Sharing India’s highkey obsession with Parsi food in Mumbai

Years ago, local and international foodies in search of ethnic dishes would not return from Mumbai craving Parsi food. More often than not, his home, the Dadar Parsi settlement – a neighborhood in the downtown area of ​​Dadar-Matunga – found itself on the back of pamphlets as the world’s largest and only unenclosed Zoroastrian enclave in the city. The historical tales of communal migration from Persia scrawled on commemorative plaques would attract attention, but the slow cooking magic inside their kitchens was not yet part of tasting menus.

Back home, returning travelers could still find vada pav al fresco, akuri on toast, baida roti and Bombay sandwich in many Indian restaurants, inevitably reducing a diverse dining scene to a handful. dishes on the menu. But over the past decade, a rise in food tourism, conversations around appropriating food cultures, and the tendency to seek out unfamiliar experiences have led to the discovery of Parsi cuisine as a stand-alone cuisine. With menus rooted in Middle Eastern spices, a host of the city’s restaurants and cafes share a piece of India’s west coast beyond well-known popular dishes.

Yazdani Bakery, a cafe in Kala Ghoda, is inspired by the ethnic adaptation of Mumbai and doesn’t shy away from presenting tea through the Parsi lens. The extra-rich custard is an ode to his native homeland, Iran, while platters of bun maska ​​– warm, lightly sweetened Parsi bread covered in salted butter – are a perfect accompaniment for dipping. Climb into the Bandra East region and a popular plate of green hillside in northern Iran awaits you at SodaBottleOpenerWala. The establishment is a contemporary ode to the colonial era when Iranian cafes were a dominant subgroup among restaurants, hailed for their fesenjan – a Persian pomegranate and walnut stew. Near Ballard Estate, Ideal Corner holds the ground with mouth-watering plates of Persian Fried Chicken or Chicken Farcha.

“In the early 2000s, when Mumbai’s iconic summer season brought the world to revel in its charm, Parsi dining establishments, though popular among locals, were non-existent in the eyes of outsiders,” says Sharime Khani, a Briton. Iranian leader and resident of Dadar. “Today, everyone from backpackers to business travelers appreciates and recognizes the historical significance that a Parsi meal can bring to their journey.”

In the mid-7th century, Persia (modern Iran) was home to a predominantly Zoroastrian population until the Arabs began the Islamic invasion. The first wave of migration brought 18,000 settlers to the small town of Sanj in Gujarat where they formed a strong farming community and spent over 800 years before settling in the capital during British imperialism.

“The state of Maharashtra has been a multi-ethnic society for over 1,200 years. The food reflects these influences, with dishes such as caldo verde (a type of Portuguese cabbage soup), Iranian “jewel rice” (rice made with fruits and nuts) and British creamy bread and butter pudding. cream on the menu,” says Aram Khan, a third-generation Parsi and Mumbai foodie guide.

“The only way to understand Parsi food is to share an order of bun maska ​​or mutton chops with a native storyteller.”

But learning about the unfamiliar cuisine can be overwhelming, even for descendants of the original migrants from the Dadar Parsi settlement. “Growing up, I would occasionally bump into Sali Boti or Dhansak during lunches in the garden with the family. Farcha, or what young people often mistakenly call fried chicken, was once a household favourite, but we have been naïve to never understand their origin or meaning,” says Meher Anvari, a history student at the University of mumbai.

When his parents immigrated to Dadar from Ahemdabad, Gujarat, in 1979, they brought with them their sukka boomla no patiyo (pickled dried fish), gorkeri nu achar (tangy mango-jaggery pickle) and countless spices. Many recipes have been adapted to take into account local ingredients. Her mother, for example, used coconut milk instead of water as it was widely used in the recipe around Mumbai. But even with evolving flavors and variations, the foods were a source of comfort.

While the Parsi way of cooking borrows heavily from the indigenous cuisine of Iran, its evolution from Gujarat to Mumbai during British rule is key to understanding the definitive Indian twist. Even today, authentic Parsi recipes are hard to find outside of Mumbai and parts of Maharashtra.

“It’s a shame because Parsi cuisine, distinctive loaves of bread, curries, seafood recipes and vermicelli-based desserts, is as crisp as it is tasty,” says Raghav, owner of a Persian restaurant in Colaba Causeway.

“It’s about sharing our heritage and sharing a part of Mumbai.”

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