Interesting Article by Natasha Deboo on the occasion of Navroze 2009
Parsis are connoisseurs of non-vegetarian food, and drink. They savour their food, and cannot end a hectic day without their conventional ‘chaato-pani‘. They get irritable if they go someplace and find that the food is vegetarian. They shake their heads in disbelief at the mere thought that some of their non – Parsi friends are vegetarian. “Arre, ghaas-poos kem khavai? Tema su majaan?”
The only time when a handful of our community actually eats vegetarian is in Bahman mahino. The rest though, don’t even do that. Fish is not non-veg, so it is allowed! Granted. Next came – “But chicken, according to our scriptures, is also allowed. So we just won’t eat ‘char pag’, i.e. mutton – red meat.”
Can you imagine the tempers of our community if we had even a single day of fasting? No food for a whole day? There would be hysteria! And, why not? We live only once – make the most of it. That’s the true beauty of our religion, no compulsions, no extremism.
What many non – Parsis find unique at our weddings and navjotes is the way rich and poor, young and old, influential and unimportant, all sit down together and eat in big green plantain leaves! This charm draws many to Parsi functions, as does the prospect of eating patra fish and Dhansak. And they show utter disappointment when they realize that there is no Dhansak. The most delectable Parsi dish, not available at an important event like a wedding? Sad. They must be really mad, these bawajis.
And the menu is staggering! It typically starts with achaar, followed by sariya. What follows next is patra / saas-ni-macchi, a chicken or mutton dish (sometimes even both!) and is rounded off with palav daar! Yes, chicken, mutton and fish – all three! And sometimes even egg, in the form of Bharuchi Akuri!
And the caterer goes berserk when Rustomjee, in his booming voice and four pegs down (not forgetting that the traditional Parsi peg is bigger than normal – a whole four fingers) says, ‘puchri muko’ and his neighbour Behramjee, five pegs down, peering into the thala, pointing and shouting, says, ‘taang rakho, taang’. I know many Parsis who will not eat the chicken if there is no leg piece!
The meal usually ends with the famous lagan-nu-custard or the topli paneer, also a typical Parsi recipe. And the success of the function depends on how good or bad the food was – the lights, music and decoration be damned!
We Parsis use a lot of aadu–lasan and jeeru–lasan, and various home-made masalas – probably that is what gives our food the unique flavour, and makes our cuisine so delectable and sought after!
Then there are different ways of making the same dish. While Soonamai will swear it’s because of ‘mara Putlamammi ni recipe’, Dhunmai will disagree, saying ‘mara Coomi masi ni recipe ne koi haat bhi nai lagari sake’. And the youngsters think it is because of the latest good cook book in the market – oh, obviously written by a Parsi!
The Dhansak recipe is guarded as closely as the family heirloom, and if anyone appreciates it and asks for the recipe, they will be greeted with answers like ‘arre jem badha banave temach. Kai farak nathi.’
If you talk of Parsi cuisine, you cannot possibly miss out the dodhi and kohra murabbas. Murabbas are sweet achaars, usually eaten along with the meal.
And I think the airport authorities have agreed to let packets of these ‘murabbas’, ‘methyu ne limbu nu achaar’ and ‘dhansak no masalo’ go through. After all, who wants to pick a fight with an endearingly mad Bawa? And the masalo is greeted at the other end of the journey with cheers of hurray – enough supply to last till the next visit to / from India. Enough to keep their link with the community in a foreign land. And trust me, the taste of Dhansak at any place on Planet Earth is a taste of heaven!
And no matter how much, or how hard, a non – Parsi tries to make Dhansak, it just won’t turn out the way a Parsi makes it. The love, care and affection with which a Parsi makes it is what gives it its unique taste!
The whole baug gets to know that it is Jeeloo’s birthday because of the lovely aroma of ravo (a form of kheer) and sev (semolina) drifting through the air! These are usually made on auspicious occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, and is a mouth – watering start to the day!
One can see Parsi bawajis sitting in their Sunday best at famous Parsi cafes, enjoying their breakfast of Akuri (bhurji), poro-pav (omlette) and brun–maska, along with huge tumblers of steaming hot tea!
Lunches are anything but light, with dishes like khichdi kheemo, khichdi patio or curry chawal adorning the table. And of course there are special days when you have to have specific dishes. Hormazd and Behram roj is reserved for dhan-dar-ghee-patio. Nothing else will do on a “sara saporne divas”.
And if you walk into a Parsi baug on a Sunday, you will be greeted with the wafting aroma of Dhansak ni dar and freshly fried kebabs. Irresistible! This is followed by the customary long afternoon siesta.
The love of eggs is a Parsi weakness, and having 3-4 eggs in a day is really quite normal for some. Parsis cook their eggs on all types of vegetables, right from ‘bheeda’ to ‘turyoo’. And very few Parsis suffer from high cholesterol! Another weakness is mutton, also had with any and every vegetable. A smart way to convert veg food to non-veg!
But what’s life without a drink? No Parsi in his right mind would have any function without drinks. It’s what ‘brings the crowds in’. The bar of the host is always open, and never empty. The men stand there, sipping their whisky, chatting about community affairs, and the Indian cricket team. The women prefer wine and vodka – gossiping about Nazneen’s daughter getting married, or about the latest recipe they tried at home.
In the olden days, the mamaijis and bapaijis would gather around for gossip with evening snacks like bhakras, popatjis and chapat. The gossiping is still there, so are the mamaijis and bapaijis. However, what has changed over the years is that the snacks have been replaced by Shrewsbury and Batasa biscuits, and dar-ni-pori. Another popular sweetmeat among non – Parsis is the mawa-ni-boi that we get during festivals.
Eat, drink and be merry, this is what our religion teaches us! And on Navroze and Parsi New Year, the celebration (and appetite) just doubles! But anyway, we Parsis enjoy our food irrespective!
So here’s wishing one and all Jamshedi Navroze Mubarak! CHEERS!!