The Persians fled from Iran when the Arabs invaded it during the 17th century. They finally settled along the West Coast of India and bought along with them their exotic cuisine. Over the years, their food, like their people, has imbibed Maharashtrian, Gujarati, Iranian and British influences.
Being born and brought up in Mumbai, I love the Parsi people and their culture, more specifically their food. My favorite dish is the prawn beri beri pulao. This is an Iranian dish originally brought to India by the Kohinoor family, who have been running the famous Britannia restaurant for over 90 years. In the words of Daneesh Kohinoor, “My grandmother started Britannia and first introduced this pulao to Indian taste buds. She added her own touch, and in a way, localised it so people would enjoy its exotic taste. The original recipe consists of rice, berries, saffron, and meat. We add oodles of crispy fried onions, spices and some nuts to give it that zing. We also use prawn as an option, and that is our bestseller!”
My relationship with Parsi food started early. My best friend Maneck is a Parsi and growing up around her lunch box got me hooked onto this diet at a pretty early age! On her badgering, I went and finally purchased my very own copy of Jamva Chaloji, a popular Parsi cookbook, so I could prepare those tasty recipes myself! In her words, “We Zoroastrians take our food very seriously, especially the mutton and chicken! Old recipes are golden, like ancient relics. Forget
jewels, my great grandmother’s dhansak and patra ni macchi recipe are our family heirlooms!”
Have you ever attended a Parsi wedding or navjote? Don’t miss it if you get a chance, as it could be far and few now with this wonderful community dwindling down.
How to feast in a Parsi wedding meal
A rosy raspberry drink that is made by the brand Pallonjis and only supplied at these weddings or Parsi restaurants and cafes. The laganu acchar is a pickle, which is considered auspicious is enjoyed with rotlis, and kachumbar. Sali murgh is chicken, cooked in gravy made with jaggery, apricots and vinegar, topped up with sali (fried crispy potato sticks). Patra ni machi is a fish with chutney made from tamarind and coconut and steamed in a banana leaf. Laganu custard is a baked wedding custard. It gives this elaborate meal a wonderful finale.
Here are the recipes of my best friend Maneck Nicholson’s grandmother
Laganu Custard (8 servings)
- 5 eggs
- 1 ½ litres milk
- 1/3 tin condensed milk
- 300 gm sugar
- ½ tsp cardamom powder
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- Handful of blanched and sliced almonds/pistachios (optional)
Preheat the oven 2200Celsius for 10 minutes. Boil the milk in a large non stick pan. Switch off the gas and stir in the sugar and condensed milk. Now put it back on to the gas for 15 minutes and keep stirring till the milk becomes an off white/ivory colour. The mixture will become a little sticky. Keep it aside to cool off.
In another bowl, hand beat the eggs, cardamom, nutmeg, vanilla essence till the mix becomes frothy. Stir this egg mixture into milk mixture that has cooled well.
Either the entire mixture can be poured into one big greased bowl or 8 small bowls. Bake at 2200 celsius for around 45 minutes or till golden colour. Keep this baked custard in the fridge for few hours once it is cooled after removing from the oven. Top with nuts. Serve chilled.
Patra ni machi (fish in green chutney)
- 3 pomfret/basa/rawas fillets
- ½ a coconut finely grated
- ½ a bunch of mint leaves
- ½ a bunch of coriander leaves
- 1-inch ginger piece
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 banana leaf cut in 3 pieces
- 1 tbsp tamarind chutney
- Pinch of turmeric powder
- A long cotton string
- 100 ml of vegetable/sunflower/canola oil
- Salt to taste
Place choice of fish fillets on a large rimmed baking tray. Drizzle lemon/lime juice and sprinkle salt on both sides. Set and keep aside for 20 minutes.
In a blender, add coconut, chillies, coriander, mint leaves, ginger, garlic, tamarind paste, turmeric, and salt. Blend to make a smooth paste. Add little water if necessary.
Apply the paste on either side of the fish. Pat dry a banana leaf with a towel and apply oil on the smooth side.
Place one piece on each leaf in the center and wrap into a parcel using string. Cook in steamer for approximately 20-25 minutes and serve immediately.