Dotivala Bakery completes 158 years — one of the longest surviving businesses in India. Considering India just celebrated its independence of 70 years from the British Raj, this makes the bakery one of the longest surviving and thriving business in modern day India. During their reign in India, the Dutch established in Surat a warehouse on Dutch Road, in which five Parsi gentlemen were employed as bakers. When the Dutch left India at the end of their rule they handed over their ovens to one of them, Mr. Faramji Pestonji Dotivala whose descendants over time developed and perfected the Surat biscuit recipes. The Dotivala bakery in Surat continues to this day, making it one of the longest surviving businesses in India.
The Parsi community in Karachihas always been a minority, but one that has left an inimitable legacy. Late Jehangir Framroze Punthakey, in his book, The Karachi Zoroastrian Calendar, called the Parsis, “the makers of the Karachi of today.” They belonged to the elite in Karachi, with the city’s first mayor, Jamshed Nusserwanji, also belonging to a Parsi family. Be it institutions like The Mama Parsi Girls’ Secondary School and the BVS Parsi High School, or infrastructure facilities such as the M.A. Jinnah Road, the Parsi community has significantly contributed towards Karachi’s history and heritage. While families like Minwalla and Avari invested into five-star hotels and fine-dining eateries, others chose to adapt a humbler approach towards satisfying the appetites of Karachiites. In the latter category, Cillie’s has remained the market leader for creating delicious baked goods.
Situated inside a 100-year-old house in Parsi Colony, Karachi, Cillie’s stands as a reminder of the inclusivity and tolerance that used to exist in Karachi post-partition, and how the minority communities still survive here in peace and harmony. Upon entering the neighbourhood, which once housed many Parsi families, most of whom have now migrated to the West, a prominent shift in the city’s energy can be felt. With low fenced houses, and single and multi-storey buildings, the locality stands in stark contrast with its adjacent areas of Saddar and M.A. Jinnah Road, which are full of the pollution of a bustling and congested metropolis. Driving into the quiet and calm streets of the Parsi Colony, the visitors are transported to a different zone, where their eyes do not meet high-rise glass buildings, but are instead welcomed by old brown stone structures with big windows and balconies, showcasing architecture from the late colonial period.
In a city known for its rising crime rates, the houses of Parsi Colony confidently keep their gates open and their walls low, without any of their guests worrying about security. Cillie’s too, keeps its main gate open for visitors to walk in without hesitation. Moreover, even though the house has no signboard for the bakery, one can always rely on passerby’s for directions and be guided straight towards the popular destination near the community park. Though the structure is multi-storey, the business itself functions through a small window on the ground floor. With four delicate steps leading up to the window, and a swing placed on the porch for visitors to sit on as they wait for their cakes, Cillie’s looks nothing like a mainstream confectionery, yet immediately gives a warm homely feeling.
The staircase leading upto the house
Can you spot the window which has delicious secrets hidden inside?
The business started in a house in Garden East, nearly 50 years ago, and was founded by a Parsi lady named Cilly, who now lives in Texas. However, the bakery was moved to its current location thirteen years ago, when the owner sold the previous house. The house in Parsi Colony is owned by a sweet lady named Bakhtawar, who greets the visitors personally, and even takes the newbies through the variety of desserts that they serve, ensuring great customer service.
Serving a range of desserts at surprisingly reasonable prices (some of which are as low as Rs.300 for a full cake), including plain cakes, butter icing cakes, and ice creams, Cillie’s was actually the first bakery in Karachi to introduce fresh cream cakes. Though their menu now has 16 different flavours of fresh cream cakes, their classic plain cakes remain hard to beat. The marble cake, especially, is soft and succulent, and serves as a perfect combination with evening tea.
While all desserts are entirely homemade, along with the mousses and creams used for the cakes, only a few delicacies are available for walk-in customers. All other orders need to be placed at least a day before. Since Cillie’s does not have a dedicated social media profile, their main source of publicizing the place remains word of mouth, along with the strong network of fans that Cillie’s has acquired over the years. In fact, the delicacies remain so popular amongst the Parsi Community that Naushad Mehta, Cilly’s son, has opened an outlet of Cillie’s Cakes in Houston, USA as well, and word has it that their products taste equally delicious.
Chocolate fudge, chocolate cream, and peach pineapple cakes
Karachi may have witnessed the birth of numerous new and fancy cafes and bakeries in the last few years, but to say that the best flavours of the city are hidden in quiet corners like Cillie’s would not be an exaggeration. Cillie’s is a perfect representation of the strength of the Parsi community and how dedicatedly they have always served the people of Karachi. Though only a few Parsis remain in Karachi now, the community and its contributions need to be preserved as much as possible, and given the same level of respect as their Muslim counterparts.
Written by: Farheen Abdullah Posted on: January 03, 2019
On our adventures across the world, each country has their own version of what Indian food is. In the UK today, Indian food is massive with National Curry Week celebrating more than 200 years of Indian restaurants in the UK this year. We were invited to meet super Chef Cyrus Todiwala OBE DL to talk about Indian cooking and to also try the imaginative food at his restaurant, Café Spice Namasté.
Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala’s family-run Indian restaurant near Tower Bridge has been open since 1995. On a rainy November Saturday, the room is packed full of locals, regulars and those in the know. Looking at the menu, what amazed us were the broad range of ingredients on offer. Alongside the main menu, there is also always a seasonal menu which included game meatballs (made with grouse, pheasant, mallard, venison and partridge), pheasant tikka, British apple bhaji and much more.
Cyrus takes ingredients very seriously using local British produce from hand-picked suppliers, many of which only supplying one or two items. Cyrus said, “Ingredients are the main basis upon which we build our cuisine and menu, and are therefore crucial. They have a major impact on the quality, taste and ‘personality’ of the food we prepare.”
Make sure you try the home made pickles to start off. For starters, a goat Dosa hit the mark. A white lentil & rice pancake filled with diced goat in a thick curried yoghurt made sharing very difficult! The other highlight was a salmon tikka from the highlands of Scotland marinated in a delicate green masala sauce. If you are in a group, ask for the mixed grill where you can sample all the tikkas.
The term vindaloo is often associated with tears and having to down a glass of milk in pain to show off your chilli prowess. Here, the real pork vindaloo is on the menu and it’s hot but not fiery hot with the deep chilli flavour coming through. My vegetarian companion particularly loved the smoked aubergine cooked with shallots, tomato & yoghurt and the lentils sizzled with chopped garlic and cumin.
After dinner we asked Cyrus what was next for Indian cuisine. He said, “Indian cuisine has great heritage and culinary background. I feel that lots of new regional restaurants will emerge. What restaurants must also realise is that dining habits are changing and they must keep abreast of new developments including allergies, better sourcing and sustainability.”
Overall, what struck us most was that Café Spice is so authentically different. Cyrus and Pervin have built an award-winning institution, holding a coveted Michelin BIB Gourmand for 18 years which says a lot about the experience, which is what this was – an experience. Dinner was like a voyage of discovery which we want to go on again and again.
From tomato per eeda to fried kera per eeda, we try to analyse the unending love affair which Parsis have with eggs.
A Parsi dish prepared with mangoes and eggs at Soda Bottle Opener Wala. (Source: sbowindia/Instagram)
Anyone who has ever had the joy of eating at a Parsi home or restaurant would know that Parsis are inordinately fond of eggs – in any and every form. Their long and steady love affair with the egg can be seen in a number of dishes – runny kejriwal, keri kanda per-eeda (eggs on mangoes), sekta-ni-sing per-eeda (eggs on drumstick), salli per-eeda (eggs on potato straws), tamota per-eeda (eggs on masala tomato), bhida per-eeda (eggs on ladyfinger), bhaji per-eeda (eggs on fenugreek leaves), fried-kera per-eeda (eggs on fried bananas) and even eggs cooked on clotted cream or malai-per-eeda. Eeda means egg and per-eeda literally means “egg on top”.
Eggs play a starring role not just in Parsi cuisine, but in Parsi customs too. In Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel, The Crow Eaters when a newlywed Parsi couple enters their house, a number of rituals are performed and in what is a prominent step, the mother of the bride breaks a raw egg on the floor after circling a silver tray around the girl’s head seven times. Not just at weddings, “a similar practice is performed during Diwali too. An egg is drawn around the main door or entrance to the house” says Kainaz Contractor of Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu. “The use of eggs in a wedding and navjote celebration is mainly to ward off bad luck, calamity or the evil eye and to bring good luck.”
But has it always been the case, or is the Parsi obsession with eggs a recent phenomenon?
Turns out, this egg mania finds its roots in ancient Iran. According to Contractor, “in ancient Iran and in the entire Caucasian region, eggs were seen as a symbol of fertility and new life”, which is the reason behind eggs becoming a key part of Parsi cuisine.
As a practice integral to their customs, Parsis are supposed to observe abstinence on the eleventh month of the Parsi year, Bahman, when they do not eat meat – yet, eggs are allowed at this time. “The month of Bahman is the equivalent of the Christian Lent. Zoroastrians abstain from eating meat. Since vegetables were limited in variety and availability, fish and eggs became the mainstays of the month.” Even if vegetables have long surpassed these limitations with respect to both availability and variety, eggs never left the Parsi plate.
Contractor also believes that from a culinary point of view, eggs are a major part of Parsi cuisine because they are “very strong believers that any dish can be made better with eggs, especially vegetables, making it more appealing to children and hardcore meat lovers. In fact, one of the signature starters at our joint is a crisp-fried egg topped on spicy kheema pao and egg and cheese balls with mashed potatoes and spring onion.”
However, culinary anthropologist Kurush Dalal feels that the very concept of associating Parsi cuisine with (mostly) eggs is what is a classic case of “overgeneralisation”. “Eggs are well packaged and have a good protein content. That is why they find their place in Parsi food. It is nothing new. It is an absolute misconception that Parsis break an egg into almost everything. You will never find eggs in Dhansak or Patra ni Machi”, he explains.
The Parsi community across India is looking forward to celebrate the Parsi New Year on 17th August 2018. Parsis may be a small community, but they have contributed to Indian culture over the years, alongside other religions and communities
The Parsi community across India is looking forward to celebrate the Parsi New Year on 17th August 2018. In August, Parsis commemorate their arrival and acceptance on their new homeland. Originally from Persia, Parsis follow the religion Zoroastrianism, which was founded by Zarathustra in Persia. This day is also known as Jamshed-i-Nouroz, after the name of the Persian king Jamshed, who is believed to introduce the Parsi calendar. People in India follow the Shahenshahi calendar, which does not take into account leap years, and as a result of which the Parsi New Year is celebrated in India and Pakistan about 200 days after it is observed across the world. Parsis may be a small community, but they have contributed to Indian culture over the years, alongside other religions and communities.
Parsi New Year 2018: Date, Significance And Celebrations Of The Festival
Also known as Pateti, the celebration of Parsi New Year is said to have begun some 3000 years ago. It falls in the month of August, as per the Gregorian calendar. On this day, people pray for prosperity, health and wealth. It is known as the day of remittance of sins and repentance. People clean their homes, decorate their houses with rangoli and flowers, adorn new dresses, and visit Fire Temple to ask for forgiveness for any mistake committed in the past and start afresh. The celebrations also include feasting over an elaborate meal, where friends and families come together and celebrate the auspicious occasion with much fervour.
Parsi New Year: Also known as Pateti, the celebration of Parsi New Year is said to have begun some 3000 years ago
Parsi New Year 2018: Feast Prepared During Pateti
On the big day, people usually prepare delicacies like meethi sev dahi, mora dal chawal (also called dhan daar), machchi no patio, mutton pulao, saas ni machchi, marghi na farcha (crispy fried chicken), patra nu machli, sali boti, berry pulao, jardaloo chicken, kid gosht, cutlets, mawa ni boi, lagan nu custard, et al. Preparations start a day in advance to ensure that all the dishes are prepared perfectly and are full of flavour.
Parsi mutton curry, with prominent flavours of tomatoes, onions, jaggery and vinegar, makes a special delicacy during special occasions like the Parsi New Year. This one’s going to be a star-dish among your family and friends.
Parsi new year: This one’s going to be a star-dish among your family and friends
Celebrations are incomplete without the much coveted Parsi mutton cutlets. To prepare this dish, you need minced mutton, potatoes, bread crumbs, eggs and a host of spices. Don’t forget to serve it with sliced onions and chutney.
It gives me great pleasure to make available the PRINTED “Vividh Vani” by Meherbai Jamshedji Wadia.
First published in circa 1867, this mammoth cookbooks of two volumes total 1570 pages and has 2180 recipes, of traditional Parsi Indian cuisine, plus Continental Western and British Cuisines. This cookbook is an antique and many Zoroastrian Parsis hold it the dearly as an family heirloom. (including myself). My original copy is now falling apart like a cracker paper, and is kept in sealed plastic bags. Worms are probably eating away the paper! 30 years back I brought this original copy from Ahmedabad, India. It took me 6 months of work to scan these on a paper scanner, print and collate. I made a handwritten index in English so I could search recipes and then read the Gujarati text and cook for my family here in USA.
Through software and amazon services, We have managed to print the “Vividh Vani” in high quality paper . You can now own a brand-new copy of the Vividh Vani in strong paper bound books. These printed volumes are exactly the same antique and original books of Meherbai Jamshedji Wadia. They include photos and letters of the Wadia family. They are a legacy item for the parsi kom that can be preserved another 1000 years and more!
I have distributed the book as a FREE digital download for years on my website atwww.ParsiCuisine.comand now it is available in 2 four inch thick volumes. See photo (attached) and product details below.
Printed Paperback of the Ancient cooking book “Vividh Vani” by Meherbai Jamshedji Wadia
Products from Amazon.com Vividh Vani. (Volume 1): In Gujarati Language. Volume 1. by Meherbai Jamshedji Nusserwanji Wadia
#MaskaMaarke: There’s a lot more to Irani Parsi food than bun-maska and berry pulao. This is a rich cuisine that retains its delicious Levantine roots.
(HT Illustration: Sudhir Shetty)
Which community in India celebrates three birthdays for each person and four New Years per annum? It’s the Zoroastrian Irani Parsi community. Every Irani Parsi (and I am going to refer to them as such) celebrates ‘Roj nu Birthday’, which is the Zoroastrian calendar birthday; the Irani calendar birthday; and a regular birthday by the Gregorian calendar.
As if celebrating three birthdays each was not enough, they also celebrate four New Years — Jamshedi Navroz, the Shehenshahi New Year, January 1, and the Kadmi New Year, which has just gone by on July 18.
Kadmi is the Iranian New Year. It’s got something to do with the respective calendars and some wrangling over months or dates. But none of that matters to the Irani Parsis, if it means one more reason to celebrate!
Most Irani Parsis migrated to India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They came bearing such time-honoured, euphonious and rhapsodic surnames as Shirazi, Khosravi, Faroodi, Kermani, Dehmiris, Yezdani, Kayani and Jafrabadi. Some of these names you may recognise from Mumbai cafés instituted by members of the community. Cafés named romantically after Iranian traditional surnames, like Yazdani and Kayani, some christened out of obsequiousness to the British like George V, Edward VIII and Britannia, and some made to sound exotic and non-Indian like Cafe De La Paix.
These bakeries and boulangeries that once served French style buns with butter, English mutton sandwiches, samosas, chicken puffs, cream puffs, mawa cakes and tea are now few and far between. Some still stand tall, like Sassanian Bakery and Boulangerie, Kyani & Co (who still makes patties and samosas), Yazdani Bakery who are master bakers, and B Merwan & Co who still bake their world famous mawa cakes.
The Khoresh-e Anjeer ,or chicken stew with dried figs, on offer as part of an Irani festival menu cooked up by Perzen Patel and Subhashree Basu.
Today, the most Mumbaiites know of Irani food begins at bun maska-chai and ends with berry pulao. But there is so much more to the cuisine. Irani Parsi food is vastly different from the Parsi food we are familiar with. The cardinal distinction between the two cuisines is that Parsi food, with its spicy Dhansak, Salli Boti and Patra Ni and Saans ni Macchi, blends Persian, Gujarati and British influences, while Irani Parsi food is milder and meatier, with elements such as eggplant, dry fruit, saffron, beans, and lashings of yogurt, that reflect its Mediterranean and Levantine roots.
Iranian food is essentially a repast of bountiful kinds of Kebabs, Kaftehs, Breads, and Oosh or Ash, which are slow-cooked, thick soups. Khoresh-e Fesenjan (the stew of kings) is the national dish.
I often go to Colbeh, an Iranian mom-and-pop joint, whenever I’m in London. On a wet chilly morning in Porchester Place, a hot roti straight out of the tandoor with chelo khoresh fesenjan, a portion of tender melt-in-the-mouth Kabab Koobideh (chargrilled minced lamb kababs) and a bowl of chilled Mast-O-Khair (strained yogurt dip with cucumber and mint) feels like a warmhearted hug.
Unfortunately, none of the Irani cafés in Mumbai does Iranian food; it’s just a lot of Bread and Breakfast. Even the Berry Pulao at Britannia is eventually little more than some version of a Biryani sprinkled with zereshk or sour berries. Café Universal, another Irani-owned eatery, serves two Persian dishes — Ghormeh Sabzi (vegetables, kidney beans and dried Iranian limes with chicken, mutton or veg) and Gheimeh Bademjan (brinjal and mutton kheema in a tomato sauce), and that’s where it ends.
For the recent Kadmi New Year, Patel and Basu’s takeaway enterprise, Greedy Foods, was also making ‘Land & Sea Koofteh’, meatballs stuffed with seafood, cashews and raisins.
But two women have decided to buck the trend. Perzen Patel (half Irani and half Parsi) and Subhashree Basu (not Irani at all) have been experimenting with Iranian food for a couple of years. At their takeaway enterprise, called Greedy Foods, they have produced Irani festival menus quite successfully. In celebration of Kadmi New Year, they’ve introduced a Persian-influenced menu. Mind you, they are far from traditional, but they do bring together the heart and wisdom of Iranian cooking and the taste and bite of change. If I tell you what they’re cooking this season, you’ll hate me for finishing most of it.
Their menu includes Ash-e Reshteh (also known as Osh-e-Meer, a thick and hearty noodle soup with slow-cooked lentils, greens, mutton and spaghetti); Land & Sea Koofteh (lamb meatballs stuffed with tangy seafood, cashews and raisins); Khoresh-e Anjeer (chicken stew with dried figs) and an Irani Berry Pulao (pulao layered with meat, kebabs and zereshk).
So, I spent the Irani New Year with my Irani friends, Boman Irani and his family, with a song on my lips and a prayer in my heart that they celebrate even more New Years and many more Birthdays, with even more food.
Here is a Quick and easy recipe for Bafaenu, in the event some friends find the earlier recipe too cumbersome and elaborate. However, this Bafaenu may not stay well for as long as the Bafaenu from the first recipe. It would last at the very least for four to six months; though I have known it to stay well for much longer. You may also refrigerate the pickle after the first four, if you so desire.
25 ripe but firm mangoes about the size of your palm,
2 kg approx (2 Ser) jaggery;
900 gms (1/2 seer) mustard powder, preferably ground at home;