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The Parsi is a peace loving community of India mainly residing in the state of Gujarat. They were originally from Persia, which is now Iran. They love food and spend hours cooking up feasts. Over the years they blended their culinary skills with those of the regional people thus giving rise to a blend of Persian and Indian cuisine. Today, Parsi food is a delicious blend of western influences, a Gujarat love for sweet and sour mixtures and the Persian genius for combining meat with dried fruits such as apricots.

Parsi cuisine adds to the richness and variety of the Indian cuisine. Parsi food is a mix of vegetarian Gujarati cuisine and non-vegetarian Iranian cuisine. However, the non-vegetarian dishes dominate the cuisine.

The Parsi food is characterized with its distinct flavor and simple taste. They make good use of spices for flavoring the dishes. Different spices blend together to provide a unique flavor and taste to the Parsi dishes. The Indian herbs and spices like ginger, garlic and onions are commonly used. However, the food is not very spicy and oily, hence light on the stomach.

More to this, the Parsi cuisine is a wholesome diet which is cooked with ingredients beneficial to health. Dry fruits, rose water and saffron are mostly used to enhance the flavor of many recipes. Pomegranate and dates are also prominently used in many Parsi recipes.

Rice is the basic food which is mostly accompanied with lentils and curries. Ras is also very popular in this food style. There is a difference in ras and curry. While curry needs coconut in its preparation, ras doesn’t require coconut and occurs in a more liquefied form than the curry. Curry and ras, both can be served with rice for any meal.

Meat is a staple food and the influence of Iran is clearly reflected in their style of cooking meat and chicken dishes. They love to prepare the meat with lots of spices and vegetables. Egg known as eeda or edo is an important part of this cuisine. In fact, Parsis can break an egg over anything and eat it. They can eat eggs for every meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Salad is another very important and special part of the Parsi cuisine. This is known as kachumber and is prepared with onion and cucumber. The ingredients are finely chopped and mixed and relished with great zest as this salad accompanies most dishes in the Parsi cuisine.

The unusual history of unique recipes

Parsi cuisine is shaped by its history. This culinary binding between Ancient Persia and Gujarat, was an accident of fate. Persians came to India and brought along with them their unique recipes and culinary skills.

According to legend, when Zoroastrian refugees landed at the tiny village of Sanjan on the shores of Gujarat around the 10th Century AD, they sent an emissary to the local ruler for permission to settle there. The local king, Jadhav Rana replied by sending them an overflowing glass of milk to indicate that his land was already brimming with prosperity and there was no space for them. But the leader of the refugees was a clever man. He returned the milk, sweetened with a pinch of sugar indicating that his community would bring flavour and richness to the new land without changing its colour or form and would assimilate into the culture of the country very smoothly. Impressed by the demonstration, Gujarat embraced the Zoroastrians who settled there and in time came to be known as the Parsis.

These people settled on the coast of Gujarat adopting not only the language and saris but also cooking techniques and ingredients and became pulse and cereal eaters. They have integrated Indian style of cooking into their food culture and have developed an innovative food culture for themselves. The dishes reveal traces of the past in the fondness for nuts, dry fruit and sweet flavours while the Indian influence is the addition of onions, garlic and ginger which make the food savoury but not too spicy.

The mild Persian pulaos borrowed local spices and gratefully acquired a makeover. Nut-stuffed baklavas transformed into flaky malai khajas oozing with sinful, rose water-flavoured cream. The Irani dish of lentil and meat is modified from the abundant vegetable patches and spice box of Gujarat and evolved into a fragrant dal enriched with vegetables and mutton and eaten with rice cooked in burnt-sugar water. This way the popular dhansaak came into the Parsi food palate.

Later many of the Parsis shifted to Bombay and acquired culinary styles of Maharashtra and Goa. Then Parsi cuisine opened itself to the coconut and kokum influences of the Goans. They adapted the Maharashtrian dishes such as puran poli which is called daar ni pori. Within a few years this cuisine acquired western styles of cooking like most of the other cuisines.

This unusual historical background gives Parsi food a unique flavour. Today, the cuisine is a rich combination of Indian cooking methods and those of many other parts of the world. The last few years have seen changes – the advent of vegetarian Parsis, salad counters instead of traditional wedding patras and gloved waiters who extricate the fish from its banana leaf wrapping. 

Traditional Parsi recipes

Parsi cuisine is famous for its much more lip-smacking fare. There is a whole range of vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian dishes to choose from a Parsi menu:

Dhansaak: The very famous dhansaak is an adaptation of Gujarati food. It is one of the best known Parsi dishes and is a favourite for Sunday lunch. Usually made with mutton, a dhansaak consists of lentils, vegetables, spices, cumin seeds, ginger, and garlic together with the meat of choice and either gourd or pumpkin. It can also be made sans the meat for vegetarians. The rich, dense, lentil stew is thickened with vegetables and left to simmer with meat or chicken added to it. When cooked, the different ingredients deliver a complex blend of flavours that complement each other perfectly. The stew is then eaten with light brown caramelised rice accompanied by a finely diced salad called kachumber.

This dish is prepared in a different manner in different households and for many the recipe of the special dhansaak masala is a closely-guarded secret. The medley of vegetables, spices and flavours which constitute dhansaak are carefully measured because the slightest deviation can render the delicacy apart.

•Patra ni Macchi: It means ‘fish wrapped in a leaf’. This is a traditional Parsi dish which is often served at wedding ceremonies. Fillets of fish covered in chutney made of mint, coconut, coriander, lemon juice and green chillies are artistically wrapped in banana leaves and steamed to absorb the delicate flavours.

Egg : Akoori is a breakfast dish of spiced scrambled eggs. It is best to eat with the Parsi style ghee laden thick rotlis. Apart from this there is Tamota Par Edo (Eggs on Tomatoes), the Pora (Parsi Omelette). Also, main dishes are often served with an egg on top.

Salli Boti/Marghi: It is a dish made with boneless mutton (boti) or chicken (margi) cooked in an onion and tomato gravy with apricots and topped with crispy potato strips.

Marghi na Farcha: Traditionally a farcha is a large piece of chicken that is battered, crumbed and fried.

•Other Significant Recipes:
Parsi food blends a variety of ingredient to form its unique recipes. Bhujan which means baked in Gujarati is made with the pieces of liver, kidney, spleen and testicles of goat which are marinated overnight in curd and then the spiced mixture is grilled over wood and charcoal fire, almost semi-baked.

Khurchand is almost the same as the bhujan, but it is slowly cooked in a spicy gravy and the green chillies are added with the garam masala. It is served piping hot on the banana leaf with the famous ghee ni gagarti, ghaoon ni rotli and a bit of gor keri nu achar. If you add fried potato and pieces of boiled egg, raisins or meat balls to khurchand, you get the aleti paleti.

A simple yet smooth dish is the khichri (rice with toor daal and/or moong daal). This dish has many good effects on the health. This light dish is prepared with very little spices and oil and is a great way to reform an upset stomach and provide energy to a weak body.

Mutton Palav Dal is made for all happy occasions and large family style gatherings. Apart from these recipes there are other commonly found dishes are saas ni machchi (yellow rice with pomfret fish fillets in white sauce), lagan no saas (Fish in White Sauce), machchi no patio (a sweet and sour seafood recipe which makes use of pomfret) and mung ni dal ne papeta (moong dal and potatoes cooked with a spicy masala).

• Snacks
In snacks the popular one is patrel. Arbi leaves are spread with a spicy, sweet and sour paste. The leaves are then expertly packed together and bound as a roll. Thin slices are cut to reveal elegant swirls of patrel, which are then deep fried and served as a snack.

The other interesting one is popatji. Yes, the name comes from the parrot like shape of this snack. A good popatji has to be very light, featherweight on the tongue, not too deeply fried and not unduly large in size.

Bhakhra (a type of fried scone), batasa (flour and butter tea biscuits) and khaman na ladva (dumplings stuffed with sweetened coconut) are the other popular snacks which belong to this food culture.

• Pickles
The Gujarati love for pickles reflects in Parsi cuisine. The famous pickles are methia nu achaar, lagan nu achaar, gajar mewa nu achaar (carrot and dried fruit pickle), bafenu made from a whole Alphonso mangoes and vinegar and dry Bombay Duck Pickle.

Simple Desserts

The Parsi people prefer sweets which are simple in nature. They love sev (vermicelli) which is prepared with milk and dry fruits. The popular desserts are:

• Lagan nu Custard: Although it derives its name from being served at weddings, its origin is Persian. Unlike the regular custard, this one is much thicker in consistency and this is because the milk is allowed to burn. It includes khoya, nuts, chironji, raisins, fresh rose petals, almonds, loads of fine white sugar and eggs. It’s a specialty of every Parsi Wedding thali.

• Dal ni Pori: It’s a pastry stuffed with sweetened dal, tutti frutti and dried fruits. Ensure that toor dal is boiled to a thick mass; the flour would have to be kneaded, rolled, filled with ghee and folded. This process would then have to be repeated some 20-30 times. Dal ni pori is served on special occasions. According to the custom at weddings, 5-7 dal ni poris are sent by the Bride's family to the Bridegroom's family.

• Vasanu - Vasanu is a spicy, sweet winter dish made with banana, nuts, dried fruit, lots of ghee and sugar.

Malido: It is prepared on auspicious occasions. It’s a rich milky dessert with cereals, nuts and eggs. Eat along with a unique Parsi bread called papri, the salty taste of the papri will bring out the inherent flavor of the malido.

• Doodh na Puff: It is an extraordinary breakfast food. It is made with fresh, whole milk that is covered by muslin and left to absorb dew overnight. It is then whisked to a light froth, early the next morning, which is scooped up in a glass and sprinkled with powdered nutmeg and cinnamon.

Ravo: This Parsi food is prepared only on special occasions. Fine vermicelli is cooked in sugar syrup and semolina. The dish is decorated with almonds and raisins.

The desserts like falooda and kulfi are generally served at the end of a meal. They soothe the stomach and are enjoyed when served cold. Apart from these the other popular Parsi desserts are kopra pak (coconut delight), ghari kajoor ni (Fried Date Pie), kummas (a cake made with Yogurt), sadhnas (steamed rice pancakes) and doodhi nu murabo. 

A taste of Parsi feast

For the fun-loving Parsi community, one of the most integral elements of a good life is a grand, tasty meal. Yes, no Parsi function is complete without good food, a couple of drinks and some foot-tapping music to dance to. Those of the community gather in large numbers during Navroze – the Zoroastrian New Year and the six annual feasts known as ghambaars to share a scrumptious meal.

The wedding feast called lagan no bhonu is a feast fit for the king! The party will be fed in batches called panth each could be numbering three hundred to four hundred guests. The last round will be for the hosts and their close relatives. The host invites the guests to the feast by saying ‘jamva chalo ji’ (please proceed for the meal). Long tables are placed parallel to each other with people sitting on one side only so that those on the first table face those on the second. The narrow channel between the tables is meant to facilitate those serving the food. The vegetarians are seated apart and served a ghee-filled Gujarati thali.

The cuisine has a way of presenting dishes which make the Parsi fare interesting and tempting. First the patra (banana leaf) is laid before you. The serving begins with achaar and the chapattis are on the top right corner and a vegetable dish like Parsi Lagansara Stew is also served. The lagan nu achaar, a carrot and dry fruit pickle is traditionally served at weddings or lagans.

The next serving is of the fish. It is always pomfret and is all selected and weighed. It is either saans ni machchi or patra ni machchi, but there could be a third preparation called tarapori sooka boomla no patio. It’s a pickle of dry Bombay Duck prepared in a wet gravy of onions and vinegar.

Then begins the array of chicken preparations like marghi na farcha or salli ma marghi, which is chicken gently cooked in tomato gravy with salli and crisp straw potatoes put on top. Meat is served in the form of kid gosht, a baby lamb, nice and pink, gingered and boiled.

Next serving is a rice entree which is mostly Mutton Pulao (or vegetarian pulao) with dhansaak masala dal.

And while you are busy managing all this delicious fare, at the top of your patra there comes an extremely rich dessert – lagan nu custard to end the meal. And maybe this is not the end as there will be a sweet ending with chilled kulfi.

Everything is cooked on wood fire and that is what gives the food a unique taste. Including the eggs, which are must, two per person, fried in large flat trays, twenty per tray, with lot of Porbandar ghee.

Another important point is that everything is cooked only once, nothing is reheated and served. So, the cooking is so timed that everything is ready almost at the minute that the meal is announced. Now that this might have activated the salivary glands why not go ahead and enjoy the Parsi food that we have laid out for you! There are recipes galore…. 

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MasterChef Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.