What’s For Chai, Bawaji ?

If you haven’t gone beyond lagan-nu-custard, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The first of a two-part series on deliciously sweet Parsi snacks.

By Roxanne Bamboat, Mumbai Mirror

19893690 While the rest of Mumbai would imagine waking up at 4.30 am for a jog or to cram for an exam, Khursheed Irani labours over buxom daar ni poris. The quarter plate-sized pastry with a flaky ghee-laden, crisp exterior holds within it a toor daal stuffing that carries an aftertaste of rosewater. The outer case is coated with what’s called ‘maan’ — a glaze of ghee and rice flour beaten frantically till it reaches butter-like consistency.

During the arduous cooking process, lots can go wrong. A rubbery outer case is the worst advertisement for any pori maker. Irani, though, needn’t worry. Her poris, priced at Rs 170 each, boast of a crackling casing as their USP. On some mornings (like Avan Roj-Avan Mahino; an auspicious day when the water deity is worshipped), she makes close to 50 pieces before the clock strikes eight. "I prepare the semolina-ghee dough and dal stuffing the night before," she shares, admitting that her ‘hobby’ can get exhausting. Which is why Irani’s husband wishes she’d take it easy, or hire help. This one-woman army owes the art to an elderly relative who’d coax her to learn the craft. Having watched her, Irani absorbed the skill, more by taste, feel and smell than methodical learning.

"Which is why I find it tough when asked exact measurements of ingredients," she smiles. The Zoroastrian community, to which Irani belongs, is one that lives to eat. And even once they’ve left for their heavenly home, the culinary link is one the souls find hard to snap. Which is why in the last 10 days of the Zoroastrian calendar, also known as Muktad, prayers are performed in the memory of the departed and delicious eats including daar ni pori, bhakras, khajur-ni-ghari and karkarias are spread out in the prayer feast for the souls to appreciate and feel remembered.

The chapat also makes it to the thaal holding consecrated foods. The Sir Ratan Tata Institute’s (RTI) snack shop at Hughes Road runs out of chapats (Rs 18 each) by midday, with their battery of mavshis rustling up a heap each morning in a kitchen housed on the same property. For the last 100 years, the charitable trust has been a one-stop shop for Parsi eats, with the bawas dropping in to gaze at their extensive menu and invariably leaving with more than they can stomach. Confectionary supervisor Zubin Rupa watches over elderly Maharashtrian women whip up the day’s supply of snacks.

Chapats, easy to make by mixing eggs, flour, vanilla essence, milk, sugar, a dash of nutmeg and charoli or chirongi nuts, are essentially pancakes with crispy edges. It’s possible that while adopting the Raj tradition of the high tea, and conceiving colonial-inspired treats like the nankhatai (shortbread cookies Parsi cooks learnt to make from the Dutch docked in Surat, firing Surat’s famous bakery tradition), the Parsis decided to design their very own pancake.

Daar Ni Pori

Khursheed Irani (9819935346) Belgaum Ghee Depot, Tardeo (23887746) — they replace the daal filling with a mawa one

Chapat

Sir Ratan Tata Institute (RTI), Hughes Road (66236969). Parsi Amelioration Committee (PAC), Tardeo (23865868)