Warming up to winter – Bachi Karkaria

DARK MATTER: Mumbai's Ratan Tata Institute makes vasanu, a traditional Parsi winter sweet, that's sold at the charity's outlets across the city.
It might sound like the name of a corny Parsi comedy, but doodh na puff, as once whipped up by the doughty matrons of the clan, is as vanishing a winter speciality as Vera Aunty’s vasanu. Or Edulji’s favourite eeda paak.

As the December sun slants its mellow rays on Mumbai, huge copper lohris and iron karhais are pulled down from the dusty mariya-lofts of Parsi baugs and colonies, faded family recipe books are flipped to otherwise-forsaken pages, and bazaars are scoured for esoteric herbs and spices. Or – ruining the adventure – a list of ingredients is simply handed to the corner shopkeeper accustomed to the community’s culinary demands. Across all Indian homes, winter specialities are awaited with the eagerness of baraats. Afridi begum’s aflatoon, Gurpreet Kaur’s gaajar halwa, Gangubai’s gul poli, Gunwantiben’s gundarpak …For the Parsis, it is the triumvirate of vasanu, doodh na puff and eeda paak. They are all rites of seasonal passage. The creation of vasanu and eeda paak calls for devotion, patience and a strong arm. But duty and ‘maro Dinsu’ demand that they must be propitiated once every winter. The list of ingredients is almost as long as the journey in that storm-tossed boat from Persia over a 1, 000 years ago. At least 90 per cent of those for vasanu are not normally found in any kitchen, and none of the women I spoke to had a clue about the origins of the likes of mokhru, salan or kanthori peepar. The assistant at Dadar’s Gangar Stores wasn’t very enlightening either. “They are all Ayurvedic jari-booti, mostly roots, ” he said. But at least I was happy to know that there’s no colour discrimination, the ‘kali moosri’ is used in equal proportion to the ‘dhori (fair) moosri’.

A food processor will take Freny only so far. The almonds, pistachios and cheronji nuts have to be peeled and chopped. For the vasanu, dried kamalkakri (lotus root) and singora (water chestnut), dill seeds and health and heatgenerating stuff such as pipri mooth na gath and gokhru, have to be soaked overnight and then ground. Soonth (dried ginger), cardamom and jaiphal-jawantri (the nutmeg flower and fruit) must be crushed to the right degree of coarseness. The ingredients have to be individually prepared and then fried separately in oodles of asli ghee. Again one by one, they must be stirred into the just-right sugar syrup.

Commercial mawa is just not the same as boiling it down to a solid at home.

Eeda paak demands 25 egg yolks to a cup each of almonds, pistachios, cheronji and pine nuts. It also has several of the vasanu’s jari-booti, and consumes the same amount of ghee, sugar and energy in the vigorous beating of the yolks and the gentle stirring of the mixture over a slow fire. Cholesterol and diabetes, do your worst.

I hate both vasanu and eeda paak. But I love them because they stoke the mythology. One bite into their yielding hardness takes me back to our kaumi rural roots. It instantly summons the image of the doughty materfamilias, her ample behind spilling out of her low stool, measuring out fistfuls of ingredients, sternly supervising her retinue of lissome Warli or dubra women helpers as they soak, peel, chop, pound and fry – and choicely abusing them should they slip an iota below perfection.

‘Mai-ji’ would then tighten her head scarf to deliver the coup de grace: taking over the spatula for the last few minutes of stirring before tipping the thick slurry into German silver khumchas to cool and set. Throughout the winter, the men-folk in their sadra-legha would demolish chunks of vasanu and eeda paak with their morning mint tea, feeling the warmth and virility surge through them with each chomp. The children would be handed more modest pieces with their fresh squeezed milk.

Doodh na puff carries an entirely different aura of romance. Creamy sweetened milk is reduced to half, poured into smaller containers, covered with muslin and left to hang overnight from the boughs of trees. It is taken down early morning, still dewladen, and sharply whisked. As the froth rises, it is spooned into small chai glasses.

Doodh na puff are as much of a must-have as the fresh toddy and river boi-fish when Mumbai’s Parsis make the pilgrimage to the holiest fire in Udwada in winter. The delicate speciality remains a seasonal staple in the small original settlements all of which have a respectable winter. But even hotand-hotter Mumbai is no deterrent for the gastronomically determined bawa. ‘We may not have a winter, but we have a fridge, no?’

So Dinaz Wadia simply pops the full-fat Parsi Dairy milk into her refrigerator, pulls it out next morning, plugs in the electric beater, scoops out the foam – and makes hubby Hoshi a khushi man. Toxy Cowasjee from Karachi adds that “tetrapack milk simply won’t do”.

These winter specialities are an amalgam of the community’s Persian origins and the roots it put down in Gujarat. Vasanu and eeda paak answered the needs of cold weather and physically strenuous work. Today both lifestyle and climate have changed, but all three bravely continue to thumb their nose at global warming, the doctor’s orders and the bank-breaking ‘badam-pista no bhaav’.


5 Reasons Why Food-Lovers Must Visit Udvada

Proud Parsi that I am, I like visiting Udvada for quite another reason – the food! This has to be the only town where you can feast like a king on all kinds of Parsi food without having to wait for that elusive Parsi wedding invite.

Early breakfast at Ahura’s
While several trains departing from Mumbai can take you to Udvada, I recommend a road trip as an early breakfast at Ahura is a worthy highway pit stop. Located just after Charoti on the NH8, Ahura is the best way to start your Parsi food extravaganza.

While they also serve the traditional South Indian fare, what you really want to order is their salli per eedu. Parsis’ the world over have a fascination with breaking an egg over just about anything and the salli per eedu made with fine potato sticks, egg and spiced tomato is an ideal way to start the day. In true ‘bawa’ style, accompany the eggs with a hot cup of Parsi style ‘fudina ni choi’.

A second breakfast in Udvada
Udvada is still about two hours away from Ahura so if you don’t binge, you will have space for the traditional Udvada Parsi breakfast of aleti paleti, khurchan and kheema pav. While kheema pav is self-explanatory and a popular dish in many Irani cafes (though it always tastes better in Udvada!), you may not have tried the offal fiesta that is aleti paleti (a toss-up of chicken organs) or khurchan (a mix of goat organs). Both these dishes cooked-up with the unique Parsi-style garam masala and served with freshly baked bread are a must-try for those who love a meaty start to their day.

Fish and some more meat for lunch
There aren’t many places to stay in Udvada and if you’re smart you will have booked into either Globe, Ashishvangh, J.J. Sanitorium or Sodawaterwala. All of these serve-up delicious Parsi food so there is no need for you to go hunting for food. However, if you’re staying elsewhere, make sure you head to one of these places for a mid-day meal worth lusting after.

While the menus change daily, if luck is in your favour you will get to try all three delicacies – the fried fish, some kind of kebab and pulao dar. Generally, the fried fish on offer will be the mullet, commonly called ‘Boi’ which comes marinated in turmeric and red chilli powder. Follow this up with a side of either chicken Russian pattice, kheema kebabs or bheja na cutlets and a tall chilled glass of sunta raspberry or ice cream soda while you soak up some Vitamin D.

Click Here for more, by Perzen Patel – BawiBride …………

Parsi winter warmer – Vasanu

Meet the makers of vasanu, a Parsi speciality that takes 30 ingredients and calves of steel, and promises to energise the immune system.The first of a series on little-known community sweets
Not even Google, in its infinite wisdom, can spell out what precisely goes into vasanu, an exotic Parsi fudge. We hear its ingredients -chaar jaatna magaz, baval nu goonder, cummar kakri, jabar jas and karlu batrisu -tease the tongue just as does its potent blend of flavours. Prepared exclusively when the mercury drops, the sweet-spicy “Parsi equivalent of Chyavanprash,“ vasanu is a herbal recipe that fortifies the immune system and energises it, Parsis will tell you. Now of course, most families have long since traded in the tedium of preparing it for the luxury of ordering in.
Click Here for the full story

Know your batasas

287, Dukargully, Dhobi Talao (presently Dr. C. H. Street).

When customers at the Paris Bakery ask about the price of a packet of batasa biscuits, Paris’ proprietor Danesh Nejadkay offers them a sample instead. ‘Once you taste, you are trapped,’ Nejadkay insists. Indeed Paris’ Maska Batasas are the tastiest dollops of butter (with a hint of jeera cumin) in town.

Nejadkay shares some batasa wisdom with us- Bite into a batasa don’t break it, offer or accept it with your right hand, soak it in a cup of tea for a minute or two, let it ‘blow up’ and then have it with a spoon.


Courtesy : Parsi Zoroastrian Anjuman of Secunderabad and Hyderabad

Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu


Home-style Parsi food, like your friend Dhun’s mummy used to make it.

There’s a sudden flood of appreciation for Parsi food in Delhi, and I’m not at all surprised. With its abundance of meaty fare, decadent curries, and fried potatoes, there’s no easier cuisine for the meat-loving North to get stuck into. But this isn’t the food of Bombay’s Irani cafés. Nope, Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu is going where no Parsi restaurant has gone before: straight into the home recipes of the Parsi community.

Run by former food writer Kainaz Contractor, and partner Rahul Dua (of Café Lota fame), this tiny twenty-seat restaurant in Adhchini is primarily aimed at home deliveries, and if our first sampling of their menu was any indication, they’ll be doing roaring trade once the full menu’s in effect.

Contractor’s dipped into her own family’s repertoire to put together the menu, supplemented by other Best Of’s from friends and family, and there’s more than just dhansak on the menu, thank heavens. Personally, that meat-and-lentil stew’s always been my least favourite, paling in comparison to things like prawn patio, with its tangy tomato gravy (Rustom’s excellent version is Rs 495, and comes with yellow dal and rice), or the rich jardaloo marghiu ma salli, with ghee-fried apricots and topping of crisp, fried potato straws (Rs 395).

The kheema pattice (Rs 298) come in a pair, are ginormous, and divine. With mutton mince encased in potato, topped with egg and fried, there’s not much that can go wrong here, but Rustom’s version is so, so right that I’d be tempted to just order multiple rounds and make them my meal. They’re a little reminiscent of the ‘chops’ served in Bengali homes, but just…better. Classicists never fear, there is dhansak, and you can choose between the trad mutton (Rs 495) or even give a veggie version a spin, with spiced aubergine kababs (Rs 395). Definitely order the malai na paratha (Rs 80) to mop it all up; they’re unbelievably pliant and, when wrapped around one of those keema pattice, make one of the best rolls I’ve ever had.

Work’s still underway on the restaurant, so the kitchen is currently operating only for deliveries. We’re told that a longer menu will emerge once the place opens, but until then, their current list encompasses all that is good about Parsi home-cooking, and is on the menu for dinner tonight.


Taste of India set to spread roots and flavor in China

You could call it a gut feeling. It was certainly a taste for adventure. Mehernosh Pastakia was sitting down at a well-adorned table at his restaurant in the China Overseas Plaza in Jianguomen Wai Avenue, one of three in Beijing, recalling his decision to come to China in 1991.

A business venture in India had failed to get off the ground, but the then-24-year-old from Mumbai was undeterred and determined to prove he had the ability, and a menu, for success.

“I was disappointed at that time, so I said I will work abroad, and then go back and start again,” Pastakia said.



Mehernosh Pastakia (middle), owner of the Taj Pavilion, poses with his wife Zheng Xiaowen and son Kershasp. Pastakia opened his first Taj in 1998 which is now a firm favorite for diners among the approximately 20 Indian restaurants in Beijing. Provided to China Daily

All went according to plan, except for the return.

His Taj Pavilion, which regularly hosts visiting Indian politicians and business people while providing a taste of India for anyone residing in Beijing, has seen its customer numbers increase annually.

Pastakia has seen the proportion of Chinese customers grow from a modest 10 percent of the total initially to about 50 percent now.

His first Taj opened in 1998, and is a firm favorite for diners among the approximately 20 Indian restaurants in Beijing.

He is quick to point out that his Chinese wife played a pivotal role in his success.

“My wife is my backbone; she is the one who takes care of all the back office stuff while I take care of business at the front of the house,” he said.

Pastakia met his wife Zheng Xiaowen soon after he arrived in Beijing and started to work as the manager of an Indian restaurant. She was then preparing for an English test in Beijing and working at the restaurant as a part-time accountant.

Zheng readily admits her motives were not romantic when she struck up conversation with the new arrival.

Cultural advantage

“At that time, there were only a few foreigners in Beijing, and there weren’t many Chinese who could speak English. I thought it was a good opportunity to practice spoken English for my exams, so we talked a lot,” Zheng said.

Pastakia and Zheng became close friends and then realized the spice of romance was in the air. Six years after meeting, they got married.

A year later, they opened the first Taj Pavilion in Beijing’s central business district.

The couple spend most of their time operating the restaurants and plan to open more “if there is a good opportunity”, Pastakia said.

Pastakia speaks Mandarin and understands the business and cultural advantage that it offers.

“If a Chinese guest comes in and you talk Chinese to them, they feel more at home, more relaxed,” he said.

But back in the 1990s, cultural differences and Pastakia’s few Mandarin phrases meant that Zheng’s relatives did not immediately take to him.

In India, a guest eats the full amount on the plate to show respect to the host. In China, one should leave a small amount on the plate to show that you have eaten as much as you can.

“When I found I liked one of the dishes, I just kept eating, because I wanted them to be happy,” Pastakia said. The more he ate the bigger trouble he was in.

However, both Pastakia and Zheng believed that culture, once the eating difficulty was overcome, actually brought them closer together.

“China and India both have cultures that value family ties,” Pastakia said.

Zheng, a Buddhist, also has a deep knowledge and appreciation of India’s culture.

The couple have a 14-year-old son, Kershasp, who was born and brought up in China, and Pastakia believes that his son will benefit immensely from the combination of the two cultures.

“He has the best of two countries in the world to draw on when he grows up,” he said.

Real thing

It is rare for the family to cook at home, but if they do, Chinese cuisine, prepared by Zheng, appears most of the time.

Like most foreigners, Pastakia’s favorite Chinese dish is kung-pao chicken, while his wife, a vegetarian, likes the lentil-based Indian dish, maaki dal.

Taj Pavilion customers tend to opt for the butter chicken, priced at 78 yuan ($12.50). This dish, coincidentally, is also one of the most popular Indian dishes globally.

Authenticity will never be sacrificed for more profit, Pastakia said, and the size of the restaurants allows the delicate flavors of Indian food to come through.

“It is better to get the real thing rather than a version, otherwise you will never know what is the real thing,” he said.

Many shops in Beijing are now selling the ingredients, but when he started up they had to be imported.

During the interview, Tang Lu, a Chinese journalist who is going to work in India was having a farewell lunch with her colleagues.

“Have the dinner today and you will know exactly the best kind of Indian food I’m going to have there,” she told them.

Despite the booming business, Pastakia is quite cautious about expansion plans.

“If you see the history of our restaurants, we wait at least five years before opening a new restaurant,” he said. “The difficult part is not opening it but running it. It takes time for a restaurant to settle down.”

With Indian cuisine growing ever more popular, potential customers may ask him to reconsider the five-year plan.




Sali Boti with a twist

Chef Gautam Mehrishi tells us why Salli Kheema, his variation of Salli Boti, the popular Parsi delicacy, is his favourite dish.
It all began with a challenge. “Once a Parsi friend challenged me to cook something from their cuisine with a twist yet retain the authenticity of the dish,” recalls Gautam Mehrishi, executive chef,Sun n Sand hotel.

Salli-KheemaChef Gautam Mehrishi

Chef Gautam MehrishiHe made a Salli Kheema, by tweaking the dish Salli Boti. “I replaced the chunks of meat in Salli Boti with minced meat  (Kheema) so that it could go really well with the crispiness of the potatoes,” explains the chef.

“The dish impressed my Parsi friend and his family, which I guess is a great achievement as they are known to love perfection in everything,”he adds. “The beauty of a Salli Kheema is that the dish can be had as a snack, a breakfast item with pav and as a main with parantha. So, I can actually relish my favourite dish any time of the day!” says the chef.

Salli Kheema

For Salli
>> 2-3 potatoes
>> Oil for frying

For Kheema

>> 2 tbsp desi ghee
>> 2 whole dry red chillies
>> 1 tsp cumin seeds
>> 2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
>> ¼ tbsp red chilli powder
>> ¼ tbsp turmeric powder
>> 1 cup finely chopped onion
>> 1 tbsp sugar
>> 1 medium deseeded finely chopped tomato
>> ½ kg kheema (minced meat)
>>2 tsp vinegar
>> 3 tsp Worcestershire sauce
>> Salt to taste

For garnish
>> Coriander leaves
>> 1 dry red chilliMethod
>> Slice the peeled potatoes and deep-fry them to prepare salli
>> Heat desi ghee (clarified butter) in another pan
>> Fry dry red chillies, cumin seeds, ginger-garlic paste, red chilli powder, turmeric powder. Add onion in it
>> Now add sugar and tomato in it to cook for 4 to 5 minutes
>> After the mixture is cooked, add kheema and water and cook it further for another 5 to 7minutes.
>> Now add vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, salt and water in it and cook for 15 to 18 mins
>> Keep the prepared kheema in the cutter ring and top it with the prepared salli
>> Garnish the prepared kheema with coriander leaves and a whole red chilli



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