Looking for great Parsi food requires falling back on a dense network within the close-knit community, particularly if you are looking beyond that modern cult, SodaBottleOpenerWala. It isn’t just about where to look, but also what to eat.
That you largely get the original food (that’s how a Parsi friend describes her mom-cooked meal to me) within homes or in small eateries in Udvada, a little fishing town where the earliest Zoroastrians settled when they sailed from Iran to India centuries ago, looking for refuge. Parsi cooking has been shaped by two ancient cultures — Persia, where Parsis originated, and India, where they later settled.
And yet, true seekers will find great Parsi food in India’s mega metros to even misty hills. This is an attempt to piece together, hopefully, a definitive guide to the best Parsi food, and what to eat, to celebrate Navroze (Parsi New Year).
There can be no better town than the community’s spiritual land in India to eat some of the best Parsi bhonu (food). There are pit stops across Mumbai-Udvada highway, where you can begin feasting.
Your first stopover can be at Ahura Restaurant and Hotel on NH 8, for Parsi Akoori, a slightly runny scrambled egg dish with onion, tomatoes, green chillies, and milk. An akoori is a “tweaked bhurji,” says Dilshad Darasha, who delivers on-call home-cooked food in Mumbai, adding, “The eggs are juicy, fluffy, and soft — just like in a French-style egg scramble.”
You could also order their "par eeda" dishes, which translates to mean "eggs over anything" — vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, and bhindi or okra, or over mutton kheema. End the meal with Pundina ni Choi or lemongrass tea, my favourite Parsi beverage.
Choi or chai is a favourite Parsi ritual that deserves its own story. Parsi food anthropologist Kurush Dalal has written about how the community adopted British high-tea culture but hated the weak tea served in a pot. Thus evolved the Parsi choi culture, where ingredients are boiled to a lesser degree than the other Indian chai, and the community’s favourite spices such as pudina and lemongrass are added to the blend of refreshing tea.
Also along NH8, but closer to Udvada, is Parsi da Dhaba. They have a specialised daily menu and a fabulous spread for Navroze, which features Dhansak and Saas ni Macchi (here Saas refers to a sauce and not the mother-in-law!). The fish cooked in white sauce is heavily inspired by British white-sauce recipes and the use of vinegar by the Portuguese. Parsis use local pomfret fish to cook a dish that is sweet, spicy, and tangy.
If you are staying overnight in Udvada (highly recommended), head for a Navroze dinner at Café Farohar, standing cheek-by-jowl to the famous Sohrabji Jamshedji Sodawaterwalla Dharamshala. The adorable lady who runs it with her son, Shehzad, goes by the name Aunt Hilla. Ensure you place your order a day in advance. Besides the classic Dhansak, also order Kid Gosht or mutton cooked in an aromatic, white gravy; Papeta Tarelli Chicken, a chicken and potato curry; and Atheli Chicken, a Parsi rendition of bacon-wrapped chicken made with whole spices.
Atheli means marinated; so, the chicken is marinated in a variety of spices and then cooked on a slow flame in its juices. At Café Farohar, yogurt is added to the marination. You can ask Atheli Chicken to be topped with Salli or crunchy fried-potato juliennes.
In the Parsi-dominant town, there are several other food options: Street snack Bhakras (wheat flour, semolina, egg, green cardamom, powdered sugar, nutmeg powder, baking powder, and yoghurt), Parsi Fish Curry at the Globe Hotel and Parsi Roast Chicken and Prawn Patio at Ashishwang Hotel.
At breakfast the next morning, look out for Khurchan, a traditional Udvada breakfast of stir-fried goat organ meat; Poro, a fluffy Parsi omelette made with green mango and ginger garlic paste; and Dudh na Puff, a frothy milk flavoured with nutmeg and chilled in an earthen pot overnight, all of which are local specialities.
After Udvada, a city that does justice to Parsi cuisine, it is time for Mumbai. The community responded to the British call and migrated to the 'Bay in the early 20th century to set up businesses of which, in pre-independence India, opium was the largest.
Head to Kyani & Co. for an early breakfast (be there by 8.30 am or the good stuff will be over by 9.30 am!). Order freshly baked mawa cake (a spongy cake made with butter, wholewheat flour, cream and sugar) and Irani chai.
According to Mumbai legend, the B Merwan family, which still runs a bakery in Grant Road, first invented the mawa cake accidentally when they added leftover mawa derived by overboiling the milk, to a regular sponge cake. The rest is history. Now every Parsi café has its own version. At Kyani, also order crispy thin mutton keema samosa and Akoori.
Jimmy Boy in Fort has a separate Lagan nu Bhonu (wedding feast) and a Parsi delicacies menu.
Mutton Dhansak is a dish the Parsis invented by adding Indian spices, such as garam masala and chilli powder, three to four kinds of lentils and vegetables to the traditional meat and rice stew they cooked.
Some other dishes to order: Keema Ghotala, as the name suggests, is a messy mess of eggs and mutton keema; the vegetarian Lagan Saru nu Stew; Sali par Eedu with cheese (egg over potato salli and cheese); marinated Tareli Fish, and Jardaloo Salli Boti (boneless mutton with apricots and fried potato straws). End the meal with an aromatic Lagan-nu-Custard, flavoured with nutmeg and cinnamon.
Britannia & Co., a restaurant set up by Rashid Kohinoor in 1923 after he migrated from Yazd province in Iran, is famous for its Berry Pulao. Also known as Zereshk polo/pulao, the rice dish is served with meat and eggs or as in its vegetarian iteration. It is peppered with the original sweet and sour barberries imported from Tehran and nuts and served in a gravy made from ingredients secret to the Kohinoor family.
Mumbai is also home to several Parsi cuisine delivery services. Tanaz Godiwalla’s A Parsi Affair has a Navroze special menu listing Salli Chicken, Saas Ni Macchi, the classic Patra Ni Macchi (a flat fish such as pomfret is coated in a rich chutney infused with coconut, green chillies, coriander, garlic and mint, and steamed in banana leaf) and prawn pulao and dal.
Roxanne Bambot’s The Tiny Taster is cooking up a Navroz special menu till March 21, which features a delicious Mutton Berry Pulao. Delivery kitchen, The Hungry Cat Kitchen x Aapru Parsi Kitchen has Dhansak Dal, Berry wala fish cutlet (with real berries) and Saas Ni Macchi on the menu.
Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani hills in Maharashtra
If escaping sultry, polluted Mumbai is on your mind, the hills of Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani are closest to the city.
Gaze at soothing green hills from the dining room of the Dina Hotel in Mahabaleshwar, while dining on Egg Chutney Pattice, Fish Khichidi Saas, Berry Pulao and Lagan-nu-Custard. A short drive away in Panchgani, where a sprawling hotel Il Palazzo serves a huge Navroze feast with all the favourite dishes. Order Parsi Poro (omelette) for breakfast.
AD Singh’s SodaBottleOpenerWala introduced Parsi cuisine to the capital city. Their menu lists Patra Ni Macchi, mutton and vegetarian Dhansak, and Berry Pulao, besides some unusual options such as Chicken Bafat Curry (chicken, cubes of pumpkin, tomatoes and jaggery), Kolmi No Patio (sour and sweet prawn curry with chillies, coriander, chillies, onion, jaggery and tamarind) and mutton cheesy cutlet.
Delhi’s best-kept secret, Parsi Anjuman is a basic dining room at the Parsi dharamshala in Daryaganj.
Make a reservation since they cook fresh and order mutton Dhansak, Chicken Salli served with rotis and kachumber salad, and Patra Ni Machchi with a mint and coconut dressing.
The Bengaluru outpost of SodaBottleOpenerWala serves up a Navoze feast every year, with dishes such as Fish Pattice, Kid Ghost, Gajar Mewa nu Acchar (carrot and mewa pickle), and Smoked Brinjal Patio — the Parsi version of bharta, except that spices such as cinnamon stick, black cardamom, green cardamom, and black peppercorns are used.
Parsi Platter, a delivery and catering service by the Billimoria family, offers Patra Ni Macchi, Egg Chutney Patties, Khichdi Saas (or marinated khichdi), Fish and Prawn Rice and the tangy Chicken Farcha.
The Farcha has chicken marinated in lemon juice, garlic and ginger paste, garam masala, black pepper and coriander powder, coated with breadcrumbs, semolina, and eggs, and then fried.