2 min read.Updated: 06 Oct 2017, 11:25 AM ISTDiya Kohli
Perzen Patel’s pantry reveals secrets, tricks and traditions of a Parsi kitchen
Perzen Patel’s online moniker is the Bawi Bride (Bawi means Parsi woman) and true to its name, her pantry is a repository of secrets and traditions of the Parsi kitchen. At the outset she points to her treasured stash of dried Zereshk berries, which look somewhat like tiny raisins. An essential flavouring ingredient in the Irani pulao, these dried and tart barberries are not that easy to come by, and Patel hoards them in her kitchens, sometimes keeping a ready supply of up to 7kg. While this is a special-occasion ingredient, there is one staple that provides the souring element in Parsi cuisine—matured sugarcane vinegar imported from EF Kolah & Sons in Navsari, Gujarat. “The original vinegar from Kolah has its own trademark flavour and a potent smell that adds both colour and piquancy to the food," says Patel.
Talk to a Parsi about food and it is highly unlikely that there will not be a passing mention to dhansak and thus the dhansak masala is an obvious pantry regular. However, it is interesting to discover that Patel’s masala is store-bought. “Parsis actually prefer their masala sourced from M Motilal Masalawala, the Mecca for all Parsis as far as ground masalas are concerned," says Patel. Other spice blends in her cache are a home-made green masala and curry masala (based on her grandmother’s recipe) that make for quick flavourful weekday fish and meat curries.
Slim, white sabudana papad called saria are another favourite of Patel’s. Saria is made on festive occasions and served with generous helpings of the carrot and raisin lagan nu achaar (literally, the wedding pickle). There is a legend that back in the day, after a prospective match was made between a Parsi girl and boy, both families would meet and exchange jars of their respective lagan nu achar and the wedding date would be fixed only if they approved of each other’s pickles. And that is where the name comes from.
Parsis are also known for their affinity for tea and every pantry has a ready stock of tins of flaky khari biscuits and buttery Shrewsbury from B Merwan & Co. in Mumbai or Kayani Bakery in Pune. Patel also has a stock of dar ni pori (a sweet pastry stuffed with lentils and dried fruits) that goes well with lemongrass tea, a drink that is more popular than the better-known milky and sweet Irani chai.
Two ingredients integral to any self-respecting Parsi cook’s repertoire are sali (fried potato sticks) and eedu (eggs). While the former adds that final textural flourish to a range of Parsi dishes and is best had from well-regarded stores like Camy Wafers, eggs form the dazzling centrepiece of many dishes. From the well-known akuri to the lesser-known malai par eedu (eggs cooked on clotted cream), eggs are much more than breakfast food. “Parsis put eggs on just about everything and I always tell my kitchen staff, ‘When in doubt, put an eedu on it’," says Patel.