Contributed by Perzen Patel
Ask any stranger about Parsis and the first thing that will come to mind is the Tata family. The second? ‘Dhansak’ – a Sunday favourite in Parsi households and the dish that has made Parsis famous. Parsi food – also commonly referred to as ‘bhonu’ by the community – originated in Iran from where the Parsis fled during the collapse of the Sassanian era. Over the years, the cuisine has morphed and today draws its inspiration from a variety of communities, including the Goans, Gujaratis and Maharashtrians.
One of the things that make Bawa bhonu unique though, is its focus on meat and seafood. An ordinary meal at a Parsi household features at least one chicken or meat dish with the side dish inevitably being some leftover vegetables, pereedu (egg). Talk to any Parsi about vegetarian food and they will either stare blankly, try to convert you to becoming a non-vegetarian or cook up something which has eggs, potatoes or the ultimate fallback – paneer.
It is fair to say that aside from a handful of Bawas, the community is predominantly meat loving and one only has to attend a Parsi wedding to attest to this fact. ‘Sali Boti’, ‘Patra ni Machchi’, ‘Aatheli Marghi’, ‘Kid Gosht’, ‘Saas ni Machchi’ and ‘Mutton Pulao’ are all regular features at these weddings. However, one will be hard pressed to find anything for the vegetarians. In fact, many Parsi wedding caterers completely outsource the vegetarian component altogether, with guests having to eat a thali which while delicious, hardly has any Parsi flavours.
EGGS, EGGS, EVERYWHERE
Another unique aspect of the cuisine is our borderline obsession with eggs; be it ‘Sali per Eedu’ ‘Bheeda per Eedu’, ‘Akuri’, omelettes, or hard-boiled eggs in curries. The saying ‘When in doubt, break an egg on it’ is something that all bawas will solemnly nod their heads to. As an amateur chef myself, I am at a complete loss for ideas when I have to create a dish that is both vegetarian and eggless. I won’t even go into making something suitable for vegans, as that is another challenge altogether!
For a community that numbers not more than 100,000 globally and is constantly rumored to be on the verge of extinction, the Parsis continue to make their presence felt and do so best through their food! Yes, the Irani cafes may be shutting down and you may soon have to make Mawa Cakes at home but that doesn’t mean that the Parsi cuisine is dying. With outlets such as Ashmick’s Snack Shack, Ideal Corner and Jumjoji in Mumbai, Sodawaterbottleopenerwala in Gurgaon and home-chefs like yours truly, I am convinced that the humble Dhandar-Patio (a favourite with all bawas) will live yet another generation – or two.
Read the June issue of CaLDRON food magazine to get an awesome recipe for the Parsi Salli Boti!