Parsi Food…And Why it is Truly Unique

During my college years, I believed there was a conspiracy among my friends. Some of them were friendly with me just so that they could get invited to a Parsi event. Unlike most Indian weddings which have gained a reputation for never-seen opulence and pomp, Parsi events are in demand for one delicious reason…the Parsi food.

Sev-Dahi, a Parsi Celebratory Serving with Roasted Vermicelli, Dried Fruits and Nuts, Topped with Cardamom Vanilla Yogurt

Sev-Dahi, a Parsi Celebratory Serving
of Roasted Vermicelli, Dried Fruits and Nuts,
Topped with Cardamom Vanilla Yogurt

Recently, a dear friend who loves Indian food, especially Parsi food gave me this article idea after reading my post on Mouthwatering Memories from India. Her question- ‘what really distinguishes Parsi food from regular Indian food?’

So for her and all who have this question…here are my thoughts on what makes my native cuisine so unique and delicious.

When and how?

We (by which I mean my ancestors) came to India from Persia around the 8th Century CE. Parsi Zoroastrians follow the teachings of Prophet Zarathustra/Zoroaster and his ancient religion of Zoroastrianism. (Wikipedia offers detailed information on Parsis in India.) Most settled on the west coast of India and adopted Indian food habits and culture. Over the past 1300 years thanks to our love for food, Parsi cuisine has grown into a unique west coast Indian cuisine which still retains some food flavors and techniques from ancient Persia.

It’s like a slice of history on your plate…and here’s why:

Vinegar and Sugar

Many Parsi dishes use this unique balance of acid and sweetness called ‘khattu mithu.’ A popular Parsi tomato-based curry is the ‘Patio’; made using this method. The turkey mince (Kheemo) in this recipe is another example of how these two elements work together in a dish.

Parsi Wedding Lagan nu Stew, with Tangy Spiced Vegetables

Parsi Lagan (Wedding) nu Stew, with Tangy Spiced Vegetables

Predominance of Seafood 

There are some very distinctive dried seafood pickles (like Sukha Boomla Achar) in our cuisine which are made using seafood and the ‘khattu mithu’ principle mentioned above. Growing up, the prawn pickle was a staple at home. Seafood, in general is seen often in Parsi dishes due to our coastal location in India.  Unique and popular fish dishes include a green-chutney fish cooked in banana leaf (Patra ni Macchi) and an egg and vinegar based white fish curry (Saas ni Macchi.)

‘Saas ni Macchi’ White Parsi Fish Curry

‘Saas ni Macchi’ White Parsi Fish Curry

Eggs on Vegetables, Frittata-style

Growing up, my mum put eggs on everything. I mean it when I say everything; even most of our Parsi traditions require the cracking of raw eggs…but that’s another story for another day.  Frothy well-beaten eggs form a delicious layer over many vegetables like okra, tomatoes, potatoes…and a kiddy favorite, eggs on chips. This Parsi-style Omelet recipe is comfort food at its best; bringing back childhood memories.

Our Family Favorite: Potato and Pea Frittata...The Parsi 'Papeta Per Endu'

Our Family Favorite: Potato and Pea Frittata…The Parsi ‘Papeta Per Endu’

Balance of Dried fruits, Fresh Fruits and Nuts

Dried fruit like apricots and raisins, nuts like pistachio and almond appears commonly in Parsi dishes. And it is not uncommon to find fresh fruits like pomegranate and bananas in the food. A boneless lamb preparation using apricots (Jardaloo Sali Boti) is one of my favorites even today.

Tangy-n-Spicy Apricot-flavored Jardaloo Salli Boti made with Lamb or Mutton is a Unique Parsi Cuisine Classic

Tangy-n-Spicy Apricot-flavored Jardaloo Salli Boti made with Lamb or Mutton is a Unique Parsi Cuisine Classic

Bringing Together Meat and Vegetables in One Dish

Our most popular dish, Dhansak is made using lentils, meat and vegetables. Served with caramelized spiced rice, this dish truly shows a blend of Indian flavors and Persian technique.

Lentil Vegetable and Meat Parsi Dhansak with Traditional Accompaniments of Caramelized Basmati Rice and Kachumber salad

Lentil Vegetable and Meat Parsi Dhansak
with Traditional Accompaniments of Caramelized Basmati Rice and Kachumber salad

Kachumber

This simple salad of chopped onions, cucumber, tomatoes, green chilies and cilantro leaves with a dressing of salt and cider vinegar or lemon is served with Parsi rice dishes.

Use of Rice or Bread with Food

Unlike most Indian homes which use chapatti/Indian flatbread, many Parsi families use regular bread or rice preparations with their food. The Parsi Pulao is one such popular rice dish, similar to the Indian rice-and-meat preparation, Biryani.

Custards and Puddings

One of our popular wedding desserts is Lagan nu Custard (wedding custard) which is our version of the Crème Brulee.

Puddings and custards are a staple in Parsi homes; my granny always had a good stock of ‘pudding’ (made in the pressure cooker because she didn’t have an oven) and ‘jelly’ as a ready treat in her fridge. Years later in hospitality school, I realized my favorite childhood pudding uses all the ingredients of a Crème Anglaise. I guess that speaks for the British influence on Parsi food.

Mamaiji's Caramel Pudding

Mamaiji’s Caramel Pudding

Prophet Zarathustra gave his Zoroastrian followers a simple philosophy to help lead a pure and happy life; ‘Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds’…I’d say, the Parsis have created ‘Good Food’ to achieve this credo.

Cover Image Read my article ‘Shining the Spotlight on Parsi Food‘ in Live Encounters Magazine.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Nick says

    Landed on your site, when I was searching for Lagan nu Custard and in teh link given above, kept on landing on Mamaji’s Caramel pudding. I hope both are one and the same Peri !!!

    • says

      Thank you…and your sister’s work sounds really interesting! I’d love to hear on some of the findings from her analysis. Being an ancient culture and cuisine, Parsi food is an amazing amalgamation of the Persian cuisine influence on Indian flavors with shared spices.

  2. says

    Greetings, from one blogger to another:

    Peri, Congrats on spreading the word for the delectable cuisine in the world!
    Do visit my blog too-thanks!
    cheers!
    Aban Kekobad

    • says

      Thanks, Aban…Yes, our Parsi food is delectable and one of the best cuisines.

      Just visited your wonderful website with so many of my favorite dishes in there. It looks really great and I will be back there, for sure.

  3. Delna says

    Loved this one Peri!

    Confessions of a born foodie (dear ol’ Ogden Nash); I shall convince someone to prepare these for me! :)

  4. Dhun says

    While I was reading this, I felt I reached Marine Mansion…..Oh those good old days–we had so little then, but we were sooo very happy together. And yes, anything with eggs in our household was practically a daily routine. We’ve even shared one ‘bafelu edu’–translate it to hard boiled egg between FOUR of us as kids.
    Keep these articles going, Peri. I am for sure, re-living my childhood. Love you.

    • says

      Thanks Masi…Yes, how did I forget to mention our hard boiled eggs (bafelu eedu), those are ever present in our Parsi homes. Thanks for mentioning those. Glad you are enjoying these pieces, love writing them. Love you too.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] You might recognize this particular combination of spices from Indian cuisine. The cookbook I used (Anjum’s New Indian) describes this recipe as “inspired by the cooking of the Parsis,” a group of people who immigrated to the west coast of India from Iran centuries ago. Parsi cuisine is now a unique style of Indian cooking; you can learn much more about Parsi Food over at the wonderful blog Peri’s Spice Ladle. [...]

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