Today is Jamshedi Navroze, the day Zoroastrians celebrate the new year and, more importantly, the day Mumbaikars of all faiths make it a point to bust their guts eating Parsi food either at restaurants or at home, delivered by caterers. Most diners will be noshing on items such as salli boti, patra ni machhi, jardaloo chicken, mutton pulao, fish patia and lagan nu custard. And if you’re not a Parsi, you can be forgiven for thinking that this is the extent of the cuisine. But open a cookbook by Katy Dalal or Bhicoo Manekshaw and you will find a world of food that never makes it to menus: cucumbers stuffed with mince, goat’s head curry, patia of fish roe, apple jalebis and Bombay Duck done in any way you can imagine (fried, curried, dried and curried, dried and fried, pickled, rolled in cutlets) to name just a few. According to caterer Kurush Dalal, whose mother Katy was a well-known cookbook writer, it’s not just festive menus that are limited; the repertoire of Parsi home cooking has shrunk as well. “People are not in a position to cook this food at home,” said Dalal. “Families are nuclear, people go to work. To prep and prepare this food is so time consuming.” Keep in mind the next time you’re in the mood for a Parsi meal that there’s more to the cuisine than the average restaurant menu. Here are five unusual items to order:
Bhajidana Ma Gos
The protein-loving Parsis rarely have vegetables without meat, which is why it’s common to find such combinations as vengna ma gos (brijal with mutton), dodhi ma gos (bottle gourd with mutton) and meat with drumsticks at dinner tables. Bhicoo Manekshaw even has a recipe for the unlikely fusion of mutton and sweet lime peel. Bhajidana ma gos – mutton in a stew of green vegetables – is a real winner. Typically the mutton is cooked with a mix of spinach, fenugreek, amaranth leaves, dill and green peas.
This dish of chopped chicken liver and gizzard is as much fun to eat as it is to pronounce. A pungent toss up of liver, gizzard, onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and spices, aleti paleti was eaten at breakfast in older, less health-conscious times and can still be found on the menus of Parsi-run hotels in hill stations.
Tadi Ma Gos
This dish – mutton or chicken cooked in a reduction of sweet palm toddy – is popular in Gujarat where fresh toddy is widely available. It’s harder to get hold of fresh toddy in Mumbai, which is a pity as the beverage gives the meat a “treacly sweet, spicy flavour”, said Dalal.
Those who don’t come from offal eating traditions might find the soft, white undulations of goat brain hard to stomach. But put your squeamishness aside for the brain is one of the tastiest parts of the animal. For cutlets, the brain is mixed with ginger, garlic, onions and chillies and fried in a batter of egg and breadcrumbs.
Pakki Kairi Ma Gos
For most of us it’s sacrilege to cook ripe mangoes when they’re perfectly delicious on their own. But pakki kairi ma gos – ripe mangoes with mutton – is a delicious combination of fruity sweetness, spice and the earthy heartiness of meat.