Pickles to topli nu paneer: Experts help you stock your kitchen like a Parsi
The Persian new year is on March 20. Here’s where to find some of the secret masalas, ingredients and munchies that make the feast so good.mumbai Updated: Mar 17, 2018 15:53 IST
They may be a minority but few communities can match the Parsis’ love for food. At Nowruz or Navroze (March 20), an ancient Persian spring festival, you’ll find the community feasting on patra ni machhi (steamed fish topped with chutney and wrapped in banana leaf), sali jardaloo ma murghi (chicken with apricot and potato), kid gosht (lamb stew) and lagan nu custard.
Hungry already? Experts help you stock your kitchen with Parsi favourites.
For Malcolm Kolah, 28, the Sunday staple of mutton dhansak, a Parsi dish of marinated meat cooked with lentils and vegetables, is comforting only when it features two spice mixes – M Motilal Masalawala’s Khambhati sambhar masala and dhansak masala.
The former’s mix of cumin, fennel seeds, fenugreek and mustard, enhances the lentils’ flavour. The latter’s cloves, garlic, mace and chillies is a great marinade. “These masalas were part of my mother’s traditional recipe,” says the resident of Rustom Baug, Byculla, and co-owner of delivery kitchen and café, Black Stove Co. “The ingredient proportions are perfectly balanced.”
Currying favour among Parsis since 1912, M Motilal Masalawala was launched by Gujarati brothers Motilal and Mangaldas Patel, with stores at Bhuleshwar, Grant Road and Tardeo.
Since the family’s separation in 1960s, the Grant Road store is managed by Mangaldas’ family and stocks multi-community spice-mixes and curry pastes under the label, Mangal. Here you’ll find everything (Rs 50 onwards) from aromatic Parsi dhana jeera (coriander-cumin) powder to ingredients like magaz (muskmelon seeds) and peepramul (long pepper root) that fleck the fudge-like winter warmer vasanu.
“Our forefathers started by selling salt and ghee and moved onto stocking masalas because they observed that women liked to blend their spices,” says Mahesh Patel, third-generation owner of the Grant Road store. “Since the Parsi community was a majority in these areas, they started offering masalas specific to them.”
In Tardeo, you can pick up masalas, pastes for patra ni machhi, salli boti and dhansak, as well as crunchy saria (papad-like rice wafers) at Motilal Masalawala And Sons. “To date, Parsis form 95 per cent of our clients,” says its third-generation owner Himanshu Patel. “Khambhati sambhar masala is one of our bestsellers. My grandfather [Motilal Nathabhai Patel] worked at a masala factory in Khambhat for four months to perfect the recipe.”
WHERE Sonawala Building, Tardeo Circle and Opposite Novelty Cinema, MS Ali Road, Grant Road.
A taste for tang
Ask any Parsi worth their saas ni machhi where they get their vinegar from, they’ll point to Navsari. In this small Gujarat town, EF Kolah & Sons has been brewing vinegar from sugarcane juice – called sarko – in wooden casks since 1885. It’s used in their legendary pickles and you’ll find it stocked at M Motilal Masalawala and Dadar’s Gangar Stores.
“The vinegar has complex, sweet-and-sour notes,” says Mahrukh Mogrelia, 49, who runs home dining venture, Mahrukh’s Kitchen at Grant Road’s Ness Baug. Growing up in Navsari, she watched her grandmother use it “in saas ni machhi, tomato chutney and pickles like gajar mewa nu achar and bafena (made with ripe mangoes).”
Mogrelia opts for Bomi Kersasp Kolah’s vinegar (Rs 75), launched by a descendant of the pioneer, Edalji Kolah. “Brewing this vinegar takes roughly a year. It’s preservative-free,” says Bomi, who uses his father Kersasp’s recipe.
WHERE The vinegar is available at provision stores like RR Acharia in Crawford Market, Farm Products in Colaba and Shah Ratanshi Velji in Grant Road.
Paneer in a basket
A few home chefs make topli nu paneer, a moist, salty, silken cottage cheese resembling a mozzarella ball. It’s made in cane baskets and preserved in a saline bath or whey.
Peddar Road resident and teacher Roxanne Boga, 58, gets her once-a-month supply from Delna Tamboly. “Hers stay fresh for at least two days,” she says. “I pick up two dozen on every trip and distribute them to my friends and neighbours. You don’t need to cook it; just have it as an appetiser.”
Tamboly, 33, has been making topli nu paneer for 12 years. “The biggest challenge is to find the mini cane baskets with slightly tapering edges instead of round ones so that the paneer formed is fluffy.” Made with buffalo milk, the process takes up to five hours and requires constant monitoring. She sells them at Rs 30 per piece.
In a pickle
Zinobia Schroff began making Parsi pickles at 16. At 65, the Dadar Parsi Colony resident has turned her hobby into a home-run business, with a line of Schroff’s Pickles. Her menu features lagan nu achar (with carrots, raisins and dates), vengna nu achar (with brinjal), lime and mango pickles, non-vegetarian treats like tarapori patio (Bombay duck), gharab nu achar (roe) and kolmi nu achar (prawn).
“Tarapori patio is the most tedious to make because you need to get the bombil, chop off its unwanted parts, and dry it for eight days before making the pickle,” says Schroff, who makes a trip to the Mazgaon docks every week for fresh prawns. While she has two helpers to chop and clean, “nobody is allowed to make the pickles except me”, she states. Dial in to place your order (Rs 150 onwards).
Snack like a Parsi
There’s more to Parsi snacks than mawa cake and khari biscuits. Try bhakras, deep-fried, rotund cookies-that are slightly sweet and dense. Or chapat, resembling an eggy crepe. Or dar ni pori. “A thicker version of puran poli with lots of ghee and dry fruit,” says Goregaon resident Gulrukh Irani, who offers these treats under her home-run catering service, Soul Chome.
Stock up at Grant Road’s Parsi Ameloriation Committee (and have their crisp chicken farchas while at it) and Belgaum Ghee Depot or RN Kerawalla Provision and Stores at Dhobi Talao, now run by fourth generation owner Tanaz Keki Kerawalla.
Parsi Dairy Farm at Marine Lines is famous for its malai kulfi, mithu dahi (sweet curd) and the famous mawa ni boi – the silver varq-clad, fish-shaped sweet that is part of all special occasions in Parsi households.
Iranian Sweets Palace opens for a month, during Navroze. The 109-year-old, hole-in-the-wall shop on Imamwada Road in Bhendi Bazaar is best known for its Iranian baklava. They also stock gaz (a rich, chewy, pistachio nougat), Persian mint and zereshk berries (used in Berry Pulao) from Iran.