The Indian culinary heritage is a mélange of many cuisines. In our time, the traditional dishes are embraced for their hard-to-come-by authenticity. While several of our cuisines have been transformed in an attempt to create new items with easier recipes, there are some that have simply remained limited to a particular community and true to their old spirit. One example of the latter is the Parsi cuisine.
Paatra, Jaypee Vasant Continental in New Delhi is celebrating this centuries-old cuisine with their initiative, the Parsi Food Festival. The ten-day festival, which ends this Sunday, has introduced an à la carte menu for visitors to relish a wide range of signature dishes from the Parsi kitchen.
The feature that distinguishes their food from the rest is the perfect blend of hot, sweet, tangy and spicy flavours. At the festival spread, the beverage, starters and main course all seemed to delightfully go along with each other.
The special Parsi menu has been curated by Chef Vaibhav Suri, Executive Sous Chef with Jaypee Group of Hotels. About this festival, he says, “We’re just trying to portray the simplicity of the Parsi community and the authentic flavours of their food. That is something that’s remembered mostly in Maharashtra only, not the rest of India. This is our initial step to bring in and introduce Parsi food to our city, Delhi.”
The organisers want to highlight the roots of Parsi food culture. Suri explains why that is important: “Even Parsi cafés today serve generalised dishes… Many people are not familiar with original Parsi dishes. This menu has been introduced with the very basic and core of the Parsi food, so that everyone can understand what Parsi food is. Once that is established, we plan on bringing the bigger menu.”
Keeping the Delhi summer in mind, they are serving the classic refreshing beverage, Masala Aam Panna. Next on the menu were the starters which I found to be the most riveting part of the meal. They included the vegetarian dishes—batata poori, bhel poori and khaman pattice. The chef pointed out that the Parsi cuisine is dominated by non-vegetarian dishes, but here he has concocted the menu in a way to serve the palate of vegetarians as well. Coming to the non-vegetarian dishes, they are offering sumptuous Parsi lamb chops, Patra Ni Machhi and Murgi Na Farcha.
Talking about the uniqueness of the food, the chef elaborates, “Just like panch phoron in Bengal, garam masala in Punjab, Parsis have a dhansak masala which they use across many dishes. Their food is a mix of European and Indian flavours… They [Parsis] are actually Persians who came here and their food is influenced by Arabic and European tastes. They blended it with Indian spices when they settled on our west coast and that came out as Indian Parsi food.”
The main course was an ode to the Parsi culture, constituting their principle dishes, Papeta Ne Vatena Ni Sookhi and Shirin Polo. The venue emanating an aura of tradition, and the rich Parsi food was well complemented by the soothing instrumental music in the background. Providing the quintessential Parsi food experience, the menu has been well-received and appreciated by the diners.
Chef Suri feels that till today, the Parsis have remained grounded in tradition and lead a simplistic life in their own community. That is what he found fascinating which eventually drove him to be a part of this festival. He says, “The Parsi community is a very simple community. They are migrants. They have been staying here in India since long. They have a simple character and the same is reflected in their food. When I went to Bombay last month, I experienced a charming simplicity in their food. I enjoyed its authenticity which is lost in India. Even the menu of Parsi restaurants is going towards more of a European side… You will rarely find the authentic Indian Parsi food it the market. That made me interested. So, some of the things that I learned over there from the Parsis, I included that in the menu.”
It’s evident from the response the fest has received over the past couple of days that the food enthusiasts feel that the cuisine deserves a wider base in the restaurant scene of the city.
The chef concludes our conversation with his future plans for popularising the cuisine and making it a part of mainstream dining menu. He says, “I have contacted a few individuals, so that the next time we can have an even bigger event and include more and more people. The response we’ve gotten till now, it’s very good and even with a short menu, the festival has received decent popularity. I think it’s better than bigger promotions that you do around food festivals. So, we’ll surely do this in other hotels across the country.”