Borrowing influences from the cuisines of the western region of India, Parsi cuisine has more to offer than the famous Mutton Dhansak and Patra ni Machhi. Food and Hospitality World takes a look into the sweet and sour balance of this delectable cuisine By Akshay Kumar
Known as one of the most celebrated cuisines, Parsi food has a long history associated with India, especially the western region of the country. In seventh century AD, the followers of Zoroastrianism, also known as Parsi were exiled from Iran because of religious persecutions by the Muslims. These exiled Iranians first arrived in the Gujarat region of India. One of the interesting Parsi legend says that during the course of the initial meeting between the king of Gujarat and the newly landed emigrants from Iran; When the Zoroastrians requested asylum, the king communicated with them by showing a vessel of milk filled to the brim to signify that his kingdom was already full and could not accept refugees. In response, one of the Zoroastrian chiefs added a pinch of sugar to the milk, thus indicating that they would not bring the vessel to overflowing, but make the lives of the citizens sweeter. The king immediately gave shelter to the immigrants and permitted them to practice their religion and traditions freely.
From that era till present, the Parsi community have mingled with the rest of the Indian communities and have created a distinct cuisine. With the Parsi New Year round the corner, Sofitel Mumbai BKC along with the Ripon Club organised a festival from August 7- 18, 2015 named ‘Everything Parsi’. The festival isn’t any regular food festival, for it gives the visitors an insight about the Parsi culture and tradition. To add to the Parsi flavour, the hotel has a variety of traditional cultural elements on display. Beyond the Last Blue Mountain, Camera Chronicle, Colonial Parsis & Law, Great Leaders Great Vision, Iranian Studies, Poems Potpouri & Parsees are few literary works that have been showcased. The hotel also has a section where hand-woven and fine embroidered ‘Gara’ sarees are displayed for guests to choose from. The festival features some of the most authentic and traditional Parsi delights such as Mutton Dhansak, Patra ni Machhi, Sali Chicken, Lagun nu Custard, amongst many others.
Chef Indrajit Saha, executive chef, Sofitel Mumbai BKC says, “One of the key aspects of Parsi cuisine is that all the dishes have a peculiar balance between sweet and sour taste. This balance has evolved with time after the Parsis mingled with the Indians. Food is just one small part of the whole concept of this festival, our main focus is on giving a taste of the entire culture. Right from the entrance of the venue, we have tried to recreate a setup which is a replica of any Parsi event.”
Speaking about the entire setup and ambiance, Shahrom Oshtori, director of food and beverage, Sofitel Mumbai BKC states, “We have looked into every minute detail to give our customers a feeling of a perfect Parsi occasion. The tables have a setup exactly like a Parsi wedding. Also, we have sourced out typical drinks like Raspberry Soda, Ice Cream Soda and Ginger Soda, which one can only find in an Iranian cafe. All our chefs and staff have worn Duglee, which is an authentic Parsi attire. To enhance the ambiance of the event, we have also organised live music, which can be heard only in Bawa cafes.”
Speaking about food festivals, authenticity is the first aspect that comes into play. But one of the key challenges is that the Parsi cuisine is majorly dominated by non-vegetarian dishes and there are a lot of vegetarian consumers who attend such fests.
Tehmtan J Dumasia, head chef, Ripon Club and consulting chef for this festival exclaims, “Authenticity is a must when it comes to such festivals. As the head chef for this festival I have not added any zing to the food. But one of the major twists to the event is the vegetarian food which we had to create since most of the Parsi dishes are non-vegetarian. But, we have a lot of vegetarian clients who attend such festival, hence we have replicated many of the famous non-vegetarian dishes into vegetarian. A typical example would be the Patra ni Paneer which we have derived from the famous Patra ni Machhi.”
In the present era, wine has become one of the most important components of any meal. The traditional Parsi cuisine has several qualities which play an important role in pairing with wine. Saha explains, “Wine can definitely be paired with Parsi cuisine. Basically, this particular cuisine majorly consists of meat and fish. So according to me any white wine will go well as the meat is not full bodied. Even a sparkling wine or a rose can work wonders with this cuisine.”
“In Mumbai, there is a great demand for Parsi food and there are only around three to four authentic cafes. So such festivals play a major role in giving the non-Parsis, an experience about this culture. Also, these festivals helps us a lot as our chefs can learn something new. We make it a point to learn atleast five famous Parsi dishes perfectly, which we can offer our clients on a regular basis,” concludes Saha.