And they ate happily ever after ... A Bengali's take on the Parsi Laganu Bhonu (wedding feast)

Warning: Long seven course post ahead. My spell check gave in so please write if you spot any typos.

Parsi wedding feasts are very famous in Mumbai. The Parsi wedding dishes are classic and most weddings stick to the same menu. The distinctiveness lies in how well these are cooked. One thing going for Parsi weddings is that they serve meat and fish. Unlike Bengalis, the dominant Hindu communities of Mumbai - Maharashtrians and Gujaratis - and the reasonably prominent Punjabis, Sindhis, Tamils and Malayalis do not serve non vegetarian food in their own weddings. This adds to the aura of a Parsi wedding feast, also known as Laganu Bhonu (Lagan = wedding, Bhonu = feast).

I was recently invited to a Parsi wedding through my Parsi in laws. I took my camera to click it for you. Turned out that this was a full blown traditional sit down dinner versus the modern buffets. So sit back and take in the Parsi wedding through the photos that follow. This story has meat, alcohol, good natured boisterous swearing and is the complete opposite of the Sooraj Barjatya wedding tableaus.

Parsi wedding feasts happen at 'Baugs'. Literally gardens, these are wedding arenas, usually attached to Parsi Fire Temples. Traditionally theses meals used to be sit down affairs. Unlike Bengali weddings alcohol is served here. There is a DJ belting out numbers from the seventies and eighties and you get to see whirling dervishes of sequins, velvet dresses and low back blouses jiving away into the evening. Laughter, back slapping, chatter, drinking and eating sum up these wedding receptions.

We went to Cama Baug which is near Lamington Road at South Mumbai. It was the wedding of the daughter of Mr Nariman Udnawala. He was my mom in law's neighbour when they were growing up at Surat.

You enter the Baug through it's tall gate into a serene traditional wedding hall, lit up, decorated with flowers. Far removed from the hustle outside.

Mr Nariman, the father of the bride, is the one in the traditional Parsi dress Dagali with his arm outstretched in the photo below. He is greeting the guests as they eat, exhorting them to eat well.

Parsi sit down dinners have an interesting custom. You have to queue up behind those who are eating and book your place. Seemed a bit impolite but I soon shed my Bengali inhibitions and planted myself behind a gentleman who was digging into his meal with gusto.

Once we sat down I noticed the look of glee and anticipation on the faces of Kainaz and my in laws. I was a bit sceptical. With typical Bengali smugness I was prepared to be unimpressed. Our wedding feasts star the legendary kosha mangsho, doi maach, golda chingrir malai curry, luchi and chholar daal after all.

As the dinner progressed I was forced to eat the humble Laganu Custard though. This was phenomenal stuff. The feast of the gods.

The meal was served on banana leaves like Bengali feasts from a time gone by. Except the banana leaves were cut in a round shape versus Bengali meals which were served on the natural shape of the leaf.

You start off by choosing your soft drink of choice (alcohol is served in a separate counter). You should go for raspberry, the red coloured soda typical of Parsi weddings.
In case you are wondering, that's no Sufi concert in the background in the photo below. Parsis are full of life and are animated and boisterous talkers.

The meal starts with 'Laganu achar'. A sweet carrot and raisin based pickle which you have with roti or a white, thick papad called 'saarya'. This is another departure from Bengali traditions where lemon is served but not pickle which is considered to be inauspicious.

Most Parsi wedding feasts have moved on to the buffet format. The wedding I attended, as I said, was a traditional one where waiters came and served you at the table. You can ask for your choice cut of meat. The waiters come with jugs of water for you to wash your hands at the end. This is vey useful as you can use your hands to eat. There is no other way to enjoy any Indian cuisine after all.

A tip of around Rs 10 to the waiter, I am told, is customary at then end. I gave around Rs 30 which apparently didn't make me very popular with the other guests.

There is not tipping in Bengali or other Hindu wedding dinners though.

All meat groups are covered in Parsi weddings. You start with chicken. We had 'sali chicken' which is a chicken curry served with potato straws. The latter is similar to the Bengali alu bhaja though the meat and potato straw combine is unique.

The chicken was very tender here and the curry was sublime. Sali chickens often tend to be overly sweet due to the use of 'jardalu' or figs. No such problem here.

One alternative to this in other weddings is 'chicken farcha' which is like a Parsi Kentucky Fried Chicken. Chicken deep fried in a masala and egg batter.

'Cutlets' followed. Parsi cutlets are a patty of mashed boiled potato and meat (chicken here, could be fish or mutton too) and masala deep fried in an egg batter. A gravy is served with it. The mutton cutlets at Britannia at Mumbai are really good.

The star of a Parsi feast is the fish. Parsis love fish. We Bengalis are nothing in comparison to the Parsis when it comes to love for fish. The megastar, the Amitabh Bachchan, the Nobel prize of Parsi fish dishes is 'Patrani Machhi'. Pomfret marinated in a green coconut and coriander paste steamed in banana leaves. The patrani in Friday's dinner was amongst the best that I have ever had.

This is a contrast to the Bengali 'Paturi'. River fish marinated in mustard and green chilly paste and steamed in a banana leaf.

A substitute to Patrani Machhi in weddings is Saas ni Machhhi. Fish is a light, white, cream sauce. A poor cousin on patrani machhi. All the Parsi wedding that I have attended have had Patrani Machhi.

You have heard of 'dhansak', the most famous Parsi dish? Don't expect this lentil and meat based dish in a wedding. This Sunday afternoon favourite of Parsis is actually a funeral dish and is never served in auspicious occasions.

Pulao daal is the normal substitute. The pulao here was very similar to Bengali biriyani. Long separate grains of rice, potato and mutton. The best pulao that I have ever had. This is served with 'daal' (brownish lentil sauce) which is the same as Dhansak without the meat in it.

The pualo daal is normally the grand finale and you wrap up your banana leaves for the waiters to clear once done.

But don't get up yet. Dessert follows. Unlike the Bengali wedding fare of ice cream, mishti doi and many sweets, desserts in a Parsi wedding consist of just one item. It is either a Laganu Custard (a stiff, sweet pudding) or, as in this case, coolfi. An Indian milk based ice cream. The coolfi in this wedding was a dry fruit one and was really good.

In keeping with our family customs the women gave my pa in law their Coolfis and he had three!

We later figured out the secret behind the great food in this wedding. It was catered to by Tanaz Godiwala one of the most famous Parsi wedding caterers. Seemed like she had an office just outside Cama Baug.

So where's the bride and bride groom you ask? Big Indian weddings are never about the couple getting married are they? It is a social do where parents fulfill their social obligations, people come together, family feuds are forgotten for a short while, new friends are made, some matchmaking is done, folks enjoy a few moments of fun and frolic, culture and tradition are remembered as the next generation gets ready to take centre stage. And it at all ends with a great meal


Scarlett said…
Hey, how come you never share any Parsi recipes with us??
k said…
And it was a wedding with the least amount of drunk people
Shivani said…
Loved the account -- never mind the tiny fact that I'm sitting in office on a Monday afternoon, yet to have lunch & viewing those hi-resolution pics *scowl* ;-)

There is some charm in sitting for the traditional wedding feast (it's called 'pangat' in Maharashtrian weddings) & having someone relentlessly serve you & urge you to eat heartily. It's soon fading away though as most caterers prefer arranging for buffets. Glad to see that's it's going strong in the Parsi community at least :-)
Gia Fernandes said…
Next time to get invited to one of these things, I have dibs on one seat in Princess Leia please! Pretty please?
nice to know abt parsi wedding,,their traditions and food,pictures support all the text..yes u need to share some parsi recipes with us..
I love the way the fresh banana leaves look. I would love to serve on them but here I only find frozen ones. =(
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Scarlett, Harman: Parsi recipes are slightly complicated and K doesn't make any. She knows more Bong dishes that Parsi!

CC: done :)

Shivani thanks for writing in and hope you get an invite to Parsi wedding soon. Actually most Parsi weddings I have been too have buffets too.

The Maharashtrian weddings I have been to have buffets and more of Punjabi and quasi Italian fare than anything Marathi.

Very similar to the evolution of Bengali weddings. These used to be sit down affairs with family members serving when I moved into Cal as a kid in the 8os. Then caterers took over though they still would be sit down affairs. But the fun of serving and being served were gone.

When I left Cal in the end ninties people had moved to serving Non Bengali dishes in Bong weddings. Now your only hope of getting a pure Bengali wedding fare is at the wedding of someone from the Bengali diaspora (Probashi Bangali) who might have gone back to Cal for the wedding.

Jessica: Food served on banana leaves was common to most coastal parts of India. Food tastes much better on it according to me :)
Miri said…
Wow!! I really really miss attending Parsi weddings - I went to a lot when I was growing up - courtesy my Dad who worked with Tatas.

I love love the South India traditional feasts on banana leaves and even managed to do a sit down breakfast on a banana leaf this year for Pongal. It is an art form to have rasam rice on a leaf! :)

Thanks for the lovely tour!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Miri, I remember eating chicken curry and rice on banana leaves at home in high school when the maid was bunking. Tasted a lot better.

Here's a real challenge ... rasam, banana leaves chopsticks :)
Mahafreed said…
enjoyed this post! tweeted about it too!
NevYasShwnYo said…
serving non traditional dishes is actually a let down if you are a guest. who wants to eat pasta and pizza at an indian wedding. we shall all eat that at Rahul babas
feroza said…
I am late to your wonderful blog;a parsi living overseas. we will be in mumbai in december and wanted to throw a celebratory dinner for our relatives and friends- we were thinking of about 300 people. Ive heard excellent things about tanaz godiwalla, but since dec is a busy season and we may not get a hold of her, are there any other excellent caterers you or your family might know of? weve been away for so many years there must newer ones too, im assuming. Thanks !
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Feroza...Kurush Dalal of Dalal Enterprises 9820236511
Kurush F Dalal said…
@kalyan ... thanx for the reco

@all ... anytime you have Parsi food cravings give us (Dalal Enterprises) a call at 9820136511, aday in advance and we'll send you the food to your place anywhere in greater Mumbai - VT to Panvel and Churchgate to Virar :D
feroza said…
Thank you for the contact!