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Mumbai Food: 4 Parsi chefs ready to bust cuisine myths for Parsi New Year

As they ready to launch a special menu to celebrate Parsi New Year next week, four Bawa chefs bust myths about the community’s cuisine and say why they love their eedu and kavab

"The biggest stereotype about Parsis is that we eat only Dhansak," confesses the affable 29-year-old Perzen Patel a.k.a the Bawi Bride, as 62-year-old banker-turned-entrepreneur and home chef Katy Billimoria laughs, "Oh yes, one Sunday, Dhansak and the next Sunday, Prawn Curry and Rice." Kainaz Contractor, the cherubic Delhi-based owner of Rustom's Parsi Bhonu (a restaurant named after her father, a naval officer who bears no resemblance to the new Akshay Kumar-starrer) joins in, "The motivation to start Rustom's (in 2014) was to allow people to try home-style dishes like Masoor Ma Gos and Dhandar Patio." Meanwhile, 52-year-old Shireen Adenwalla, a veteran on the city's catering scene with her brand, Truffles, sets the record straight, "Parsi food has a fine sweet-and-sour balance, unlike the Irani cuisine which features a lot of fruits, nuts and Berry Pulao."

(From left) Shireen Adenwalla, Kainaz Contractor, Perzen Patel and Katy Billimoria with chef Thomas Zacharias. Pics/Bipin Kokate
(From left) Shireen Adenwalla, Kainaz Contractor, Perzen Patel and Katy Billimoria with chef Thomas Zacharias. Pics/Bipin Kokate

Decked in aprons bearing their respective names, the Parsi quartet, seated comfortably at a table at The Bombay Canteen, has collaborated with the restaurant to create The Canteenwalla Menu that launches next week to celebrate the Parsi New Year. "The occasion is largely about food. Since the last two weeks, the dinner table discussion in my house is where to go for dinner on that day," admits Patel.

Aleti Paleti by Kainaz Contractor
Aleti Paleti by Kainaz Contractor

Beyond Salli Chicken
The menu features multiple contributions from each chef. While Adenwalla is credited for Chicken Maivahlan and Jardaloo (apricot) Ma Gos, Kanpur-born Billimoria's offerings include Saas Ni Machhi and Sitaphal Parsi Ravo. Though each dish reflects the authentic character of its owners, deft chef Thomas Zacharias has dressed it up to suit the restaurant's sensibilities. Like, the Chicken Maivahlan, traditionally a creamy chicken baked dish, will be cooked in a copper pot. Mean-while, Billimoria's Parsi Ravo with semolina and cream milk, substitutes her addition of a Kesar Peda with the seasonal custard apple.

Lagan Nu Custard Ice Cream Sandwich by Perzen Patel
Lagan Nu Custard Ice Cream Sandwich by Perzen Patel

"The taste of a dish in every Parsi household varies, that's something unique to the community," says Zacharias. Case in point: One of Patel's contributions, Grandpa's Kheema Kebabs pack in potato and bread vis-à-vis the spiced kheema kebabs cooked in most Parsi homes. "I learnt the recipe from my grandfather, who would make it for breakfast," recounts Patel, who will also dish out Lagan Nu Custard Ice Cream Sandwich.

Jardaloo Ma Gos by Shireen Adenwalla
Jardaloo Ma Gos by Shireen Adenwalla

Similarly, Contractor's offering, Aleti Paleti (made using offal including mutton liver, kidney and spleen) features a fried egg, just the way her father liked it for breakfast. She has also shared the recipe for Russian Pattice Pav Sandwich and Nariyal Na Doodh Ma Cauliflower, where the dish is baked into a pot pie with puff pastry. "The flavours change according to the part of the country that a Parsi is from. Those in Delhi prefer spicier fare while Parsis in Mumbai use more of fish, prawns and peanut and coconut base, influenced by Gujaratis and coastal cuisine," she informs. Patel adds, "Traditionally, Parsis in the city also had a lot of Goan cooks, so there is a strong Goan influence too."

Saas Ni Machhi by Katy Billimoria
Saas Ni Machhi by Katy Billimoria

When we enquire about the origin of a Russian Pattice, the group turns to Patel, who replies, "It's a take on the chicken-potato Russian salad. This might sound racist but according to one theory, it's called so due to its sauce-chicken filling, which is white like the Russians."

Eggs, meats get vote
During the conversation, the group reaffirms the community's love for eggs and meat, which also make their presence felt in veggie dishes. "We have a dish called Papdi Ma Kebab, wherein you add kheema kebabs to broad beans," says Adenwalla, as Billimoria adds, "We make Chutney Eeda Pattice (a version features on the festive menu too), where potato pattice is stuffed with chutney and half an egg." Patel logically explains, "They were added to leftovers to make the dish more interesting the next day." Zacharias observes, "This shows how under-represented eggs are at restaurants."

When we ask if the younger generation demands a change in the flavours of Parsi fare, the group disagrees. Contractor says, "They are traditional when it comes to Parsi food. For instance, Lagan Nu Bhonu has remained unchanged for the last 30 years and everyone unanimously loves (wedding caterer) Tanaz Godiwala. People do try to add western starters but…" Billimoria finishes the sentence, "It's not acceptable." And for a group that's wondering if there will be any Parsis left to celebrate the New Year, 500 years from now when it may once again coincide with the Irani Navroz, we aren't surprised by the unwavering love and pride they shower on their cuisine.

FROM August 17 to 31 (12 noon to 3.30 pm, 7 pm to 11.30 pm) 
AT The Bombay Canteen, Unit 1, Process House, Kamala Mills, SB Road, Lower Parel. 
CALL 49666666

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