Category Archives: Food

The ritual of Parsi ‘choi’

Photo: Rhea Dalal

Tea time is an indulgent affair for Parsis. Come evening, a full tea service is laid out complete with snacks and bone china crockery

Once, during pre-pandemic times, I stopped to chat with a neighbour. Not one to let anyone leave empty-handed, she thrust some lemongrass picked from her garden into my hands, saying, “For your chai.” That was my first cup of lemongrass chai and I loved it.

Along the way, I learnt that lemongrass chai was the Parsi way. And who better to tell its story than Kurush Dalal, a food anthropologist and a Parsi to boot.

Right off the bat, he corrects me. “It’s not chai, it’s choi.”

Parsis, says Dalal, had no problem dealing with the British—and one of the things they imbibed from them was the British tea custom. Brewing tea in a pot, however, they felt “it was a bit plain, kind of bleh”. And, mint and lemongrass made their flavour-enhancing appearance.

“A good Parsi choi,” says Dalal, “must have mint and lemongrass.” Leeli chai with phudno, if you want to sound like someone in the know. And if you can get your hands on it, spearmint (“pippermint” in localese). If there are friends or family coming from Dahanu, which has a significant Parsi community, and where spearmint is grown, they are usually tasked with bringing some back, says Dalal.

And the tea of choice? Assam, leaf tea/ CTC/tea dust aka restaurant mix, depending on what is available or affordable.

I delight in hearing that teatime is not to be taken lightly if you are Parsi. I love the fact that it follows siesta hour, that a full tea service is laid out, and that the teapot (“bone china”) must be covered in a tea cosy. There is usually one accompaniment, made fresh, and preferably sweet—like a date and walnut cake, mawa cake, kumas (an Iranian precursor of the mawa cake), chaapat (a pancake), bhakra (the Parsi cookie), karkariya (“deep-fried banana fritters, our answer to banana bread”) or delightful-sounding popatjis, the dish that Dalal describes as the mother of all teatime snacks and the only Dutch legacy in Parsi food.

Popatji, he tells me, is a corruption of the Dutch poffertjes, and is made from batter fermented with a bit of toddy, fried in ghee and dunked in sweet syrup to which rose and cardamom have been added.

And yes, says Dalal, sometimes teatime is a proper English service with sandwiches and napkins (set out for decor, not to be used!). He also tells me that being invited to a Parsi home for tea is like being invited to Buckingham Palace.

Unsurprisingly then, wangling an invitation to a Parsi home for tea, where I can try the popatjis, has become part of my bucket list. Until then, I have Dalal’s recipe for Parsi leeli choi ne phudna wali choi to make at home.

The recipe makes two cups: 1.5 tsp tea, 10 mint leaves, 1 long lemongrass leaf, 5 spearmint leaves (optional). Add to the teapot, top with two-and-a-half cups of boiling water. Steep for 3-5 minutes with a tea cosy on. Pour into good bone china cups. Add a dash of milk and sugar. Stir (“clockwise with pinkie sticking out”).

Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea.

Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.

https://www.livemint.com/mint-lounge/features/opinion-the-ritual-of-parsi-choi-11601009663578.html

 

How to make a traditional Parsi lagan nu custard at home

Literally translating to ‘wedding custard’, this mouth-watering dessert recipe is traditionally prepared for Parsi wedding feasts

Total Time  –  45 mins
Prep Time  –  15 mins
Cook Time –  30 mins
Servings  –  6

You can call Lagan nu Custard the Parsi rendition of the classic crème caramel. Made with easily-available pantry ingredients, like milk, sugar and eggs, this dessert is a staple at Parsi weddings, and its name literally translates to ‘wedding custard’. Here’s how you can make it at home to end your meal on a sweet note.

Recipe Instructions

1. Boil milk and sugar till the milk is reduced to the half of its quantity.
2. Add grated quarter of the nutmeg, and 10 almonds blanched and slivered. Add vanilla essence to the milk and mix well. Once done, keep it aside to cool down. Meanwhile, preheat the oven at 180 degrees and grease a baking tray using butter.
3. Next, take a bowl and beat the eggs. Add the beaten eggs to the reduced milk mixture.
4. Pour this mixture in the greased baking tray, sprinkle the remaining nuts over it and place it in the oven for 30 minutes or till the top turns brown. Use a skewer/ toothpick to check if the custard is baked properly. If it comes out clean, it means the custard is done.
5. Take out the custard from the oven and let it cool down. Transfer it to a serving plate and decorate it with the chopped nuts. Slice the custard and serve warm.

Navroze Parsi Thali | Great Indian Thali | Sanjeev Kapoor Khazana

Next up is the definition of deliciousness! The #GreatIndianThali series brings yet another gem from the culinary world, the #ParsiThali You might have heard a lot about Parsi food from others & how delightful it is, but let me tell you, it’s more than that! You’re in for a roller-coaster of flavours with these exquisite recipes because they have just the perfect balance of sweet, spicy, tangy & what not. It is going to satisfy all your senses with the specially blended spices & mix-match of fantastic delicacies. These recipes are a medley of the rich Parsi cuisine & culture. It’s time to explore the multi-dimensional beauties which this grand thali!

How a Gujarati cookbook came to symbolise love and gratitude during the bubonic plague in Bombay

The story of Vividh Vani

Walking down Churchgate Street, I noticed a ubiquitous Mumbai institution: a raddiwalla with neatly arranged piles of books. Closer inspection revealed that most of them were Gujarati books of a certain vintage. An old Parsi book-lover had died and the family got rid of their book collection. As I rummaged through the novels and books on the Zoroastrian religion, I spotted a hefty tome with its cloth-bound cover depicting a dainty lady cooking on a kerosene stove. It was the first volume of the third edition (1915) of Vividha Vaani, a cookbook which had enjoyed cult status among Parsi households for over half a century. I snapped it up for a few rupees.

When I mentioned this to my friend, the scholar Virchand Dharamsey, he said not only did he have both volumes of the third edition but also a copy of the second edition of Vividha Vaani. Luckily for me, his interests did not extend to cookbooks and those copies also found their way into my collection. Many years later, I met Jayant Meghani during a visit to Bhavnagar in Gujarat. The soft-spoken writer and translator, who for many decades ran the bookshop Prasar, had also built up a wonderful collection of rare books. As we got talking about our interests, he fished out a copy of the first edition of Vividha Vaani.

It was this edition which appeared on 9 August 1894 when a Parsi lady named Meherbai Jamsetjee Wahadia wrote and self-published a Gujarati book of recipes titled Vividha Vaani, subtitled Pakwan Banavavnu Pustak. This could be translated as An Assortment of Culinary Dishes or The Book of Cooking. Written in the Parsi idiom of the Gujarati language, the book contained 1248 recipes arranged alphabetically.

Meet the authors

Meherbai hailed from the famous Parsi clan of Wahadia (Wadia) shipbuilders who had later diversified into a range of businesses and professions. Her father Jamsetjee Nusserwanjee belonged to a family that owned a range of industrial enterprises including cotton and jute mills, insurance agencies, and banking companies, alongside their traditional brokerage business. However, they lost control over these investments in the aftermath of the Share Mania of 1866.

When Meherbai was born on 24 November 1866, the family had been reduced to a relatively modest lifestyle. Before he died, her father had made extensive notes on the history of his family; perhaps this inspired Meherbai to develop her writing skills. A generation earlier, most Parsi girls from her social background would have been educated at home, but Meherbai went to school. Besides learning to read and write, the girls were taught a curriculum that emphasised the domestic sciences – cooking, sewing, knitting, and gardening.

During the 19th century, when print in Indian languages was still in its infancy, Gujarati cookbooks were hardly commonplace. The first Gujarati cookbook which I could trace was the Pakshastra Vishe Granth by Uttamram Purushottam. It was published in Ahmedabad in 1857. Uttamram wrote the cookbook based on his own experience coupled with references to Sanskrit writings on cookery. He was convinced that cooking was an art, and though a book might be useful to consult, it was “the touch of the hand” which made all the difference.
Title page of the third edition of ‘Vividha Vaani’ (1915)

He continued to revise and enlarge the book and a third edition was published in 1869. The first Parsi to publish a cookbook was Burjorjee Nusserwanjee Heera, whose Pakwan Pothi contained 400 recipes and was issued in 1878. A second edition appeared in 1882. This was followed by the Pakwan Sagar of Burjorjee Sorabjee Chikan Chhapnar in 1887.

Though it was not an innovation when it appeared in 1894, a cookbook like Vividha Vaani was still quite a rarity as it was the first Gujarati cookbook to be written by a woman. Just a few years ago, it would have seemed too forward to reveal one’s name and claim authorship, but by the 1890s, Parsi women were willing to have their names published along with their writings.

Even though she was 28 years old when the book was released, Meherbai was unmarried, exemplifying a trend towards late marriage which had just set in among the Parsis. Contrast this with her father who was only 17 when she was born, and her mother Pirojabai must have been younger.

Parsi society had seen major changes in the last decades of the 19th century and perhaps saw an opportunity to expand its cuisine and update its cooking practices. Though she belonged to the upper echelons of society, Meherbai seems to have spent a lot of time in the family kitchen. According to RA Wadia, the author of Scions of Lowjee Wadia, “In the preparation of this work, she had devoted all her energies and had prepared recipes by calling in the aid of special cooks.”

Between the covers

Vividha Vaani is a collection of recipes drawn from numerous cuisines. Meherbai never claims that she is documenting Parsi cuisine; on the other hand, she is insistent on introducing a variety of new dishes to her readers after she has perfected their recipes with the assistance of her “special cooks”, many of whom have earlier worked in European households. The book features standard Parsi fare like akuri, aleti paleti and patiyo, but there is also a plethora of cakes, jams, tarts, creams, essences, and dumplings.

As the entries are alphabetically listed rather than by genre, you could be looking at custard recipes one moment, only to encounter a variety of cutlets on the next page. Even the many “How to” tips are scattered all over the text. Most importantly, there is no separate listing of ingredients; each recipe is a single paragraph and might include numerous minor variations. Meherbai also includes Goan and Bohri recipes besides a number of Madrasi items. An omnibus cookbook, Vividha Vaani exposed the average Parsi housewife to a new world of culinary experiences.

The book attracted the attention of the two largest Gujarati publishers to this genre of books. In the following year, the Jame Jamshed Press issued a cookbook titled Pakwan Sangraha. The Duftur Ashkara Press, which had last issued Heera’s Pakwan Pothi in 1882, now had it completed revised by a Gujarati scholar, enlarged it substantially, and published it in 1896 as an 800-page behemoth under the title Duftur Ashkarani Pakwan Pothi.

 

Enter the plague

Exactly two years after Vividha Vaani was published, Bombay was struck by the bubonic plague in September 1896. It had probably been imported into the city by international travellers arriving by ship. The disease did not make any distinctions between the rich and the poor and spread rapidly in a densely packed city. The city emptied out as the rich moved to bungalows and tents in the suburbs while the poor went back to their villages.

The plague fever struck in waves for the next few years. Plague hospitals were quickly established all across the city on caste and community lines as people were still worried about ritual caste purity even in the worst of times. This applied not only to Hindus but to all the other religions of Mumbai. The Bombay Parsee Punchayet, whose main role was to administer the trust funds of the community, set up a fund to establish a hospital exclusively for Parsis.

Vignettes of (left) Meherbai Wahadia (1866–1897) and Dr KN Bahadurji (1860–1898)

The Parsee Fever Hospital was the brainchild of Dr Kaikhusru N Bahadurji, one of the most prominent Indian doctors of Bombay. When the city was overwhelmed by the plague, he was at the forefront of two critical initiatives – medical care for patients and research into possible treatments for the disease. Not only did he initiate the Parsee Fever Hospital project, Dr Bahadurji also equipped and conducted its operations.

Meherbai was unfortunately one of the patients to be admitted to the Parsee Fever Hospital during the first wave of the plague. She was taken care of by a strong contingent of female medical workers including Dr Manek Turkhud (the first woman to obtain a medical degree in Bombay in 1892) and the future nationalist, Bhikai Cama, who volunteered her services as a nurse. Writing to the Times of India (20 January 1897), a visitor to the hospital saw that food and drink were an important component of life in the worst of times. He wrote that he was…

“…greatly struck with the admirable arrangement of the wards, everything being scrupulously clean and arranged in order. I visited the kitchen and was surprised to find that the able conductors of the hospital with a wise forethought had succeeded in securing the services of Parsee cooks – so difficult to obtain now-a-days – so that even the orthodox people of the community could have no objections to avail themselves of the benefit of the institution during this critical period…To supply a quantity of pure milk for the patients, about a dozen buffaloes were kept in the compound, so that genuine article of nourishment for the sick without adulteration may be had on the spot at any hour of the day or night.”

Two deaths

Dr Bahadurji might have been already acquainted with Meherbai and her family and perhaps, she was admitted to the Parsee Fever Hospital at his urging. It must have taken some persuasion as hospitals were then viewed as places to which only the poor resorted; the upper classes preferred to be treated at home. She came under his personal care and experienced some of his new treatment protocols including prolonged immersion in ice baths. However, nothing could avail the dying patient, and Meherbai at the age of 30.

Meherbai was survived by her mother Pirojabai for whom her bereavement would have been very traumatic. Dr Bahadurji visited Pirojabai frequently after Meherbai’s death, both as a medical practitioner and as a well-wisher. Was there a romantic angle to the connection between Meherbai and Dr Bahadurji? Were they engaged to be married before Meherbai’s illness?

It is useless to speculate without further information, but Dr Bahadurji continued to be in regular contact with her mother who was grateful for it. He had also managed to antagonise a prominent section of the Parsi community; the severe restrictions he placed on the visitation rights of the family in view of the contagious nature of the disease were not viewed favourably, nor were his methods of treatment, especially the prolonged immersion in wet baths packed with ice.

Dr Bahadurji fell seriously ill with fever which was diagnosed as typhoid and eventually died on 15 August 1898. The Times of India (17 August 1898) noted that, “His services during the plague were characterised by all the strenuous zeal and devotion to duty which distinguished him, and it is to be feared that the excessive amount of work he undertook really hastened his death by weakening his constitution.”

Many Bombay organisations with which Dr Bahadurji had been associated began to debate the methods by which his memory could be perpetuated and his contributions recognised. Pirojabai also must have felt the need to commemorate her gratitude towards a doctor who had first tended to her daughter and then to her. What better way to do this than to give new life to her daughter’s creation?

She decided to issue a fresh edition of the Vividha Vaani and dedicate it to him. It would not be a mere reprint; the book was entirely rewritten and was expanded to include 1593 recipes. Recipes were structured such that the ingredients were listed first, and variations were spun off into new recipes. However the basic structure of the book with its alphabetical listing was retained and Meherbai continued to get sole credit. A Gujarati cookbook thus came to symbolise love and gratitude during the bubonic plague which raged for over a decade in Mumbai from 1896.

Recipe for revival

The second edition of Vividha Vaani, nearly 700 pages long, was released in 1901. Printed at the Jame Jamshed Press, it was published by its owners J B Marzban & Co, who also acquired the copyright to the book from Pirojabai. The book had begun to assume the form of a culinary encyclopedia.

In 1915, a third edition was issued under the same imprint. Nearly twice as big as the second edition, its 2050 recipes extended to over 1200 pages which had to be bound in two volumes. It was this edition which ensured the reputation of Vividha Vaani as a vade mecum for the Parsi housewife. The fourth and final edition of 1926, published before Pirojabai’s death in 1928, was over 1500 pages long and listed 2180 recipes. These editions were also credited to Meherbai Jamsetjee Wahadia and the dedication to Dr KN Bahadurji by Pirojabai was prominently featured.

Covers of the first three editions of ‘Vividha Vaani’

All editions of Vividha Vaani are handsomely bound in cloth with the text embossed and gilt. Each edition features a different image on the cover illustrating the changing times. The first edition of 1894 features a young woman, almost a girl, cooking on a wood-fired stove placed on a low platform. The 1901 edition features a middle-aged woman, a Parsi matron, with an apron tied over her sari stirring a pan on a coal-fired sigri placed on a wooden table. The third edition has a decidedly modern woman, with her hair done up in a bun, working at a kerosene stove placed on a countertop with shelving underneath. One can see the contours of the modern Indian kitchen emerging from these images.

Passed on from generation to generation, the later editions of Vividha Vaani became family heirlooms. From being a book of reference, it became an object of reverence not to be discarded even when it fell into tatters. However, by the 1950s, the archaic language of the book was incomprehensible to many Parsis who had drifted towards English as a primary language.

In the same decade, Indian weights and measures went metric and soon the tola, rattal, tipri, and sher measures used in the book rendered it all but unusable. Niloufer Ichaporia King notes in My Bombay Kitchen (2007) that Vividha Vaani “is enchanting in its vigorous Parsi eclecticism.”

Emulating the efforts of Meherbai Jamsetjee Wahadia and her mother Pirojabai, the later anonymous contributors to the book assimilated influences from numerous other cooking cultures and helped shape what is now globally recognised as Parsi cuisine.

This series of articles on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on publishing is curated by Kanishka Gupta.

https://scroll.in/article/964568/how-a-gujarati-cookbook-came-to-symbolise-love-and-gratitude-during-the-bubonic-plague-in-bombay

#Lockdown Chicken Farcha Bites | #stayhome and cook #withme | Chef Delz

 

Have always loved the idea of the Chicken Farcha. One could not go wrong with Deep fried chicken coated with egg Simple but soul food 😀

Farcha Bites

Recipe Ingredients : Cubed chicken breast – 500 g Yoghurt/Dahi – 2 tbsp Dhana jeera powder – 1 tbsp Chilli powder – 1 tbsp Haldi powder – 1 tsp Ginger garlic paste – 1 tbsp Salt and pepper – to taste Semolina/rava – 100g Eggs – 2 pcs

Method :

1. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, dhana jeera powder, chilli powder, haldi powder, ginger garlic paste, and yoghurt and marinate. Keep aside for atleast 30 mins or even overnight

2. Beat up the eggs

3. Roll each piece of the marinated chicken in the semolina then dip in egg and deep fry

4. Once in the fryer drizzle some of the leftover egg over the chicken in the fryer

5. Fry for about 7 mins or till cooked

6. Serve with the mint yoghurt dip

Yoghurt Mint Dip

Recipe Ingredients: Yoghurt/dahi – 100g Mint – ¼ bunch Garlic – 3 to 4 cloves Salt and pepper to taste

Method :

1. Combine yoghurt with chopped mint, garlic, salt and pepper

2. Whisk together and refrigerate before using

If you like the video please Subscribe 😊 You can follow me on : Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/chef_delz For any business inquiries contact me on: chefdelzad@gmail.com Disclaimer: All aspects of this video are created by me unless stated otherwise, kindly refrain from using any photos or videos without my permission. Thank you!

How Parsis shaped India’s taste for soft drinks

A bottle of Pallonji’s raspberry soda comes with this helpful disclaimer: “Contains no fruit.” Electric red in colour, and syrupy sweet to the taste, the raspberry soda is a beloved cultural icon of India’s fast-disappearing Parsi community – as well as the endangered Irani cafes in the western city of Mumbai.

It is pure, fizzy nostalgia.

But peer more closely into one of Pallonji’s ancient glass bottles and you can discern a story of much greater significance: how Parsis helped shape India’s taste for soft drinks.

Over the past two centuries, Parsis were instrumental in popularising and producing carbonated beverages in India, laying the foundations for what is today a $8bn (£6.9bn) industry.

Soda had become a popular beverage in London by the early 1800s. Companies such as Schweppes sold plain carbonated water, advertising it as a health elixir. Other firms experimented with flavoured variants such as lemon, orange, and raspberry.

Inevitably, soda found its way from the heart of the empire to India, where it was a luxury item for Britons in the subcontinent. In 1837, Henry Rogers, a chemist in Mumbai, set up what was likely western India’s first “aerated water” factory.

Rogers’ product was not simply a refreshing pick-me-up. Before Mumbai completed its modern waterworks in the late 19th Century, it relied on well water, which was filthy and potentially deadly.

Poster of a Parsi aerated water manufacturing companyImage copyrightH D DARUKHANAWALA, PARSIS AND SPORTS
Image captionThe Parsi community were instrumental in manufacturing aerated drinks in India

In the best of times, residents complained of drinking muddy liquid that was “very foul both to sight and smell, of a yellowish brown colour”. In the worst of times, hundreds died from cholera outbreaks.

Drinking carbonated water could be a life-saving habit. After all, carbonic acid in soda killed bacteria and viruses.

This was even more the case after the invention of carbonated tonic water in 1858, which contained quinine to ward off malaria.

Parsis sensed a commercial opportunity in the new fizzy drinks consumed by their colonial masters. Many were already involved in businesses that catered to Britons, as commissaries to the army or owners of hotels and “Europe shops” in cities.

They added soda to their inventories. According to community lore, the first Parsi to settle in Ahmednagar – a dusty army outpost in the Deccan – arrived in town with a soda-making apparatus strapped to a mule, with which he slaked the thirst of British soldiers.

By the mid-1800s, Parsis began imbibing the strange drink themselves.

Here, they served as trendsetters for other Indians, who had looked at soda with suspicion.

The Marolia family sold their soda in special round-bottom bottles

 

Click Here for the full story with some great pics

By Dinyar Patel
Historian

A 160-Year-Old Parsi Sweet Shop Is The Longest Surviving Business Of India

 

It is always an interesting feeling to come across a part of Indian history that has managed to sustain itself through changing regimes, colonisation, independence, and the many, many things that this country has gone through.

So when I came across this Parsi sweet shop, it was amazing to learn of how it had managed to keep itself running for around 200 years now.

In a time, when businesses and startups are starting and closing up in just a couple of years, it is certainly a testament of business ethics and working conditions that has managed to still keep it running till date.

So what is this Parsi shop that has managed to be one of the longest surviving business of India?

What Is The Dotivala Bakery?

The Dutch came to India some time around the 1700s. Their reign wasn’t really that long either, not when in comparison to the British or Portuguese, but they did leave behind a massive impact on the Indian cultural sheet and cuisine. While they were in India they took up a warehouse on Dutch Road in Surat and started a bakery there.

They employed 5 Parsi bakers to do the job, and when they left, they gave over the bakery to one Mr. Faramji Pestonji Dotivala. The now namesake of the much beloved bakery across the city. The Indian Dotivala Bakery was established in 1861, almost 160 years ago.

The Parsi food culture is one big mashup of different traditions and cultures. Their food has hints of Gujarati, Maharashtrian, British and Dutch food.

In fact, their seemingly strange surnames like Cakewala, Confectioner and Paowala and more also originated due to how entwined the community is with the snacks and dessert food group.

The Dotivala Bakery in Surat has taken up the Dutch cuisine and integrated it with their own tradition, creating something truly unique. In its beginning, the Dutch bakery was more geared towards home-sich Dutch people.

But after the Dutch regime came to an end, along with the breads, buscuits and cakes, the bakery also started to create new items for the now Indian customers.

This eventually lead to them creating the rusk-dry Irani khari biscuit, nankhatai biscuit and more such iconic items that are now eaten by people all across the country.

Parsi culinary expert and cookbook author, Niloufer Mavalvala, even recounted how Dotivala initially invented the ‘batasas‘ that are a type of small sized dried bread buns. In her book, ‘The Art of Parsi Cooking’ she revealed that, “Once the Brits too lessened in numbers, the popularity of the bakery diminished, and the wasted loaves were soon distributed to the local poor. Having the advantage of being fermented with an ingredient called toddy (palm wine), there was little chance of the bread ever catching fungus, prolonging the life of this staple yet making it harder in texture and more difficult to eat.” 

She then revealed how the fact that doctors suggested it to recovering patients as a good food becuase it was easy to digest while not being either too heavy, oily or spicy.

This eventually lead an increase in their demand, resulting in Dotivala intentionally making such bread buns, using just three simple ingredient, toddy, flour and water.

The shop, even after all these decades, is still running with a few other branches also in existence around the city under the leadership of Cyrus Dotivala, Pestonji’s 6th generation descendant.

Imagine a shop has managed to survive almost 2 centuries and 6 generation changes, while still seemingly giving out good food.

 

https://www.edtimes.in/a-160-year-old-parsi-sweet-shop-is-the-longest-surviving-business-of-india/

The Parsi Omelette

How the omelette won my heart: Kunal Vijayakar on his love for the Parsi pora

The pora is an omelette so packed with ingredients that you can hardly taste the egg — much like the original omelette itself.

 

I was never a big fan of omelettes. It’s either something about the texture or the way egg undercooks between the folded layers, or the floppiness of an overcooked and flattened omelette that is redolent of raw onion that sort of turned me away from omelettes for most of my life.

I’d watch my grandmother painstakingly separate yolk from egg and then wrist-wrenchingly beat the white till peaky, add onions, chillies, tomato, salt, and gently fold in the yolks, ensuring the eggs were aerated enough to make rather fluffy omelettes. I’d watch, but never eat.

Even all those years at college, hanging around in a canteen where vada pav, misal pav and omelette pav were the three staples, I never succumbed. It didn’t help that a sweaty man haphazardly broke the eggs, mixed them quickly in a mug, with raw onion, green chillies and salt, then poured the mix onto an oily pan to make small pancakes, which were hurriedly taken off the fire before the eggs had gained even a blush of bronze. I never had one in all my years there.

Even at breakfasts at Trattoria (at the erstwhile Taj President hotel), I’d watch my friends demolish huge omelettes, pale yellow, pillow-like and podgy, with only gently wrinkled skin, bursting with melted cheese, ham and mushrooms, and adamantly stick to my runny sunny-side-ups. It was only when I first tasted the Parsi pora that I actually took to the omelette. For me, the egg in the Parsi pora is just the binder. This omelette is crammed with Indian flavours and masala. The best pora contains fried onion. Deep-fried. The eggs are mixed with this browned, crisped onion, a fistful of coriander, garlic, ginger, red chilli powder, haldi, jeera powder and dhansak masala, then beaten well to form a dark-brown liquid.

You pour portions of this mixture into oil to deep-fry these pancakes. The way my friend Zenobia Irani cooks them is to keep them frying till they turn crispy brown, taking them off the fire only just before they start to burn. This pora comes out crisp, frilly, dark brown and so savoury that you could actually be eating a cutlet.

If you don’t have a friend called Zenobia, you can try the omelettes they sell at outlets of the RTI or Ratan Tata Institute. They come somewhat close to the real thing, though you will need to re-heat these properly before eating (ideally with soft, fresh, Wibs sandwich bread).

The pora is an omelette so packed with ingredients that you can hardly taste the egg — much like the original omelette itself. When I looked it up, I discovered that the earliest recorded omelettes came from Persia. They were called kuku sabzi and are still hugely popular in Iran and other Middle-Eastern countries.

The kuku sabzi is a flat, green preparation, much like the Parsi pora, except that it’s stuffed with parsley, coriander, herbs, dill, spinach and scallions. In this case, the omelette is either baked or steamed over a low flame. Topped with sour Irani barberries and walnuts, it is a meal in itself.

Like most foods in life, once the French got their hands on it, the omelette began to be perfected and documented. So if you pick up a thick Larousse Gastronomique, the French almanac of cooking, you may get a perfect recipe. Eight eggs mixed with a little water and cream or milk, seasoned with salt and pepper, beaten and then poured into a pan. The eggs are then stirred and mixed with a fork till they start setting; then folded and left to form an omelette. That is the plain omelette.

I’d suggest you read the book when you have lots of time, because the Larousse has over 35 omelette recipes, including omelettes stuffed with truffles, asparagus, morel mushrooms, chicken liver, cauliflower, bacon, potatoes, horseradish, foie gras, or even fruit compote, nuts and pastry.

Be that as it may, the best omelettes I have eaten after the Parsi pora are the Asian omelettes. Any Singapore food court hawker will serve you an oyster omelette, also called orh luak, with a side of spicy chilli sauce and a wedge of lime. It is to die for. Likewise the egg foo young, which is a Cantonese dish you can find easily in Old Kolkata. It can be made with eggs and pak choy or stuffed with barbecue pork (char siu) or ham. Often, Chinese homes just use any leftover meat, chicken or shrimp to rustle up a quick omelette.

That’s not all. It seems like everyone has their own version. The Spanish omelette is celebrated. It’s baked in a pan with eggs and potatoes. The Italians make frittata — eggs, meat, cheese and vegetables. And we in India of course make the masala omelette. I think it was the masala that finally converted me from a non-omelette-eater to an omelette fiend. Go to any Irani eatery in Mumbai, and you’ll know what I mean.

Kunal Vijayakar
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