Think of Mumbai street food and bun maska, mawa cake and
Irani chai are certain to figure in the menu list. The Parsi connection to
these snacks cannot be missed in the city that hosts a sizeable population from
this community. In fact, Parsi cuisine is an important part of Mumbai’s dining
options. One can also find several standalone restaurants or cafes, such as
Irani cafes, which are old establishments serving mainly Parsi cuisine.

Even though they comprise just a small population in the
country, limited to the western part of India, Parsis are an important
community and their cuisine an integral part of the region. Be it Irani Chai or
Sali Boti, one can find Parsi dishes being served at several diners, big
(five-star) or small. For the people of Mumbai, Parsi food, including
non-vegetarian dishes and snacks like mawa cake, bun maska and Irani Chai, are
as part of life as Chola Bhatura in Delhi, Rasgulla in Bengal or Dosa in South
India.

However, down the years, Parsi food, which was once a favourite
with many people, is losing its sheen. This is mainly due to the growing
influence of international food and an aversion, particularly among the youth,
for the sweet taste of the dishes. For many, sweet taste is usually related to
dessert. 

 “The food has
changed drastically. Let me tell you my experience,  I have been serving Parsi cuisine for 12
years and every year I have to make less sweet and spicier food,” said
Master Chef Kaizad Patel, who is currently working in Radisson Blu, MBD Noida.
“You know, my grandfather also used to cook Parsi food. The taste of food
which he used to offer I can’t serve right now because it is too sweet. For the
present generation, sweet means dessert.” 

 

Parsi history

If one tracks down the Parsi’s history, one find they
originally belonged to Iran and came to India for religious freedom. They were
allowed to settle in India on three conditions: they had to speak the local
language, follow local marriage customs and not carry any weapons. They first
landed in Gujarat, and scattered across Mumbai, near Karachi (Pakistan),
Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai, too. “We basically are from
Persia (Iran), migrated to India. But Parsis are very good in adopting local
tastes and local culture of the country,” informed Patel. 

 Parsi cooking is
heavly influenced by Irani cuisine. Therefore, their food habits are dominated
by a combination of meat and rice. They use fresh green herbs like parsley,
which are used with nuts, and vegetables like onions are also used. In fruits
they use pomegranates, quince, apricots and raisins. Some special dishes are
flavoured by adding spices like saffron and cinnamon in delicate amounts.
“Since Gujarat is the first place we landed, the sweetness and sourness in
our food came from there. One can also find coastal flavours in our cuisine
like Patrani Machali, which came from Maharastra,” said Patel. 

 Parsi eat eggs,
mainly omelette, for breakfast. In lunch, they prefer fish (Bombay duck), Sali
chicken or Prawn Patio. Some of their celebration foods are Murghi Na Farcha,
Bhujeli Kaleji and Kera Nu cutless in snacks. In the main course they prefer
Patra Nu Paneer or Machli, vegetable pulao dal and Bhindi Sambhariya.

 Lagan Nu custard is a
popular dessert. It is said Parsi cuisine is not only good to taste but is also
healthy as most dishes are a balance of sweet, salt and spices. At the same
time, the ingredients, including vinegar used is said to be good for acidity.
To add the sweet taste to their food, they add jaggery, which is also good for
health.

 Everything changes
with time, so did Parsi cuisine. In other words, one can say the food has lost
its basic essence in the last few years. Parsi food has changed a lot, not just
in terms of taste but also in portion. Many experts believe that earlier, the
portions were very large but varieties very few. Now it is vice-versa.

One could see many changes in taste ~ one of the signature
dishes, Sali Chicken, which was earlier prepared with only apricot, is now
prepared by adding tomatoes. Today’s generation wants their food a bit spicy
and less sweet. And to please them, the Parsi food is changing its taste very
fast.

By Rakesh Kumar