Hyderabad-based Danish Bhagat is among the 40 top contestants in the sixth season of MasterChef India.
Danishi with the three celebrity judges — Ranveer Brar, Vineet Bhatia and Vikas Khanna during the audition round.
Danishi Bhagat, a 22-year-old Hyderabadi is one of the top 40 contestants of MasterChef India, Season 6. The youngster, who was among the top 60 in 2016, is fighting for the title the second time.
“I want to showcase the Parsi culture and cuisine to the world,” says Danishi, adding she’d like to one day work with Vineet Bhatia, one of the top international chefs.
Talking about her stint on the show, the youngster says, “I had to stay in Mumbai for three weeks and train in many things. There, I made a Parsi dish called dhansak kebab, for three world-class chefs using my grandmother’s recipe. And Vineet Bhatia, whom I really look up to, was one of the chefs I served it to. That was a dream-come-true.”
The youngster also talks about how the chefs appreciated her hopes to preserve the Parsi culture. “They were very encouraging, saying that with a little more practice, I’ll go even further. And they kept giving me tips to maintain my confidence, asking me not to think about the camera in front of me when cooking,” adds Danishi.
Acquiring a taste for cooking
The 22-year-old tells us that she started cooking at the age of nine. “One day, when no one was home, my grandfather asked me to get him a snack-box from the kitchen as he was hungry. But I decided to climb up on a stool make an omelette for him instead. He loved the omelette. I’ve been fascinated about cooking since, and my mum and grandmother have only encouraged me,” says Danishi, who started baking at the age of twelve and began taking sale orders when she was only thirteen.
Danishi, who has a blog page called The Cupcake Makeover in which she talks about her passion for cooking and her love for Parsi cuisine, calls her grandmother her inspiration and the one who taught her to cook Parsi food. But the world seems like Danish’s playground, for the Mass Communication and Journalism graduate from St Francis College who dreams to open a Parsi restaurant serving authentic Parsi food, says she’s also fascinated about filmmaking. “I’d like to learn filmmaking too. I’d like to have my own cooking channel and shoot for it and promote it myself,” adds Danishi, revealing she’s even tied up with a private company for her food channel.
Serving up her dreams
The ambitious cook, who also hopes to head to Hollywood if she got an opportunity to study filmmaking, says acting is another passion of hers and that she’d like to act too when she starts her own channel. But Danishi’s fondness for all things film may also go back to her father Shyam Bhagat, who’s been in Tollywood for more than thirty years, as a part of Sravanthi Movies. Shyam, we’re told, is in production, supplying cameras and lights. And even as Danishi’s parents aren’t too keen she joins the field, Danishi hopes to work on her own terms.
Danishi has been shot for three episodes in the upcoming season of MasterChef India, and two has already been broadcast. But the young woman is already geared up for the seventh season of the reality show. “I am hoping to enhance my skill even more as I go further,” she says simply.
If you love Iranian/Parsi food, then you gotta watch this video, right now! Our team has curated the best 7 places in Mumbai where you can try out authentic Iranian and Parsi food, and at the same time, experience their culture and history! Mumbai is home to many legendary outlets that have been serving Iranian cuisine. Most of these outlets have vintage vibes, minimal decor, and history attached to it. It is a must-try for all Mumbaikars to check these places out, try out this delicious food and experience the vibes!
Here’s your checklist: 1) Jimmy Boy – Fort Mutton Gravy Cutlet – Rs 320/- 2) Kyani & Co. – Marine Lines Akuri Toast and Irani Chai – Rs 80/- 3) Britannia & Co – Ballard Estate Mutton Berry Pulao – Rs 870/- 4) Yazdani – Fort Brun Maska and Masa Puff – Rs 60/- 5) Cafe Military – Fort Beer – Rs 170/- 6) Sassanian – Dhobi Talao Chicken Dhansak and Rice – Rs 170/- 7) Ideal Corner – Fort Patrani Fish – Rs 200/- K Rustom & Co. – Churchgate Ice Cream Biscuits!
Chicken farcha is a Parsi deep-fried chicken appetiser which has a separate fan base, for its mlange of very desi flavours, coupled with juicy, boneless chicken thighs.
Chicken Farcha is a delightful Parsi appetiser that is crispy and juicy (representational image)
Farcha is a deep-fried chicken appetiser from the Parsi cuisine
The snack is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside
Farcha is made by deep-frying spicy marinated chicken thighs
Parsi cuisine is all about comfort food that is an absolute delight for non-vegetarians. From chicken and mutton dhansak to berry pulao, Parsi dishes are a simple, yet flavourful. They can be cooked for any simple meal of the day or may also find place in an elaborated festive menu, without seeming out of place. The snacks or starters are as stellar as their Mains and their desserts can remind one of simpler times. However, not many meat-eaters in the country may be aware of Parsi delights, much less prepare them and cook them at home. These are usually available at the handful of Irani cafes that are still thriving in certain pockets of the country. Parsi snacks are especially delicious and these can be enjoyed with a cup of hot, piping Irani chai.
Today, we’re looking at a quintessential Parsi snack – Chicken Farcha. This deep-fried chicken appetiser has a separate fan base, for its mélange of very desi flavours, coupled with juicy, boneless chicken thighs. The marinade for the chicken is made from a handful of our most popular flavouring agents, including ginger, garlic, coriander and garam masala. Chicken farcha is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside and just oh-so-satisfying for every chicken lover out there. Once you bite into this desi fried chicken snack, you will forget all about the American fried chicken. What’s more? It’s a typical monsoon snack that is ready within minutes and that can be prepared using common ingredients available in all Indian kitchens.
Here’s a recipe for Parsi Chicken Farcha from Chef Pawan Bisht of Verandah Moonshine in Delhi-
1. Take fresh chicken boneless thighs and skin and clean them properly. Cut it into small 50 gram pieces.
2. In a bowl, prepare the marinade using fresh lemon juice, fresh garlic and ginger paste, coriander powder, garam masala, salt, pepper and chillies to taste. Add the chicken to the marinade and let it rest for about 20 minutes.
3. Prepare the coating using whisked eggs and red chilli powder. In a separate plate, take bread crumbs or toasted semolina.
4. Take the marinated chicken and coat it alternatively with the eggs and the bread crumbs until a thick coating is formed.
5. Deep fry the chicken pieces until deep golden-brown and then serve with chutney.
For the full recipe and quantities of ingredients, click here. This chicken farcha is a recipe that you can quickly prepare for tea-time or prepare as starters for get-together over dinner at your house. Happy cooking!
The smell of dried Bombay duck infiltrates the air.
Mum is making the Parsi dish Tarapori Patio, a ruddy pickle made from the quintessentially Bombay fish, the curiously-named Bombay duck, assertively spiced and humming with the tang of vinegar. An old cookbook lies next to her, the pages brittle, dog-eared, covered with scrawls—“Add chopped coriander, 1/2 cup”; “easy for tiffin.”1
This kitchen treasure is Recipes from the Time & Talents Club, an iconic Parsi cookbook passed down from generation to generation. Mum’s came to her as a Christmas gift in 1975 through a dear old friend, her elderly piano teacher. There is an inscription within, scribbled in auspicious red—“Music has made my contact with you, but maybe cooking could become more important in the future. So here’s wishing you all the best for a bright and happy future. With love, Vera Aunty.”
Vera Aunty’s gift was the springboard from which my mum’s cooking took off. “Of course, I consult many Parsi cookbooks,” Mum says huffily, then relents to add, “but this one is for the ages.”
The history of Parsi food traces back to the Muslim conquest of Persia in the mid-7th century C.E. and the subsequent pressure, violent and otherwise, on the native population to convert from Zoroastrianism to Islam. A small number of Iranians fled, finding refuge across the Arabian Sea on the western coast of India, the modern-day state of Gujarat. From there, this Iranian diaspora seeped across India, enriching their adopted homeland’s cultural and economic landscape. Never a community of overwhelming numbers, there are less than 70,000 of us today and most live in Mumbai.2
Parsi food, therefore, is matted with influences, from the flavors of pre-Muslim Iran (a predilection for dried fruits and nuts, rose water, pomegranate, saffron, and a love of sweet-sour meat dishes) to British and Dutch cooking (thanks to their various imperial presences in western India) to the indigenous cuisine of Gujarat.
And when it comes to Parsi food, there was no greater influence than that of the Time & Talents Club. The Club, started by Gool Shavaksha in 1934, was peopled by a clot of upper-crust women, mostly Parsi, who yearned to be socially responsible at a time when many women were strangled by a lack of agency. The Club provided them an imprimatur of respectability, and its proceeds were shared with the poor. Such charitable pursuits were considered appropriate for women from respectable families; no doubt the Club was considered a passing fancy by several men. Yet it endured and grew.3
Although it may not have had the heft of government cultural organizations, the Club was keen on boosting Mumbai’s cultural scene. In 1963 they opened and oversaw the Victory Stall near the Gateway of India, once a culinary landmark, feeding the citizenry with their beer-soaked Parsi lunches and donating the proceeds to the widows and orphans of Indian soldiers. Club members wrangled concerts for the Mumbai public with the Berlin Chamber Orchestra and the Warsaw National Philharmonic, and they trundled in the maestro Yehudi Menuhinas and the famed pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch to perform for city audiences. Perhaps the ladies’ greatest triumph came when they secured a performance by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (whose music director at the time was Zubin Mehta, a Parsi son of Bombay) at the grand Shanmukhananda Hall. (This was despite the orchestra’s complaints of cockroach-infiltrated hotel rooms and, more terrifyingly, a bomb threat, though the latter was resolved by a quick call by a member of the Time & Talents Club to the police commissioner.)4
Almost everyone I know is connected to the Club in some way. My pediatrician juggles saving the lives of sick children with managing the Club’s many events. My great-aunt was a lifelong member, despite her husband constantly teasing her that it was “The Only Time & No Talents Club.”
But the Club is most heavily stamped onto our community identity through its cookbook. My London-dwelling cousin uses it as a emergency plan for when homesickness strikes. My friend Dilnavaz Contractor built her Parsi food pop-up around the book, inscribing into it her own personal inflections along the way: “The recipe for Parsi vegetable stew is one I fall back on every time. It’s a crowd pleaser. The one I secretly love though is the kharia ma chora (goat trotters cooked with beans), although unfortunately, only Parsis seem to like this one.”
The first edition was put together in 1935, all the profits from which went to charity. It was a time when India was still struggling to throw off the British yoke; a time of unrest and revolution, but therefore also a time of cross-pollination. Eased in with typical Parsi dishes such as caramel custard, patra ni macchi (chutney fish swathed in banana leaves), and the offal dish bhujan (heart, kidneys, and liver), were such recipes as undhiyu (a Gujarati dish made of root vegetables) and the south Indian mulligatawny. If Bhicoo Manekshaw (who later became an iconic Parsi cookbook author and chef in her own right) sent in her recipe for the voluptuous Fish Roxanne (fish crisped on a pan, then served in a bath of melted butter, caviar and lime juice), and Pinky Gindraux proffered her Pork Chops in Mushroom Soup (requiring the chops to take a long soak in butter and mushroom soup); then Khatta Tyabji sent in her recipe for mutton biryani, while Mani Kumana volunteered her recipe for Hyderabadi corn salan.
As one traces the various publications of the Time & Talents Club, it becomes clear why Niloufer Ichaporia King, author of the recent Parsi cookbook My Bombay Kitchen, calls the Club’s cookbooks a “perfect window into Bombay’s changing food-of-everywhere culinary culture.”5 During World War II, the ladies published a booklet of anti-waste recipes, including one that transformed a beloved Parsi egg dish (akuri) into an eggless one made with rotis cooked in masala. When I sift through my mum’s 1975 edition, I find Parsi regulars such as chicken farcha, and colmino saas (prawn sauce), but I also find snows, soufflés, and chiffons. The book is also sprinkled with food-related limericks and witticisms of both Gujarati and English origins, such as one epigram clearly of its time: “A woman who cannot make soup should not be allowed to marry.”
As later versions unspooled through the years, I encounter the further waxing and waning of culinary fashions: fewer snows and soufflés, more microwave recipes. The regressive sayings were tactfully weeded out. In this way, the older Time & Talents cookbooks become capsules of a vanished past.
Some things remain the same, though. There are always helpful tips throughout. The cooking instructions are crisp, almost clipped. There is no pandering to modern proclivities, such as pictures of the recipes. Even the latest edition, duly updated for modern living, is an oddity in an age that prizes a completely different vocabulary of cooking—it has neither the aggrandizement of restaurant cooking nor the glossy, flattened photographs of Instagram. It is simply good home cooking, mother’s cooking, standing stolidly in its own lane.
1. The Time & Talents Club, Recipes (Mumbai: Bombay Chronicle Press), 1975.
Meher Mirza is an independent food, culture and travel writer with a special interest in exploring the anthropology of Indian food and culture through a postcolonial prism. You can follow her on Instagram @bigmlittlem.
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Chef Anahita N Dhondy was selected in the ‘Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2019’ list for her contribution towards food sustainability and for popularising the Parsi cuisine.
Chef Anahita N Dhondy promotes sustainable food.
Chef Anahita N Dhondy was at a vegetable market in Hyderabad picking up fresh veggies for her restaurant when the news reached her. She was selected in the ‘Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2019’ list for her contribution towards food sustainability and for popularising the Parsi cuisine.
“It was overwhelming. The congratulatory messages poured in and I was touched by the warmth. I never thought that my work would be recognised at the national level,” says the 28-year-old, who runs SodaBottleOpenerWala, a chain of Parsi restaurants in the country.
Chef Dhondy promotes Indian millets, which are nutritious and inexpensive homegrown grains, in dishes in the restaurant and in her recipes on social media.
“I am grateful that people are recognising sustainability in this sector,” says Dhondy. She has represented India and SodaBottleOpenerWala at the EAT Forum 2018 and the Chefs Manifesto in Stockholm and London in 2018.
These days she is busy conducting workshops in schools to promote Zero Waste and Clean Plate campaigns which is also in line with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“I am teaching youngsters how to reuse food and work towards zero waste of food materials. We have to respect our farmers and environment,” she says.
That Parsi food is all about sweet and sour flavours is a completely wrong notion, says fifth generation Parsi chef Mahrukh Mogrelia. “Not all our food is sweet and sour. There are a lot of fresh herbs and homemade spices that go into Parsi cooking,” shares Mahrukh, a resident of Nana Chowk in South Mumbai, whose Parsi food pop-ups are extremely popular among her guests. The 49-year-old elegant cook, who has been rustling up delectable dishes since age seven, was in Kolkata to usher in Navroz, the Parsi New Year, with a flavourful week-long festival at The Westin Kolkata Rajarhat.
The guests were served authentic Parsi dishes including Chicken Farcha, the Parsi version of Kentucky Fried Chicken, lip smacking Mutton keema cooked with sweet onions, tomatoes, chillies and a hint of coriander and shallow-fried Tatrela prawns coated with green chilli, garlic, cumin seeds, coriander and mango-ginger. There was also a wide array of dessert options including the Lagan Nu Custard, Kopra Pak and Sev.
On the sidelines of cooking up a storm, she shared with us a simple yet yummy fish recipe, the ever popular Patrani Machhi. “Fish is considered extremely auspicious by us, and we have fish on all festive occasions,” she says.
So, here is the easy-to-make Patrani Machhi recipe for you:
Ingredients: Ten pieces of any fish, it can be betki or a silver pomfret | Two cups of grated coconut | One cup of chopped coriander leaves | One tbsp cumin seeds | One tbsp sugar | Juice of one lemon | Salt to taste
Prep time: One hour
● Wash the fish, apply salt and turmeric and keep aside for a while.
● Grind and mix all the ingredients into a fine paste. Take a banana leaf and apply a little cooking oil on it, and put the paste above and under the fish evenly. Then wrap the fish in banana leaf and tie it.
● Sprinkle some vinegar on it before steaming the fish till it is cooked.
● Serve with plain rice and daal or enjoy as it is.