Tracing the journey of the Parsi Navroze feast from Iran to India

Navroze lunch 2018 from Katy's Kitchen

Jamshedi Navroze


For those interested, what you see in the picture was what we had for our Jamshedi Navroze lunch today (21st March 2018). Let me tell you about what all is there

At the bottom of the picture lies the bheja cutlace. Bheja is goat brains in this case. ‘Lace’ refers to the lacy formation of the egg batter. These cutlets are at the bottom of the pic. The egg batter here is thinner than the kobiraji cutlets of Kolkata.

At the top of the pic are vegetarian cutlets.

Then there is sambhariya bheeda. A deliciously sweet and sour okra dish which seemed to have fresh grated coconut in it too and was made in a spice mix that the Parsis called sambhar and has nothing to do with the sambar of south India.

To its right is nariyal ma doodh ma cauliflower, a soupy dish.

At the centre is the dar or dal. A mix of dals, slow cooked together, today’s was a sweetish rendition of it. I’ve found variations in flavours, consistency and colour of the many dals I’ve tried over the years.

With the dal was mutton palao, which has eggs too, and vegetarian palao

Dr Kurush Dalal, from whose Katy’s Kitchen we’d called in for the food, told me on my Facebook Live chat #chattingwithyourmouthfull yesterday, that the Parsis had possibly adopted the practise of having dals with the Iranian 'polo' (pulao oin India) in India inspired by the Gujaratis and their love for dals. Slow cooked lentils is a practise that carries memories of Iran too of course. Gujarat is where the Parsis had first settled in India and they took up lot of local practises and today speak in Gujarati and not Farsi.

Another example of this cultural assimilation is the patra ni machhi. The most crucial dish for Parsis in a festive occasion. In an ideal world, a portion of a large pomfret steamed in a thin banana leaf in a mixture of freshly ground coconut, green chillies, coriander, cane vinegar, sugar and salt. As Kurush points out, the use of fish from the seas, pomfret, coconut, green chillies, are all practices adopted in India. The fish consumed in Iran is usually from the rivers. Something that my mother remembers from our time in Iran in the 1970s. The practise of wrapping food in leaves and steaming it, as in the patra ni machhi, as Kurush points out is not alien to Iran though. Think the dolma of Turkey for example. Incidentally, Navroze is celebrated in Turkey too as a spring festival. The patra ni machhi is different from the machher patoori of Bengal where bhetki fish fillets are steamed in banana leaves in a ground mustard and green chilli paste.


My mother, Rekha Karmakar, with Haji Aga, a fish seller
and a family friend of ours in Rasht, Iran, 1978
Update: This is what my mother wrote on Facebook after reading my post:

Reading Kalyan Karmakar's post on  patrani machhi in navroz feast of the Parsis in India, I was reminded of another type of cooked fish in Iran. I had Mahi safed fish, the most expensive n tasty fish in the Caspian region of Iran,    cooked in somewhat patrani machhi style. Instead of a leaf, the whole fish was wrapped in a newspaper and put in a tandoor that was dug in the soil. When it was taken out, people pulled out the burnt newspaper and along with it came out the scales and the skin of the fish. Then it was cut out and the guests were offered the roasted fish. I guess, the inside of the stomach was cleaned before putting it in the tandoor.’ ... Rekha Karmakar

Then there is the lagan nu custard, a dessert that Parsis love to have on festive occasions such as this.

Kurush wrote the following on his Facebook page, ‘the ‘silken, creamy, caramelly custard is the quintessential Parsi dessert. A brilliant innovation based on the British baked custard this dish is taken up several notches by a steady 50% reduction of milk and the addition of vanilla and a sweet spice powder known as Elchi-Jaiphal (cardamom and nutmeg). Baked slowly to a caramelised perfection and topped with sliced pistachios and almonds this is the perfect ending to a Parsi celebratory meal.’ 


Caramel custard from an earlier navroze, This is the Katy's Kitchen version
that my late father in law loved

Is Parsi food Iranian food or Indian Food.


That’s how cuisines evolve I guess. I have occasionally seen people refer to Parsi or Irani food as ‘Iranian food’. That’s not entirely connect. The Parsi food of India has taken its own character and identity which is distinct from the food of Iran today. It would perhaps make more sense to describe Parsi food as a type of Indian food in a way. Parsi food can also be called Irani food in India in deference to those who had migrated to India two hundred years back to join the Parsis who had come in a thousand years back. The Iranis are said to have set up the first restaurants in Mumbai and their food is similar to that of the Parsis and different from that had in Iran today from what I understand.

In other words, the patra ni machhi of the Parsis is as 'Iranian' as the 'Manchurian chicken' said to have been invented by Nelson Wang of Mumbai's China Garden is 'Mainland Chinese' if you get what I mean!

Given that the Parsis today are Indians whose ancestors once lived in Iran, this dish symbolises to me the power of hope, innovation, harmony and the assurance that no matter what happened in the past, one can always makes fresh start.

Talking of fresh starts, Jamshedi Navroze, which is what was celebrated today, is not the Parsi new year. It’s actually the celebration of spring or the spring equinox. A practise that reminds me of the adage, ‘winter always turns to spring,' as stated by the 14th century Japanese Buddhist monk, Nicherin Daishonin.

Oh, and I must give my usual reminder when writing about Navroze for non-Parsis... the Parsis don’t have their most famous dish, dhansak, on auspicious occasions such as this as dhansak is a dish had after a family member passes away as a part of the mourning rituals. Hence there is pulao dal in the pic and no dhansak today.

For those who didn’t know this about me, I am not Parsi but am married to one, have many Parsi friends and love Parsi food. For whatever it’s worth, I have lived in Iran as a kid. What I’ve shared here is what I know to the best of my knowledge.

The Bengali with his Bawi lobster
And mom in law and masi too, pic clicked by mama


Chatting With Your Mouth Full


Well, Some of what I discussed here is what Kurush and I chatted about on my Facebook Live show, 

Well, ‘Chatting With Your Mouth Full.’ What is it about?I’ve wanted to host some form of a chat show for long, where I could have one on one dialogues with people who love food, and on interesting topics around food. Was trying to figure out how to do this in a way where other like minded folks could join in and listen. Just didn’t know how to do so. 

Then I found out that you can get people to join you on Facebook Live broadcasts and that’s when I got the idea of hosting such a chat there and tried one. 
The first chat was with Kaniska Chakraborty who joined me from Dhaka and we spoke about the food culture of Dhaka.

Yesterday Kurush F Dalal joined me from the Katy’s Kitchen HQ in Mazgaon and we spoke about Parsi food customs and the larger issue of authenticity in food. 

The idea of this series, which I call ‘Chatting With Your Mouth Full’, is to have intense discussions around food and life, discussions which are unhindered by issues such as the ideal length of a broadcast, what’s trending or is SEO friendly, brand mentions, time and space constraints etc, because that’s how liberating the Internet is. 

Some day we will find a modern day Medici, read a brand or a network, who will share the same wavelength as us, and help us scale this hopefully but for now I’ll just enjoy dinner rather than think of the proverbial ‘kheyali pulao’ AKA day dreams.

I guess what’s been most exciting about this year so far for me is the number of new things that I’ve tried out and it’s just March. The mid 40s are fun!

Here’s the link to the chat:


Chatting With Your Mouth Full

Vote for Finely Chopped at the IFB


One more thing, the  link for the public voting for the #IFBA2017 has been opened. 

My blog is in the running in two categories, general food and culinary travel.

It would be lovely if you could take the time out to vote for it if you do like reading Finely Chopped. Looking forward to your support and wishing all the best to all entries across categories.

Best general food blog: Option no 32
Best Culinary Travel: Option no 19

Here’s the link to vote at and it’s in the bio too:

Closes Thursday, 22nd March 2018 at 9 PM.

Clicked while I was blogging. Candid? Not entirely. That would mean that I was
under surveillance

Please vote for Finely Chopped

Notes:

1. For future historians and economists, our meal from Katy's Kitchen cost us Rs 3,500 with delivery charges and had two of everything mentioned in the post
2. This post is based on a number of my instagram posts which I stitched together on my phone and formatted on the laptop the next day. Here's the link to my insta account where I post more regularly today.
3. Link to my mother's post on Iran where she talks of Haji Aga and the fish there
4. Do read this post on dhansak which I wrote when my father in law, Marzban Bilimoria, passed away.

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