only a handful of restaurants still serve Parsi dishes. “If you want to have a good Parsi meal, you’ll have to go to someone’s house. Ideal Corner, Fort and PAC (Parsi Amelioration Committee) in Grant Road serve some traditional food. It’s easier to order food from one of the Parsi caterers,” recommends Patel. Paradise and Café Military in Colaba are two more such restaurants

Read: Parsi cuisine on a platter- Kunal Vijayakar’s selection

Celebrate Parsi New Year at these places in Mumbai:

On the menu: Tarela Soufflé, Tareli Macchi, Gos No Saas, Chicken Yazidi, and more

Where: Soda Bottle Opener Wala, BKC

When: Till August 21

On the menu: Jardaloo Sali Chicken, Bharuchi Akoori with Brun Pao, Lagan nu Stew, Titori in Green Masala and Patra nu Paneer, among others dishes

Where: Café at the NCPA, Nariman Point

When: Till August 17

On the menu: Mutton Cutlet, Chicken Russian Pattice, Patra Fish, Mutton Pulao, and more

Where: Pala Fala, Worli

When: On August 16 and 17

On the menu: Topli Paneer, Komli na Churry Chawal, and Masur ne Gor Amli, among other dishes

Where: SAN:QI, Four Seasons Hotel, Worli

When: Till August 26


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