Mumbai or rather India would not have been the same had the Parsis and later Iranis not arrived on its soil and imbibed it with their beautiful culture. While their contribution to the business world is remarkable, their distinct, gastronomy is equally illustrious and in a way through the century old Iranis cafés is also the foundation of the eating out and socialising culture in many cities of the country especially Mumbai.
Hence, it comes as no surprise that when millions of Mumbaikars seek nostalgic food experiences in the city, they find themselves landing up at the handful of Irani cafes, bakeries and Parsi dairies still surviving in the city. Bun maska, brun maska, Irani chai, phaeteli coffee, berry pulao, kheema ghotala, patra ni macchi, mawa cake, akuri, poro, mawa ni boi – the list of their culinary enchantments is extensive and one that every Mumbaikar loves to indulge in without drilling a hole in his/her pocket. I, like most Mumbaikars, am a zealous fan of Parsi and Irani food and always on the lookout for experiences that can educate me more about these two, closely related communities.
The opportune moment to delve into few, interesting food facets of these fabulous communities came to me last Sunday through an exciting Parsi-Irani food trail curated by ace food blogger (of Finely Chopped fame) & columnist, Kalyan Karmakar and Sodabottleopenerwala restaurant. Kalyan’s newly launched book ‘The Travelling Belly’ had been the stimulus for him to curate this interesting trail to acquaint attendees like me with the kind of amazing experiences that await us in the vast, culinary landscape of this country. Mohit Balachandran from SodaBottleOpenerWala (SBOW), who through their restaurants are paying tribute to the gastronomic legacy of this ethnic population played the perfect co-host with his food expertise.
So, here is a look at how this food trail shaped up the first half of my Sunday:
STOP I: BREAKFAST AT SODABOTTLEOPENERWALA, BKC
Eggs and baked delights are indispensable to the Parsi-Irani breakfast. This outlet is experimenting with the idea of starting breakfast service and so presented the attendees with a range of options like – varieties of poro (omelette), eggs kejriwal, chapat or Parsi pancakes, sandwiches, mawa cake and more. I couldn't have pictured a more apt start to the trail.
I went in for the ANGRY PORO or omelette laden with red chilli chutney, spring onions and finished off with a garnish of bharli mirchi (crispy, fried version of sundried, stuffed chilli). The presentation was superbly appetizing and the serving with two freshly baked, in-house baked ladi pav proved to be a very filling breakfast.
I also helped myself to flaky khaari biscuits and Christmas special PLUM CAKE before wrapping up the meal.
Post breakfast we were privy to a very interesting talk by Kalyan Karmakar’s gorgeous mother-in-law, who explained how Kalyan liked his poro sans the egg yolks. Also, an interaction with other participants opened my eyes to a lot of details around the Parsi and Irani food ecosystem that I was previously unaware of like the evolution and functioning of Parvez Hall and Ratan Tata Institute (RTI).
STOP II: MID-MORNING SNACK AT CAFÉ COLONY, DADAR EAST
When we arrived at this humble eatery standing its ground since the past 84 years in the city, Kalyan familiarized us a little more with the Irani community. He explained that the populace that migrated from Iran more than three centuries ago to India did not only comprise of Zoroastrians but also Irani Muslims and Irani Cafes are run by both these groups of Iranis. This was an eatery Kalyan had specifically selected as it was a hidden gem and not many Mumbaikars knew of its existence.
Run by the father son duo of Agha and Mirza, this humble café served us flavourful KHEEMA GHOTALA (minced mutton with scrambled eggs) and CHICKEN CURRY (a light and delicious tomato, onion based curry with succulent chicken). This food experience concluded with a steaming hot cup of Irani chai.
STOP III: CHILLED DELIGHTS AT PARSI DAIRY FARM, DADAR EAST
Our next stop was a branch of the famous Parsi Dairy farm in the close proximity of the Dadar Parsi Colony. This dairy brand has been dishing out milk-based goodies since 1916. We relished their popular milk candy drops and malai kulfi. Also, a swig of their creamy, full fat, tart, rose flavoured LASSI served as an impeccable thirst-quencher for a hot summer afternoon.
A fellow foodie filled us in on a beautiful, personal story around the most delightful, sweet creation of the brand, MAWA NI BOI (a mixture of mawa, almond meal, pistachios and sugar shaped into a fish and covered with vark or silver leaf) that finds place in all Parsi homes on various auspicious occasions.
STOP IV: BAWA BHONU FOR LUNCH AT ZINOBIA SHROFF’S RESIDENCE IN DADAR PARSI COLONY
We entered our last stop of the trail, the quaint Dadar Parsi Colony and soaked into sights of its charming, old-fashioned architecture. This is the only Parsi colony in Mumbai that is not a gated colony like the others around the city, rather it is a cluster of few lanes dotted with buildings where the community members exclusively dwell.
Making our way through its boulevards, we arrived at the residence of gorgeous Zinobia Shroff, a noted fashion designer at one time, who was also featured in pret-a-porter. Zinobia started her own catering business almost three decades ago. Over a delectable feast of Parsi food or bawa bhonu that Zinobia and her family had painstakingly prepared for us, she happily filled us in on her fascinating tales of both her fashion as well as her culinary escapades.
In between conversations, we gorged on her DHANSAK (the quintessential, thick Parsi lentil preparation with meat or vegetables), CHICKEN KEVABS (spheres of shredded chicken mixed with onion, potato and spices then crumbed, egg-coated and deep fried), BROWN RICE (a long grain rice preparation with a hint of sweetness and whole spices), LAGAN NU PICKLE (a sweet and sour cooked pickle of apricots, figs, raisins, dates and carrots), KACHUMBAR (a salad of chopped onions and tomatoes served with lemon wedges) and RAVO (a chilled, sweet preparation comprising of fine, non-grainy semolina, milk, sugar, cardamom; Zinobia did not use any kind of fat in this preparation). In my opinion, this traditional, home-cooked meal was an apt culmination to this fabulous food trail.
From visits to a modern-day café themed around the legendary Irani Cafes in the city to a longstanding Irani café itself; from a century old dairy brand to a home-cooked Parsi meal, it was a delight exploring the cuisine and culture of the Parsis and Iranis as well as meeting up with like-minded food enthusiasts.
Hope this piece urges you to set out on your very own exploration of these wonderful communities that make up Mumbai's vibrant cultural scene.
So, until my next food adventure, HAPPY EATING...
- Regional Indian Food & Travel enthusiast