The last of the Mohicans
If you think of food stereotypes associated with the Parsi Community then you will possibly think of non-vegetarian dishes such as mutton dhansak, bheja cutles (goat brain cutlets), patrani machhi and egg akoori with many mugs of beer or Parsi pegs of whiskey to go with it. Dishes that complement the image of a food and fun loving community. In Mumbai, invites to Parsi weddings are most sought after among non Parsis because of the promise ‘non-veg’ food.
The reality is slightly different. Most Parsis are indeed non-vegetarian. However, many Parsis I know, and who belong to my generation, do try to avoid red meat, add vegetables to their diet, have cut down on fried foods and have less copious amounts of alcohol, in keeping with the thinking of our times. They do get most excited, of course, when there is good non-vegetarian food around.
Thanks to a signboard that I once spotted at Fort, I do know that there is a ‘Parsi vegetarian and temperance society.’ I don’t know if their membership runs into double digits though!
Meet Freddy Mama
Freddy Mama, my wife’s maternal uncle, is not one for stereotypes in life though. He has been a vegetarian from the 1970s or so and was never a drinker. When I asked him once why he turned vegetarian, he said in his typical unassuming manner, ‘nothing special, I just felt like it.’
He had just moved into Mumbai from Surat back then, to work in a bank. He was staying with an aunt of his who had most kindly opened up her home to him till he found his feet in the city. Not wanting to inconvenience her, he would eat whatever was there at home, even if it was non-veg and would stick to vegetarian food outside. Then the rest of his family moved in here and they took up their own house and Freddy Kerawala turned fully vegetarian and has never looked back since then.
He is a ‘strict’ vegetarian to the extent that he doesn’t eat even eggs though onions and garlic are fine. He is not a sanctimonious vegetarian though. He will not lecture you about vegetarianism or shame you about your choices. For someone who believes in living life according to ones own terms, telling someone else not to do so would be hypocritical and he’s not one by miles. In fact he has always encouraged his niece, who is my wife, to follow her heart and has been most encouraging and supporting to me to do so later after I came into their lives. When his mother, who loved K and me passed away, he insisted that the rituals happen in a way that I could be a part of them though a non-Parsi.
So while Feddy mama might not eat cakes which has eggs, he will go early in the morning to B Merwan and get us dozens of freshly made mava cakes. He might not touch meat himself but will advise you to have mutton over chicken if you do and tell you that the former is better for your health. He might not eat fish himself but will get you bags full of fresh prawns from the market when he visits you. He hasn’t had anything non-vegetarian in more than three decades but would cook a scrambled egg everyday for his mother when she had lost her teeth and till she passed away and would happily cook us the fish she would bought for her granddaughter and me.
While Freddy mama loves to feed those who love food, he is not very expressive in his reaction to food. His response for long, to anything I got for him was, ‘its adequate’.
Then something changed.
When Freddy met Katy
We once ordered some Parsi vegetarian dishes, yes they exist (!) from Katy’s Kitchen. This is a catering outfit run by the late Dr Katy Dalal’s son Dr Kurush Dalal and his wife, Rhea Mitra Dalal who are family friends of ours now, and whom we firstbmet thanks to my blog.
Kurush told me that his mother, the legendary Katy Dalal, felt bad that vegetarian Parsi dishes were ignored by most modern Parsis. That she didn’t approve of the fact that in Parsi weddings, most wedding caterers were happy to keep perfunctory Gujarati thalis for Vegetarians from thali joints rather than take the effort to make Parsi vegetarian dishes.
Kurush and Rhea, astute meat and fish lovers themselves, have tried to pay homage to Katy’s legacy by introducing some of her Parsi vegetarian dishes in their festival menu at Navroze and then on Diwali too.
Turned out that they made Freddy mama very happy in the process!
Happy birthday Freddy Mama and many ravaiyya returns
We had called first for the Parsi dish called ishtoo a few family meals back from Katy’s. This is a dish made with Finely Chopped root vegetables which have been slow cooked with dry fruits and has a sweetish taste. This is a dryish dish unlike what the word ‘stew’ would make you think. Mama said it was ‘adequate’ with a Master Schifu-like smile.
Veg pulao dal
On festive occasions, the Parsis have pulao dar (sic) and not dhansak as the latter is associated with funeral rituals.
In dhansak the meat is added into the dal or dar. In pulao dar, the meat is placed in the rice and the dal, which is called masala dar, is sans meat. For vegetarians, the dar is constant in festive days and Katy’s offers a vegetable pulao which has beans and carrots and lots of fried black raisins and birista (fried onions) to go with it. Mama loves this and even more than him, my mother in law does so and has declared that ordering this is non-negotiable in our family parties in the future.
Then there is the Parsi cutlet. The vegetarian one in this case and hence not called ‘cutles’ as there is no egg to form the lace-like patterns which has led to the name cutles. The stuffing is potato based and spicy and this is coated in bread crumbs and fried. Freddy mama loved them when we first had them on Navroze this year and so did I. We repeated them the next time we had a family party, which was on his birthday this Saturday. The cutlets gave us much pleasure and I distributed my affections equally between them and the bheja cutles that afternoon.
The show stopper in the recent Katy’s Kitchen Parsi new year veg menu was the ravaiyya. Ravaiyya refers to baby eggplants and this was cooked in the green chutney in what Kurush sent. The chutney is made with a mix of ground coriander, green chillies and fresh coconut and salt seasoning and sugar and tart (lime juice in the chutney and vinegar while cooking). Freddy mama loved it as did my mom in law who too has turned vegetarian of late. The chutney reminded her of the patrani machhi that she once so loved. Which is why we ordered it again this Sunday along with the cutlet and veg pulao dar for Freddy mama’s birthday and it was a hit once again. We ordered extra for people to take home.
Katy’s ravaiyya and Banu’s roti
Freddy mama looked really happy and I don’t remember him being so effusive in his praise of food ever. The ravaiyya touched his heart for sure. As did the cutlets and pulao dar. He said he’d never had a dish like this before. Kurush says that it is an heirloom Parsi recipe that they’ve brought back to the market.
As he happily tucked into his raviyaa, Freddy mama giggled and said that mamma (his late mother) would have been bemused to see him eat something so humble as brinjal on his birthday.
Mamma (his mother) needn’t have worried though as I had to mutton pulao dar Katy’s to make up for Freddy Mama and we had ordered bheja cutles for her granddaughter who was the apple of her eyes.
I call the following series of pictures, ‘I can plan your birthday menu for you but you will have to wait for me to finish taking photographs before you can get to it’
The secret vegetarian side to us Bengalis
PS: Talking of breaking stereotypes, we Bengalis occasionally get excited about vegetarian food too as was evident the morning after the birthday party.
I woke up with a smile that morning when I remembered that a friend and fellow Presidency College alumnus, who lives down the road, had promised to make us luchis for breakfast.
The reason why you see only two luchis on my plate in the pictures below is because Shaswati insisted on frying luchis fresh while we ate and getting them to our plate as we finished them. Oh, and she told us not to count the luchis while we ate them. They were so light that I kept gobbling them in any case. There was lovely chholar dal and alu on the side too to make for a Bengali start to my morning. The shooji halva added a Ghoti (West Bengal) flavour to it
Call to action
- Katy’s Kitchen is doing a vegetarian Parsi menu on Diwali and you can call Kurush to place an order at +91 98201 36511 They have a Facebook page too where you can check menu and prices. An average meal for 4 costs Rs 1500 to Rs 3000 depending on what you order
- Jimmy Boy Restaurant at Fort offers Vegetarian Parsi wedding feast dishes through the year
- Shaswati is a home chef but not a commercial one so I don’t think you can place an order with her for those superb luchis
- Also read, Freddy Mama’s Irani Cafe Story: http://www.finelychopped.net/2010/06/thought-that-i-must-write-light-post.html?m=1