I have been living in Central Delhi for several years now and would have crossed Delhi Gate infinite number of times. Unfortunately, I never knew that just before Delhi Gate, there’s a Parsi Dharamshala that has been serving Parsi food in Delhi, much before we got Sodabottleopenerwala and Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu.
As one needs to place an order for the food in advance, I called the Dharamshala. To my utmost pleasure, on the other side, I found Mrs. Bagli, the caretaker, who doubles up as the Main Chef of the Canteen. There was great affection in her voice and almost instantly I felt a connection with this soft-spoken lady.
Next day, I reached the Dharamshala for lunch and the table was set for us. With beautiful Caramelized rice, Kebabs, Patra ni Machchi, Dhansak, Kachumber Salad and Roti. The homelike set up almost felt like I was having lunch at my own place. The fireplace, the dining table adjacent to the kitchen and the humble set up, instantly put me at ease.
There was so much food for two people, it felt like a challenge to finish it!
Well, not someone to back down easily, when it comes to food, we started digging in.
The thick long grains of caramelized rice with keema kebabs and Dhansak was delicious and tasted like something my mother would make at home, of course with her Punjabi touch. However I fell in love with Patra ni Machchi. Big generous piece of fish, coated with mint and raw mango chutney, wrapped in banana leaf and steamed. This was pure delight! The sole reason for one to be happy and satisfied with food and life. Again, a little bizarre though, that the raw mango and mint chutney, tasted exactly like how my mother would make at home.
I think Mrs Bagli and my mother must be secretly sharing some recipes. How I wish, this was true!
But, honestly, I always like Parsi food for its familiar, simple and clean flavours. Although, one can sense the influences of Gujarati food and British dishes, still Parsi food has a character of its own. The Khattu Meethu flavour, the use of red vinegar, the pattice and bread and of course ‘eggs’, are all signs of how Parsi food has embraced different cuisines and then, evolved over the course of several years.
So while I was eating, I noticed two things that stood out. The Dhansak tasted more of lentils & meat and the lemons served in kachumber salad were ‘orange’ and not the normal yellow ones.
Later when I met Mrs Bagli in her office, I asked her how her Dhanksak tasted more of lentils, she immediately replied “Mummy always used to put Kaddu (pumpkin), but my cook doesn’t like the taste of it”.
With a twinkle in her eye, she narrated many stories to me. Starting from 1958, when she shifted from Bombay, after marrying her Parsi priest husband from Delhi. She talked fondly about her badminton classes, dances classes and parties. Being a quintessential Bombay girl, this was life to her.
Now, she organizes parties, conferences, meetings in the auditorium of her Dharamshala. She plans her parties on Saturday night, so that it’s convenient for everyone to come and enjoy. As we walked around her baug, she showed me the trees her husband had planted. The orange lemons were from the same baug. She spoke vividly about her son, who’s now the head priest of Delhi Parsi community and an avid wild life photographer. Kainaz Contractor and Anahita Dhondy (Chefs at Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu and Sodabottleopenerwala respectively) have grown up in front of her. The cook who worked for her husband, his third generation also now works for the Dharamshala.
Now years have gone by, generations have changed and this, now a mother of four, still lives at this Dharamshala. A place, which her husband once told her, was their kingdom.
Address: Bahadur Zafar Road, LNJP Colony, Near Maulana Azad Medical College Campus, New Delhi, 110002
Contact: 011 23238615
Cost for two: Rs 800-1000
NOTE: They also serve delicious Kulfi sourced from Parsi Dairy.