Parsi food is more than ‘dhansak’

#1 Jun 17th, 2017, 10:38
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  • aarosh is offline
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A spread of lesser-known Parsi dishes such as chicken vindaloo, ‘masoor ma gos’, ‘vengna no patio’ at Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu, Delhi. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

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For a culinary tapestry as rich and diverse, Parsi cuisine has for a long time remained circumscribed by stereotypes, identified largely by the dhansak-sali boti routine popularized by Mumbai’s iconic Irani cafés and Parsi eateries. Of course, more recently, speciality Parsi restaurants have been opening doors outside Mumbai, Irani café classics have begun making routine appearances on menus at modern Indian eateries, and there’s increasing interest in the cuisine in general.

Parsi food has evolved over a thousand years, since the first boatful of Irani refugees landed in coastal Gujarat, through a dynamic route of assimilation and adaptation, buffered by an almost obsessive love for food. Outside the Parsi community, however, few have known the tongue-tingling deliciousness of pickled roe, the early morning comfort of sweetened milk froth flavoured with nutmeg and a hint of cardamom, the delicate wobble of topli na paneer, or the ecstasy-inducing virtues of eggs cooked, unhurried, on a bed of clotted cream.

“We also cook fresh prawns on clotted cream,” says Kurush F. Dalal, who balances archaeological expeditions and an immensely popular catering business, Katy’s Kitchen, that he runs along with wife Rhea in Mumbai. Incidentally, Dalal is the son of the legendary Katy Dalal, the author of the iconic cookbook Jamva Chaloji, and he is a mine of information on Parsi cuisine and culture himself.

“This dish is called malai ma kolmi, but we call it heart attack on a plate,” he adds. The Dalals, old players in the bhonu (a special Parsi feast) game, turn out quite a few culinary gems at Katy’s Kitchen. Take, for instance, the chicken maiwahllan, an heirloom Parsi recipe for chicken baked in egg whites and cream with lots of dried fruits and whole yolks. Or the gos no batervo, a rustic, village-style preparation where the marinated meat is slow-cooked in palm toddy until it simmers down to a deliciously sticky, sweet and sour gravy. “The dish, best cooked on a wood fire, was invented by one Mr Valsara, who had cooked it for Lady Navajbai Tata, wife of Sir Ratanji Tata,” says Dalal. “Even years later, Lady Tata would insist that it was the best dish she had ever sampled,” says Dalal.

The archetypal bawa’s soft spot for toddy is perhaps rooted in the community’s agrarian roots and at one point (before prohibition in Gujarat), there were quite a few who minted money selling toddy—but that’s another story. Toddy lends itself well to their cuisine. From tari no bhakhra (a kind of doughnut) to boomla (Bombay duck cooked in toddy with vinegar, jaggery and spices), there are some stunning toddy-infused dishes that are still turned out in the Parsi towns and villages of Gujarat.

In fact, the Parsi repertoire of rustic dishes is outright incredible and steeped in curiosities. Take, for instance, the meaty metamorphosis of the humble Gujarati undhiyu, a seasonal mixed vegetable dish, to umbhadiyu. The vegetables used in umbhadiyu are cooked with meat in an earthen pot, placed upended (the mouth sealed carefully with local bush) in a pit dug in the ground, which is then covered with a huge pile of mango leaves to make the fire, under which the preparation is slow-cooked over a few hours.

Besides, there’s the delicious sweetened milk froth, doodh na puff, typically prepared by leaving reduced milk out in the open overnight, and the tarela boi (mullet) that no pilgrimage to holy Udvada is complete without.

As younger generations of Parsis moved from the villages of Gujarat to cities like Mumbai, and beyond, they carried with them their love for food, picking up different culinary influences on the way and seamlessly incorporating these into their cuisine. For instance, Tanaz Godiwalla, often dubbed the queen of lagan nu bhonu (the Parsi wedding feast), turns out a Parsi-style fish vindaloo—the khermoteli—distinctly different from the more popular Goan vindaloo. Or there’s kid nu gos, goat meat cooked in creamy cashew and coconut gravy, that used to be the highlight of weddings catered by Godiwalla.

‘Bheeda par eedu’, or eggs with okra.

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#2 Jun 17th, 2017, 17:13
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  • RahulDeva is offline
#2
Rustoms bhonu is just a km away from my office. Will definitely make a visit shortly. The only problem being that all my colleagues and acquaintances arent much interested in gastronomic experimentation. And the serving sizes in all restaurants are such that a single guy finds it hard to finish even one dish.
PS: Do we have any delhi based foodies here?
#3 Jun 18th, 2017, 01:25
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  • Nick-H is offline
#3
Get thee to the Lunch Thread.
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Do we have any delhi based foodies here?
BholeBaba. Say no more.

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