Parsi new year treats which a Parsi granny would approve of

Chaapat, a Parsi crepe. This is from Mumbai's Belgaum Ghee Depot

Kebab tales from the Belgaum Ghee Depot

I was at my mother in law’s place for a family dinner a few days back. Her sister, my wife’s masi, had brought over food for the dinner and mama, their brother, had joined us too.

The food was from a place called Belgaum Ghee Depot. Belgaum Ghee Depot is a tiny takeaway joint at Nana Chowk near Mumbai’s Grant Road Station. It had been more than a decade and a half since I had last had their stuff. 

In the early days of our marriage, my wife who used to then work at an ad agency at Kemp’s Corner, would stop at the shop on the way back home and pick Parsi 'kevabs' for dinner. Kevabs (sic) are how Parsis pronounce and spell kebabs according to Facebook comments on my feed in the past. The Parsi kevabs are usually shaped into little spherical balls. It consists of a potato and meat/ prawn/ egg masala mice mix which is coated in an egg and bread crumb batter and then deep fried. 

The kebabs of Belgaum Ghee Depot used to add some joy to our meals back then on days when we had a simple dal, veg and roti dinner, Neither of us liked to eat a fully vegetarian meal back then and the kevabs helped and if there was nothing else we wold tear open a pack of salami from the fridge or fry some sausages to go with dinner. Belgaum Ghee Depot’s presence ended at our table after my wife’s office moved out of Kemp's Corner. Which is why the Belgaum Ghee Depot meal at my mother in law's felt as if it was laced with nostalgia.

Mutton kevab, prawn kevab, bheja cutles (sic) from Belgaum Ghee Depot

Oral History Lessons 

From what I gathered from my friend Dr Kurush Dalal, who run’s the Parsi catering outfit Katy’s Kitchen among the many hats he wears, and a Mid Day article that I came across, the Belgaum Ghee Depot was started in the 1943. The family initially sold ghee sourced from Belgaum. Kurush told me that Belgaum had a sizeable Parsi presence at one time. The shop started stocking food products a couple of decades later. The current shop is smaller than the original outlet Kurush told me. The food is economically priced and the shop has regular customers among Parsis who live in the neighbouring area. They are well versed with the daily specials and about when they need to go to the shop to get them. The folks who run the shop don’t make the food themselves said our masi, Farida Balsara. Nor is there one supplier who brings all the food to be sold here. There are apparently a number of caterers and home chefs who supply the food on offer at Belgaum Ghee Depot. The Mid Day article mentioned that the ghee sold here now comes from Porbander and not Belgaum.

Getting back to the dinner at my mom in law’s there were prawn kevabs, mutton kevabs and bheja cutlets (which is how Parsis spell cutlets),  and they were all stellar indeed. There was sali margi and biryani and Parsi dar (the dhansak dal without meat) which were frankly not too bad even if not outstanding. I was told that the siblings had tittori, a beans based dish from Belgaum Ghee Depot, in the afternoon. 

Both the meals were happy ones. The food was like that.

Snuggling into a soft chaapat

Once we were through with dinner, my mother in law opened a foil box and offered it to me with a twinkle in her eye and said, "this is chaapat."

"The Parsi crepe," added mama with a smile. I later saw that some, such as Perzen Patel of Bawi Bride, refer to it as a 'pancake'. I feel that crepe is more appropriate as bother are thinner than a pancake.

I had heard of chaapats before but had never eaten it till that night. I am trying to avoid desserts these days but broke a piece of the chaapat to eat out of politeness. I took a bite and was immediately enveloped by the flavours of childhood. Anybody’s childhood. I am Bengali of course and haven’t had Parsi dishes as a kid and yet felt so nostalgic with each bite of the crepe. 

The dominant aroma and taste was that of vanilla essence. It brought back memories of simple ice creams which I had had in Iran actually when I was five years old. Iran, of course, is where the Parsis came to India from many generations back. Was the use of vanilla in a the chaapat a coincidence then or a residual memory of Iran? 

I don’t know the answer to be honest.

There was something very comforting about the taste of the crepe or pancake which urged me to have more than one bite and I continued to do till I finish the chaapat. In between bites of the soft textured crepe were nutty bites of toasted charoli nuts which added a nice dash of excitement to the overall experience.

Kurush told me that the chaapat is made with a batter of maida (refined flour), eggs, vanilla essence (vanilla pods are hardly used in regular Indian homes), sugar, jaiphal (a spice) and elaichi (green cardamom).

The ingredients list made me wonder if the use of maida is what made the chaapat tug at my heartstrings. Maida after all is the favoured flour of Bengali grannies. The luchi that my grandma made me as a kid, with maida of course, was the first Bengali dish that I had fallen in love with.

There is something to do with chaapat and grannies as I figured out. My mother in law, Pervin Bilimoria, told me that her mother and my wife’s late grandmother, Manijeh Kerawala, used to make chaapats for her (MIL) when she was a child in Surat. Little Pervin would have chaapats with a steaming mug of Horlicks. She was too young to be given tea then. Her brother and sister smiled across the table thanks to the memories from years back.

Coincidentally, the next day during a twitter discussion on breakfasts, food blogger, Zenia Irani spoke fondly about how her granny used to make chaapats for her.

Replying to @RushinaMG
My granny would make me sweet parsi style crepes called Chaapat. I really miss her cooking.

On seeing the pictures of the chaapats from the Belgaum Ghee Depot that I had posted, Zenia said that they did look like her granny’s.

Branded Bawi‏ @ZeniaIrani  Aug 13: Awww they look just like her chaapats.

It was the Parsi new yesterday and I asked Kurush if chaapat would be an appropriate dish for the day. His answer, ‘for brekker yes, for afternoon tea better still.’

My mom in law, mama and masi came for lunch on the new year. Once lunch was over, they tried to get me to pronounce 'chaapat' properly. If you don’t do so, the folks at Belgaum Ghee Depot might think that you are asking them to slap you as the word for slap in Gujarati is one hard vowel away from chaapat.

I don’t think that I have still got the pronunciation right though!

Tatreli kolmi tales as the only thing to beat juicy gossip are juicy prawns

Parvez Patel's tatreli kolmi at the ITC Grand Central

Turned out that the week leading up to the Parsi new year was my week to try out Parsi dishes that I haven't had before. Chaapat was the first of them and next on was a kolmi (prawn) dish. 

The day before the Parsi new year is pateti.  It is a day of introspection for Parsis from what I gather and a day for repenting on misdeeds. Wishing someone 'Pateti mubarak' is not right as Kurush F Dalal wrote recently in his blog. Catering outfits like his and many restaurants too now offer special meals on Pateti. This time my wife and I went to the  ITC Grand Central Hotel on Pateti as guests of the general manager, Kerman Lalkaka, who is a Parsi too. 

There was a Parsi food section set up for the occasion amidst the regular buffet at the coffee shop, Hornby's Pavilion. During dinner, I bumped into Parvez Patel, who owns and runs my favourite Parsi restaurant in Mumbai, Ideal Corner. Parvez works with the ITC chefs as a consultant to put up the special Parsi menu on Navroz.

The food was pretty good and there were the usual suspects of kevabs and patra ni machhi and sali boti to woo us. Then I spotted a tray in the buffet which said ‘prawns in chilli coriander.’ I thought that it would be a Chinese dish and was about to give it a miss when Parvez came up to me, smiled (I have never seen him not smiling) and said, "it's tatreli kolmi. Tatreli means dry (‘sizzling’ according to Kerman). It’s hardly made in restaurants and homes these days. Do try it."

I did so because I trust Parvez’s cooking and boy, was the tatreli (also tatraveli according to the missus) a showstopper or not. The seasoning of the dish was perfect, the spices well balanced and not too spicy. The small prawns were cooked in a light chilli coriander paste (which gave it the green colour) and a bed of sliced onions and the latter added a natural sweetness to the dish. What amazed me the most was how juicy the prawns were. I have had prawn curries made by multiple Parsi caterers before and the prawns in those always had the texture of erasers. This time it was perfect. The fact that it was a stir fried dish and not a curry helped perhaps. It is often hard to find prawns that are not over-cooked in buffets, but no such problems in this case.

The tatreli prawns were such a hit that everyone in the table, including K, made many trips to the buffet counter for repeats of the prawns and some took had a few more helpings even after dessert!

I was so impressed by my first encounter with tatreli kolmi that I begged Kerman to add it to the regular menu at the ITC Grand Central. It would taste lovely with soft pita bread in my opinion.

The Parsi new year feast with ravayiyo and Katy's Russian chicken pattice vying for the best 'newcomer' of the year award

Parsi New year feast from Katy's Kitchen: Clockwise from 12Ó Clock:
Mutton palao (sic), lagan nu custard, patrani machhi (green), dhansak dar (dal),
Jardaloo salli chicken, pisela badam no gosh, ravaaiyo (green), vegetable palao,
vegetable 'stew', Russian chicken pattice and vegetable cutlets on the plate

Yesterday was the Parsi new year and I  got to taste another Parsi dish for the first time once again. The dish is called ravaiyyo. It was part of the vegetarian side of the Navroze feast the Kurush and Rhea of Katy’s Kitchen had sent us over. Yes, Parsis eat vegetarian food too and there are now two vegetarians in our family itself.

Celebrating the day with a Katy's Kitchen feats on Navroze has now become a family tradition for us. There were the usual favourites...the pulao dar, patra ni machhi, gosht and sali margi in non-vegetarian and cutlets, pulao dar and stew in vegetarian. However there were two new dishes that stood out.

Among the vegetarian dishes, this was the ravaiyyo. A dish made with small eggplants cooked in a moist green masala which I am guessing would be made with the standard ground coriander, coconut and green chilli mix.

Mama, Freddy Kerawala, a vegetarian who doesn’t eat brinjals normally couldn’t stop raving about how good the ravaaiyo was.

“It’s changed my opinion about ravaiyyo,” he said and added, “and brinjals too.”

He went on to explain, "the stew (a sweet chopped vegetable stir fry with raisins), cutlet and pulao dar are good but one rarely has ravaaiyo and this makes it even more memorable.”

Freddy mama couldn’t stop smiling in joy so I decided to taste a bit of the ravaiyyo too. I must say that I am not a big brinjal sabzi lover either and yet I too was held in the spell of the ravaiyyo. The coconut flavour dominant chutney was rather heady and blended very well with the soft egg plants pieces. Every element in the dish came together to make the perfect dish.

I was equally impressed by the Russian chicken pattice with its cheesy, shredded chicken soul and well seasoned mashed potato jacket, which made for novel and memorable experience. I have had the Russian pattice at Bohri places and the Parvez Patel's one at the ITC buffet. Those are smaller than the Katy's Kitchen one. The later was larger and the feeling really gooey and flavour packed. Mamma, my wife's late grandmother, who loved cheese would have adored this I know. It was soft so not having teeth wouldn't have held her back. This was so reminiscent of the croquettes of Spain, specially thanks to the cheese doused heart.

Marvels from granny's kitchen

When I look back at the chaapat, the tatreli kolmi, the extra large Russian chicken pattice and the ravaiyyo, what strikes me is that these are Parsi dishes that I have never had before (and I have had quite a few for sure) and yet they are so traditional. A blue blooded Parsi, for all you know, would laugh at my childlike awe at having tried these dishes for the first time.

As far as I am concerned, Ihad four completely new Parsi food experiences in the run up to the Parsi new year this year and that made me very happy. As I said earlier, all from recipes from the kitchens of Parsi grandmas, which today seem to have been put in the cold storage unfortunately. I have had the opportunity to taste some innovative Parsi dishes of late including a very nice sali boti and keema pot pie from Perzen Patel's Subhasree Bode's Bawi Bride/ Lil Miss Greedy delivery outfit.

Salli chicken pot pie from Lil Miss Greedy. The kheema tasted
like a traditional Parsi khattu meethu (sweet and tangy) kheema
and the boti was juicy too

Such initiatives and experiments are important to a keep a food culture alive and going. However, one should also bring out heirloom recipes for today's generation to enjoy. Both can coexist peacefully I believe.

This applies not just to Parsis to all of us across India I am sure. Perhaps our respective new years are a good time to bring such lovely recipes out of the woodwork and celebrate them while we set off on new beginnings.

Sounds like a plan?

Characters in this play:

With Parvez Patel of Ideal Corner in the middle
and Kerman Lalkaka of the ITC Grand Central

Freddy Mama who looked even happier once he had the
The siblings approve of Katy Mai's food

With the rest of the Parsi side of my family
The missus on your left, Farida Masi and mom in law (in black)
Talking of grannies, this is the post that I had written on mamma, my wife's grandmother

If you go by the picture of the chapats, you will realise that they are not very Instagram friendly. Nor were the 'real life' plates and lighting in my mom in law's house and the stopgap iPhone 4 with with which I had photographed it.

I've bought an iPhone 7 Plus now and let me leave you with a couple of pictures of the Parsi version of the French toast and banana caramel pancakes that I clicked while having breakfast at SodaBottleOperWala, BKC recently. They have recently introduced a breakfast service at the restaurant. Hopefully you will see better pictures in the blog now. The picture of the Katy's Kitchen food and the Tatreli Prawns taken in the iPhone7 Plus

French toast at the SodaBottleOperWala breakfast
clicked using the portrait mode

Banana and caramel pancakes at SodaBottleOpenerWala

 References and interesting reads:
1. Kurush F Dalal on the meaning of Pateti
2. My mother's blog post on her food memories from Iran
3. Mid Day on Belgaum Ghee Depot