Friday, 27 May 2016

Special Cuisine | Parsi Khaana at ITC Maurya

Thanks to the few restaurants in Delhi that specialise in Parsi fare, we are familiar with some integral dishes of this cuisine. But like any culture, there is always so much more to learn. And one of the best parts of being invited by the host hotel for a food festival is that the visiting chef spends time, patiently answers questions and shares details of dishes, even though the board of rules says “no asking recipe”!

Chef Parvez Patel, owner and chef of Ideal Corner, Mumbai is in Delhi to showcase authentic Parsi fare at a food festival at ITC Maurya’s, The Pavilion. Apart from being home to some of the finest restaurants in the country, ITC Maurya regularly hosts food festivals featuring regional cuisines of India under its brand Kitchens of India. This festival coincides with two major exhibitions in Delhi on Zoroastrianism and Parsi history and culture: The Everlasting Flame at the National Museum and Threads of Continuity at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. 

Chef Parvez Patel, owner and chef, Ideal Corner, Mumbai, showcasing
authentic Parsi cuisine at The Pavilion. 

Culture and Cuisine
Traditionally, Zoroastrians came from Persia and settled in coastal towns of Gujarat. Hence, the primarily Persian fare got the sweet touch from Gujarati cuisine and an introduction to vinegar from coastal Maharashtra, among other local influences. We start our meal with a dish that retains its Persian roots but is called Bharuchi Akuri, named after a city, Bharuch in Gujarat. Akuri is a soft scrambled egg cooked with spices and vegetables varying from tomato and onion to okra. This version is cooked with cream, cashews and raisins. I have never tried something like this but take an instant liking to this simple dish. The dried fruit is fried till its quite dark before the egg is broken and the addition of cream keeps the eggs soft and juicy.

L: Bharuchi Akuri
R: Parsi Tea

Chef Speak
“You will find a lemongrass plant in almost every Parsi household,” says Chef Parvez. He explains that lemongrass is an essential ingredient in Parsi tea, which is milk tea flavoured with mint and lemongrass. According to Chef Parvez, the three essentials of traditional Parsi food are river water, unrefined groundnut oil and wood fire. Since all these are not always easily available, some ingredients have been flown in from Mumbai to maintain authenticity of the dishes served at the current food festival. The thin Elephant brand vermicelli, sago wafers and natural sugarcane malt vinegar have been brought along with Parsi masalas and pickle. The dhansak masala is sourced from a Parsi family in Nagpur; it is a combination of fourteen unadulterated spices in fourteen proportions. This dhansak offers a smooth texture, complex flavour, and a mild kick of chilli that complements the caramelized rice that it is eaten with. The pickle has been sourced from Kolah’s in Navsari, Gujarat. Essentially comprising carrots and dried fruits, not only does it whet the appetite when accompanied with the crisp sago wafers, it also complements most dishes on the menu.

Clockwise from Top Left:
Sago wafers, mixed fruit pickle,
Gosht na Kabab, Raspberry soda.

Menu for the Festival

The extensive choice of vegetarian dishes includes Papdi, flat beans cooked with ajwain; the self explanatory Khatta Meetha Masoor Daal; Dudhi Chana Dal, or chana dal cooked with bottle gourd, Tarkari ni Dhansak Daar, or vegetarian dhansak – lentils cooked with pumpkin and brinjal. The dals are delicious and the veg dhansak is almost as tasty as its mutton counterpart, sans the tender mutton pieces. For non-vegetarians, there’s also the Parsi essential Salli Murgh, or chicken curry cooked with Parsi spices and served with potato crisps, and Patra ni Machhi. Simply put, it is fish steamed in banana leaves, but the thick green marinade paste is made of fresh coriander, garlic, jeera, jaggery, tamarind and malt vinegar and the water used for steaming has oil, curry leaves, cloves and vinegar, all lending the fish a wonderful medley of flavours and aromas.

Top L-R: Mutton Dhansak; Caramelised rice
Middle L-R: Patrani Machhi; Salli Murgh
Bottom L-R: Dooshi Chana Dal; Papdi

The Parsi dishes are part of The Pavilion’s buffet that features a vast choice of salads, Indian, Continental and Chinese dishes and an equally long list of desserts. But I am happy to stick to the authentic Parsi fare on this occasion, even for the desserts. The creamy Lagan nu Custard, a luscious and mildly sweet Rawa kheer and ghee roasted Sev are enough to satisfy any sweet cravings after this hearty meal. And finally, the minty tea that washes it all down.

Left: Lagan nu Custard
Right Top: Rawa kheer
Right Bottom: Sev

The Pavilion, ITC Maurya, Sardar Patel Marg, Diplomatic Enclave, New Delhi.
Timings: 20-29 May, 2016; Dinner Buffet only. 7pm –11.30pm.
Tel: 011 46215152/2611 2233.
Prices: Rs 2650 + taxes per person; Rs 2850 + taxes per person inclusive of 375ml bottle of select beverage.