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