Till quite recently, in order to get a cracker-jack and laudable Parsi meal you had to ingratiate yourself with a member of the community, so that you could steal a taste of their cuisine. It was a breach you could achieve by either wangling an invitation to a Parsi home for a meal, or a coveted invite to one of those Caligula-like feasts at a Parsi wedding. Their food was just not available for money.
Not for me. I’ve been blessed. I have known scores of Parsis all my life. And fate has had me playing lifelong friend to two. It’s been an unrelenting pageant of the best food the Parsis can cook up. Delicacies from Masoor ma Gosht to Dhun Daar Kolmi na Patia to Bhida par Eeda to Papeta ma Gosht, to the elusive Aleti Paleti, and more.
This week both my Parsi friends have great reasons to celebrate. Cyrus Broacha celebrated his birthday, and Boman Irani, like everybody from the community, will celebrate the Parsi New Year, Pateti, next week (August 18). And no Parsi celebration is complete without food. Only at a Parsi dining table can you finish eating breakfast and discuss lunch, finish eating lunch and discuss tea, finish tea and discuss dinner, and finish eating dinner and discuss the menu for the next week. The Parsis I know take great joy in discussing food with a passion most men reserve only for discussing female body parts. And it is no different at the Broachas or at the Iranis.
Chicken Farcha by Perzen Patel
So, getting back to being able to get a good Parsi meal. There are some very exciting things happening with a handful of Bawas who are arming themselves to serve you great food. Starting with someone who calls herself the Bawi Bride, Perzen Patel. She’s been dishing out great Parsi food for a while now. For example, Chicken Farcha (spiced chicken legs dipped in egg batter and deep-fried), or Malai ma Kolmi (large prawns cooked in creamy and slightly spicy, thick gravy) or a classic Patra ni Machchi (over-zealous portions of pomfret in a green chutney, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed).
The newly opened Villa Vandre at Bandra, Social at Colaba and Todi Mill, Lower Parel, all feature the all-time-Parsi-Sunday-favourite, Mutton Dhansak, on the menu. Todi Mill Social doesn’t stop at the Dhansak — it also serves its take on Salli par edu (eggs on potato straws), Irani Junglee Poro (an unusually spicy omlette), Chicken Farcha, served with dried chilly, mango muraba and saria (rice crackers). It’s an explosion of Parsi food, I tell you.
And, academically at the helm of all things Parsi is Kurush Dalal. Archeologist and assistant professor, archaeology, University of Mumbai, he’s also the inheritor of his iconic mother, late Katy Dalal’s, Parsi catering mantle. At a recent talk on Parsi food, he cooked, demonstrated and unraveled the history of the cuisine. He has promised me a Dukkar Dhansak (wild boar/pork Dhansak) that I will hold him to.
SodaBottleOpenerWala, a café which made waves in Gurgaon and is slated to open in Mumbai soon, includes Parsi front-runners like Prawn Patio (sweet, sour and spicy prawns), Tareli Machchi (Parsi-style fried fish), Parsi Mutton Masala Roast (roasted mutton in special Parsi masala), and Jardaloo ma Tarkari (vegetables in apricots).
Interiors of SodaBottleOpenerWala, which opens in Bandra-Kurla Complex in September 2015
I don’t want to forget the old time Parsi joints like Pervez Patel’s Ideal Corner, Mocambo Cafe in Fort and By-the-Way at Gamdevi, that still serve some fine and flavoursome Bawa food. And, of course, the Queen of all Parsi wedding food — Tanaz Godiwala. They are the wind beneath my wings.
(Author and TV show host Kunal Vijayakar is “always hungry”. Follow him on Twitter @kunalvijayakar)