Mamaiji’s secret

Perzen Patel is exactly the kind of woman I never want to bring home to my mother. At 26, she whips up home-style Parsi favourites and traditional bhonu (celebratory) fare for her small catering business. Her repertoire is impressive: sali boti, seekh kebab focaccia, salami croquettes, home-made ricotta, kopra pak and, of course, lagan nu custard. She runs the recipe blog Bawibride.com, works full-time as a marketing executive at a social enterprise, and cooks for her family.

Patel was more than happy to teach me her personal favourite and best-selling dish—Mamaiji’s Red Prawn Curry—just in time for Navroze. When I confess that I can barely boil rice, she laughs and says she was just the same two years ago.

After she got married in November 2012, Mumbai-based Patel realized she was making one too many long-distance calls to her mother in New Zealand to learn her favourite Parsi dishes. Patel searched for blogs dedicated to Parsi cooking but the ones she found weren’t of much help or were too boring as they only published recipes with a “final photo".

Patel says the first time she attempted dhansak at home, she almost threw out the entire dish because it looked like a gloopy brown mess of boiled dal and vegetables. “If you haven’t been taught to cook by someone in person, you never know what a dish is supposed to look like at different steps of the cooking process," she adds.

So last June, as Patel started getting better at cooking, she decided to create a Cooking For Dummies style website for Parsi dishes with step-by-step photographs and detailed instruction sheets. “I thought why not create a resource centre for other Parsi brides to refer to," she says.

A month after she started publishing her recipes, Patel also started hosting flash sales on the weekends for her most successful kitchen experiments through the website and social media. When orders poured in regardless, she realized there was a bigger demand for her homely food. “Unless you are invited to a Parsi wedding or go to an Irani café, there’s not much access to our food," says Patel. “Even then you get the same five-seven popular dishes like dhansak, patra ni machchi, sali boti and lagan nucustard. But there’s so much more to our food and I want people to sample our home food like curry chawal, ras chawal, tamatar par eedu and dhandar patio."

By November, Patel was able to put up a full menu on her website for bhonu fare like dhansak and kheema kebabs, dips like hummus and mayonnaise and desserts like chocolate mousse and lagan nucustard. Patel says her Mamaiji’s Red Curry Masala is one of the most popular products at exhibitions and sales. She inherited the recipe from her late maternal grandmother or “mamaiji", who used to make the comforting curry with kachumbar for her every Saturday afternoon when she was in school. “I loved the curry so much that as a kid when she asked me what I wanted when she passed away, I innocently told her that all I really wanted was a big never-ending bowl of it," she adds.

It’s been 10 months since Patel first starting publishing recipes on her blog, but she says it’s already led her to many opportunities in the food business. Besides being invited to conduct Parsi cooking classes at Pooja Dhingra’s Studio Fifteen at Elphinstone, Patel has also been able to crowdsource recipes for her quarterly e-book project called “Best Kept Secrets". She released the first book in the series on her website last month with 11 recipes from bloggers on their favourite traditional Indian regional dishes. Patel says the next book will be all about the best egg preparations because “Parsis love eggs and break an egg on anything—on all kinds of leftovers from vegetables to meat".

Next week, as part of her week-long Navroze celebrations at home, Patel will take catering orders for Navroze special set meals and will also host a lunch in her backyard for Parsi food aficionados through social dining website MealTango.com

Even with so much going on, Patel says she already knows what she wants to do next—her very own Julie & Julia style project with a cookbook called Vividh Vani, written in Gujarati by Meherbai Jamshedji Wadia. Patel says the tome consists of over 1,600 recipes, with nearly 57 dedicated to just akuri and another 30 or so to custard preparations. “It’s kind of like what the Rasachandrika is to the Saraswat community but it’s completely lost to our generation as it is written in Gujarati and even the measurements aren’t in the metric system," says Patel. “But I know this is something I really want to do for the cuisine."

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