Celebrating the Parsi new year in a rather Mughal way. Navroze Mubarak 2019

Kid gosh, chicken Russian pattice, roti. My Navroze 2019 lunch. I had cut open the pattice so that you can see what's inside

Dear diary

I recently looked up the meaning of the word 'blog' while answering a question for an interview. Here are a couple of interesting answers that I found while doing so.

Google Dic

Cambridge Dictionary

I am not sure about when these definitions were last updated, but to me they do define what a blog is rather well. A record from an individual's day to day life. On a website. Blogs are the successors of what we used to call a diary while growing up in the 80s. Except, in this case, everyone can read what you scribble down if you so wish. Including your mother! A blogger, in the purest sense of the word, is nothing but a diarist. A word I had heard Ruskin Bond use during his talk at the Kolkata Times Lit Fest and which I could so relate to. Of course, like everything else in life, blogging has evolved too over the years. One rarely comes across blogs which are like diaries these days. So many of them seem to be more like websites than blogs, but so be it. Call me old fashioned, but I like to see myself as a diarist. That's all.

I must confess that I do not jot down daily accounts of my life on the blog as often as I did when I started off close to 12 years back. I do so on Instagram though. No wonder folks who run just Instagram pages call themselves bloggers these days. Perhaps Instagram is the new black, I mean blogosphere.

I try to not miss out on writing about important life events on my blog and occasions close to my heart. Couple of these in particular would be Durga Puja and the Parsi new year. And our birthdays too (K's and mine). 

Navroze Mubarak and to new beginnings

So here is a quick weekend dairy-like (as we had to write when I was in the Calcutta International School in 1981-83) account of what I ate on the Parsi new year (Saturday, 17th August 2019) this year. The post has no Parsi history discourses or culture commentary. Or food critiquing for that matter. Just an account of what I ate. I will leave the more serious stuff to the Parsi food writers and historians out there who are documenting and sharing knowledge on their community with the rest of the world. I am just an interloper after all. A Bengali married to a Parsi. Not the deepest or soundest of Parsi creds by any measure.

I started the day by calling in for omelette pav from Lucky, Bandra. Primarily because Banu was on leave and we had guests coming and I did not want the kitchen to smell of eggs, which K says it does when I make breakfast! Well, for whatever it was worth, Parsis love eggs or eeda and that would make my breakfast Navroze apt one could argue. Moreover, Lucky is run by an Irani family. Muslim Irani though and not Parsi Zoroastrian.

When I asked later K about what she used to have as a kid on Navroze, she did look rather flummoxed. "I would not have breakfast," she said. She still does not. 

"What about ravo, sev (sevia and semolina puddings)?" I probed.

"Yeah, the grown ups would, I guess," she said. The thing is that neither K nor I grew up steeped in our relative cultures at home as our parents/ family elders did not enforce this on us. This means that our familiarity with the basic constructs of Parsi or Bengali (in my case) rituals and mores is rather nebulous.

Veg pulao dar (sic), lagan nu istew, kachumber, veg kevab. Parsi veg. K's Parsi birthday

Moving on to lunch on Navroze, we had called in from Katy's Kitchen which is run by our friends and another fellow Parsi Bengali couple, Kurush and Rhea Mitra Dalal. The 'problem' was that we had called from them a week back too when it was K's roj nu birthday (Parsi calendar birthday) and there was a bit of an overlap on the menu from which we had to choose.

On K's birthay, we had mutton pulav dal and mutton kevabs (sic) in non-veg while my mom and mama in law, who have turned to vegetarianism of varying degrees over the years, had veg pulao dal, kevabs and lagan nu istew (a sweet stir fried root vegetables dish).

I love the Parsi mutton pulao. I find it a tad similar to the biryani of Kolkata, especially in contrast to the high octane Mumbai biryani which is smothered with masala. Some folks put fried potatoes in the Parsi pulao too. They do not do so at Katy's. Kurush said that his mother, the late Katy Dalal, felt that putting potatoes takes space away from the more important stuff in a pulao. Just as we Bengalis do not, no Parsi boy argues with his mother either. Which means that while the phenomenon known as Dr Katy Dalal is no more, Kurush will not give us alu in the pulao! You get boiled eggs in it though as you would in the 'special biryani' of Kolkata. Excellent quality and subtly flavoured rice and mutton which is more tender than the smile of a Parsi granny. The stuff of dreams sweeter than the sugar sweetened milk that the Parsi priest had offered to the king of Gujarat when they came in to Mumbai, in my books.

More than our common love for fish, I feel that it is the Parsi pulao which connects us Bengalis with Parsis and explains why there are close to at least ten Parsi Bengal couples that I can think of. Which, given the small base of the Parsi population, is not too bad.

The 'common love' for fish comes with qualifiers in any case. They love sea fish in general barring the boi which we call Parshe. Most Bengalis (not me) are manic about eating only fresh water fish and look down on fish from the sea; and while they are both steamed, in banana leaves, the Parsi patrani machhi (pomfret largely steamed in a green, coriander, chilli and vinegar chutney) is rather different from our maacher bhetki paturi (bhetki usually, steamed in a ground mustard seeds, green chilli, turmeric and mustard oil paste).

Given the price of pomfret in the Shravan markets of Mumbai, where there is a fishing ban in Mumbai, ordering in the patrani machhi and sas ni machhi on Navroz would be too expensive and mutton it was and in my world, that is a good thing!

Mutton pulao dar, mutton kevabs kachumber. K's Parsi birthday from Katy's

The Parsis do eat their pulao with dar (dal). The same,  slow cooked pasty mixed dal which is used in the dhansak, but sans meat in this case. We would not have a biryani with dal back home in Kolkata of course. Though, over time, one begins to appreciate the combination of the slightly sweetish (in the case of Katy's though this could vary from house to house) dal with the more spicy pulao even if one is Bengali. Rhea of Katy's feels the same too. Oh, and in case you did not know, the Parsis do not have dhansak on auspicious occasions, as it is associated with funeral rituals too. So pulao dar it is on the navroz (new year), navjote (a sort of coming of age ceremony, lagan (weddings) and birthdays.

We all wanted something different on Navroze this year and not the pulao dar as we had it a week back as I had mentioned earlier. For non veg we went in for the kid gosh (not Ghosh, dear fellow Bengalis) from Katy's Kitchen and chicken Russian pattice and since they do not offer rotlis, rotis from Lashkara (which were not as soft as the Parsi rotlis).

Kid Gosh

Kid gosh is mutton cooked in cashew paste and the curry is white in colour. Similar to what you would expect to have in a Mughlai or a Punjabi restaurant. The first time that I had this was at Jimmy Boy in their lagan nu bhonu set when K and I were still dating and before we got married.

The one that I had yesterday from Katy's was seasoned perfectly and beautifully flavoured. Not spicy (chilli heat heavy) or oily at all. The meat (goat) was tender and yet had a bite. AND, the dish had fried potatoes. What more could a good Bengali boy want?

Russian pattice are massive shallow fried croquettes. They have a soft potato mash encasing with a white sauce and cheese centre and in this case, shredded boiled chicken. You have veg Russian pattice too. The Bohri caterers make Russian kebabs on their weddings. It is hard to say which came first, but Kurush hazards that the word 'Russian' was appended in the hoary past by caterers in Bombay to give a European touch to the dish which befitted its white (sauce) heart.

Veg cutlet, Khaman pattice (in white)

Figuring out what to order for the vegetarians coming home was a bit tough this year. They love potatoes in our family and the other Katy's kitchen mains veg options for Navroze this year, sambariya bheeda and the baigan and capsicum salan, did not cut ice. 

'Who eats bheeda (okra) or baigan on a Navroze', I was told. With a smile and yet rather firmly.

Though they liked it when they had it on K's birthday, they did not want to repeat the lagan nu istew in a week's space. Which is understandable.

So we called in for veg cutlets (with a mixed vegetable and potato stuffing) and khaman pattices (croquettes with a grated coconut, kishmish and curry leaf filling) from Katy's and both these starters were well loved by our guests.

For mains in vegetarian, it was the Bengali kaju kishmish pulao, moong dal and alur dom from Oh! Calcutta, Khar, and these were a hit too.

Kora nu murabba, lagan nu custard

For dessert, there was kora na morabba made with grated white pumpkin or ash gourd from Katy's. It reminded me of the Bengali chaatni, sans the sugars syrup in terms of texture and taste.

There was the lagan nu custard too of course. Meant for weddings as the name suggests, but had on all happy occasions by Parsis. I have had versions made by various Parsi restaurants and caterers, but they really ace this at Katy's. My late father in law was a big fan of their's.

An entire tray of lagan nu custard from Katy's on K's birthday

The 'custard' has the texture of a dense caramel custard or a baked cheesecake and is caramelised on top. Shavings of pistachios and almonds are added to it.  The custard also has a base flavour of vanilla essence and green cardamom. The lagan nu custard from Katy's is incredibly juicy, not too sweet and is rather hypnotic overall.

Chicken Hakka noodles of India. Similar to the Hokkien mee of Malaysia and Singapore. This is from Mamagoto

And dinner? I called in for the chicken Hakka noodles from Mamagoto which are rather nice. This too was quite Parsi new year appropriate. Let me explain why.

From what I gather, it is (or was) impossible to get a table at China Garden, Ling's Pavilion (Nanking once upon a time) on Navroze. And, at Dadar, in Gypsy Chinese. Even Kurush and Rhea, regulars at Ling's, go a day before the new year to Ling's as Baba cannot guarantee a seat on the Parsi new year. The Parsis love to eat Chinese on Navroze is the secret noone told you about.

Along with the Hakka noodles, what would have been ordered would be crab sweet corn soup, prawn fried rice and golden fried prawns, when K would go with her parents to Gypsy Chinese or to China Gate as a kid. The Parsis do love their prawns.

Mixed marriages and some Mughal wisdom

The morning after and the breakfast that helped anchor this post. I popped in the croissant from La Folie for a couple of minutes in the oven and it proved that when it comes to we western bakes, we do have some good options in India now

This morning, I woke up and called in for a croissant for breakfast from La Folie and in that stuffed in some cured sausage that a college batch mate named Jonaki, gave me recently. She is Bengali, married to an Italian who is a chef, and they live in Italy now. Her husband loves Bengali food and she has appointed herself as an expert on Italian food and I go to her for advice on the subject at times.

My breakfast got me thinking and I remembered my history lessons from school. Specifically about what we had learnt about how the Mughal Emperors would apparently marry Rajput princesses with an aim to expand their empires. I think the Europeans did that too. The British, Russian, Portuguese etc royalty did inter-marry quite a bit. And the folks in the Game of Thrones, but then that is fiction.

Was this done just to expand their realms of authority, I wondered. Would it not be a wonderful way of expanding the food palette at home too?

I mean look at me yesterday, relishing Parsi delights which I was not even aware of while growing up. Would this have happened had I not married a Parsi? (K, in case you read this, this was not the primary reason of course!)

Perhaps this was a secret that the royalty never shared with us commoners. Their formula of making the kitchen at home more interesting by marrying outside of the clan.

Make way for miss kaatla kalia

In keeping with this spirit, I came back from the Khar fish market today and made a kaatla kalia for K as she loves this Bengali wedding treat. I had some too with the leftover Bengali pulao from yesterday's Navroze lunch. Hashtag Sunday lunch done right you could say.

Yes, we might not have had a Parsi or a Bengali feast on our wedding day which was a rather simple affair with meals for immediate family (table of less than ten) at Starters and More (which is now shut)  at Churchgate for lunch and dinner at Gallops (where we ordered north Indian) for the same group.

We sure have made up for it in the years that followed. Feasting on each others cuisines. That, if you ask me, is one of the best things about a mixed marriage and I am sure that the Mughal emperors of yore would agree too.

Here's wishing you all Navroze Mubarak. Even though it was yesterday technically.

Recipe for the kaatla kalia (for 2) that I made and this could vary from person to person:

1. Smear the pieces of fish with turmeric and red chilli powder and salt and shallow fry it in mustard oil
2. Heat a tablespoon of mustard oil and then add in a dried red chilli, a fresh slit green chilli and a few whole cumin seeds
3. Add the paste of half an onion, when a bit brown, 1 teaspoon of ginger paste and half of garlic
4. When done, paste of half a tomato (not all add this)
5. Then add spice mix (1 teaspoon of garam masala, 1/2 each of cumin and coriander and red chilli powders and 1/4 of turmeric), add salt and a touch of sugar
6. Mix in and then add fish and then 1/2 a tea cup of water. Bring water to a boil and then reduce the flame and let it cook for 3,4 min and add a bit more water if you need

PS: Best had with pulao. You can add some cubed potatoes to it or fried cauliflower florets

My Sunday lunch of pulao and kaalia
We forgot to click family pics on Navroze but here's a couple from K's Parsi birthday a week before. The cake is an excellent dark chocolate eggless one from the very talented Anurita Ghoshal


Kurush F Dalal said…
Thank you Kalyan, a very happy B'day to K and loads of love and wishes to Mama, teddy, K and you for Navroze. May this year bring you health, wealth and greater prosperity!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@kurush thank you so much for making our special occasions even more special. Amen to that