The only Parsi connection that I had till yesterday was that of an old Godrej refrigerator which once enjoyed a prime place in my family and the Tata tea which is part of our earlier talked about ‘chai pe charcha.’ So when I received a mail saying that I had the privilege to be part of an exclusive Parsi food trail organised by the up and coming Parsi cafe chain – Sodabottleopenerwaala, I was beyond thrilled. It was my chance to finally explore and uncover the mystical and alluring Parsi community of Bombay, and that too, through food. Could my Sunday get any better? I guess not.
So, I thought of sharing my first-hand experience with my readers, because you all deserve to be a part of this.
For all of us living in Mumbai, we’ve had a brush or two with the Parsi Cafes of the city. Kyani & co., Cafe Ideal, Yazdani, Brittania have been our go-to places for inexpensive food and a cup of nostalgia. And even though a lot of new and contemporary cafes and restaurants have popped up in the nooks and cranny of the city, it is only the Irani cafes that have retained the old world charm and give us a slice Bombay in the fast growing Mumbai.
As if being a part of this trail hadn’t got me excited enough, I was informed that Kalyan Karmakar of The Finely Chopped was set to be our guide for this trail. Now let me tell you readers, although I met Kalyan for the first time yesterday, my relation with him can be traced to a few years back. I have been an ardent reader of his blog and have followed his food journey through his blog, Instagram and different F&B magazines. His soon to be published book, ‘The Travelling Belly‘ is up on Amazon and set to be released in a few days. I must also add that, his mother, the lovely Rekha Karmakar is a fabulous writer too. In fact, once I started reading her blog, I could see where Kalyan got his style of writing from. Crisp, flowing and capturing is how I’ll sum up both of their writings.
So, on the much awaited Sunday morning, we found ourselves at Sodabottleopenerwaala in Mumbai’s plush BKC. The moment you step inside the cafe, you’ll find yourself transported to a different era. The painted walls, the checkered table cloth, the stern instructions of do and don’ts, the toy train running across the cafe and the buzz, you know you’re in for a perfect Bawa date!
The Head Masalchi of Sodabottleopenerwaala, Mohit Balachandran had curated a special breakfast menu for us which consisted of Parsi Poras (omelette), Chapats (crepes), fresh juices, mawa cakes and their Christmas plum cake. I had the Angry Pora (spicy), which was served with an added masala chilli and milk pav on the side. I paired it with freshly squeezed orange juice with no added sugar. This was the opening of our day and had us all happy and eager for all that would be followed.
We were small group of 10-12 people who had no connection with each other and yet food connected us all. So all aboard the mini bus, we set out for Dadar where resides a chunk of the Parsi community in the Dadar Parsi Colony.
Our first stop was at The Cafe Colony, an eighty-four year old eatery run by Mr. Agha and his son. We were served Keema-ghotala, Chicken curry with milk-pav and pipping hot Irani chai but I being a vegetarian stuck to the evergreen bun-maska, which was served with a twist of added sprinkled sugar on the butter.
From there we headed to the famous Parsi Dairy Farm which was established in 1916. Slightly full, we tasted the rose-lassi, while some of us all indulged in the kulfi. We had to ensure not to eat too much, so that we had enough space in our stomachs for the wonderful lunch that awaited us.
We finally headed for our lunch at Zinobia Shroff’s cozy home in the Parsi Colony. On reaching there we were greeted with chilled homemade lemon-ginger squash. Zinobia shared with us stories of how she ventured into Parsi-food catering in 1986 and was more than happy to share her recipes too. She had cooked up a storm in her kitchen for this lunch as was evident when she laid out the table. We were served Parsi-pulav, dhansak (veg & non veg), kewabs (veg & non-veg), kachumber and Ravo (a Parsi dessert made of semolina). The food was delicious, light and full of flavours. I for one had never tasted dhansak before as it is usually served as non-vegetarian dish in the cafes. Zinia informed us how she preferred to eat her vegetarian dishes more than the non-vegetarian ones.
What I experienced yesterday was that most of us lack knowledge about the community and somehow refrain from closely getting to know them out of hesitation. When one of the group members mentioned it to Perzen (of Bawi Bride) that how they’ve crossed the Parsi colonies many times but have never ventured inside, she quipped that its funny how people find Parsi colonies to be a no-entry zone, which is not the case as everyone is welcome there and I, will vouch for that. Not for a second did I feel out of place, in fact the lovely Zinobia extended an invitation to me to come and learn how to make dhansak from her. They’re a bunch of loving people who live up to their motto “Khavanu, peevanu, Majjani life!” ( Eat, drink and be merry)
There is a lot more that Parsi food has to offer but our humble stomachs could only suffice with this much for a day. But all in all lip smacking food, generous portions, homely feel and a trip down the old world is a day well spent.
This feature is by Vernika Awal, author and founder of Delectable Reveries.