This columnist’s maternal grandfather, Behramji Baria of Navsari, was a bad businessman but a great cook. He ran a catering business between the two World Wars.
Article by Berjis Desai | Mumbai Samachar
He made no money but gained countless admirers including Lady Navajbai Tata and her family. The Jame, in his obituary, noted, in a memorable almost untranslatable Gujarati phrase – ‘Marhoom ni chamach bahu Vakhnayeli Hati’. His greatest personal contribution to authentic Parsi cuisine was Bhujan, and its gravier cousin, Khurchand. Pieces of lIver, kidney, spleen and testicles of goat, marinated overnight in curd and a spice formula, which was more closely guarded than that for Coke, and grilled over wood and charcoal fire, almost semi-baked and hence, its name (Bhujan, literally in GujaratI, meaning baked). An unmatchable dry or picnic lunch (colloquially called ‘Bhatiyu’) Bhujan, due to its rustic origins, is best consumed with, hold your sensibilities, desi Mahua liquor (yes, the one which sears through your insides and is flavoured with orange peel). Baria’s Bhujan, not ignoring his secret spice formula – never transmitted to his many children, unfortunately – derived its uniqueness and taste from the wood fire and the cool air, at dawn, in Navsari (also responsible for the most delectable Doodh-na-Puff ever made – the Dadar Parsi Colony ones, being a poor imitation). The dawn air thus added that extra zing to his Bhujan.
Baria was also renowned for his Khurchand (not to be confused with Aleti Paleti). Almost the same ingredients as the Bhujan but slowly cooked in a spicy gravy, designed to bring tears to your eyes, as the green chillies would conspire with the garam masala. Khurchand served piping hot on the banana leaf and lovingly esconsced with the ubiquitous ghee ni gagarti ghaoon ni rotli and a bit of Kolah’s Gor Keri nu achar, was bound to make the diner bless the caterer’s future generations. If you add fried potato and pieces of boiled egg or raisins or meat balls to Khurchand, you get the Aleti Paleti, but then you are affronting the afficionados of Khurchand. None will grudge Bhujan and Khurchand their rightful place in the Parsi authentic list.
If the Gujaratis were successful in elevating the lowly status of the green vegetable, Papadi (in Parsi dialect, Papri) by inventing the delicious Undhiya, to be enjoyed during winter alongwith hot Puris, the Parsis discovered a Papri dish called Papri ma Kabab, which makes it to our ‘top-10’ list. Small, round meat Kababs are prepared by marinating, almost raw mutton, for a long period, in a mixture of light spices and yoghurt, and then dipped in whipped egg, crusted with some rawa flour, and very gently fried or grilled. When the Papri, in a base of onion, spices and aubergine, is half done on a simmering fire, the Kababs are added. Best consumed with marble white rice chappatis and methiya nu achar, with some fried (not grilled) papad thrown in, together with onion rings dipped in vinegar. The marriage results in the Kababs elevating the lowly Papri into an authentic and original experience.
Malido, by its sheer audacity, makes our list. Before you express incredulity at its inclusion in the list, please be sure that you have eaten authentic Malido. Most Agiyaries serve such bad Malido that our younger generation has never been privy to the original thing. The oldest Mumbai Agiyari, the Banaji Limji at Fort under the late Framroze Panthaki (a warm, colourful, lovable priest who thought of nothing playing manjeera at Bhajan recitals) prepared the most delicious Malido – oozing with many eggs yet not smelly, in dollops of cow’s ghee yet not sleazy, sugar measured not to make it too sweet, embellished with finely grated almonds, charoli, pomegranate, candied fruit peel, raisins and pistaschio. The secret of a great Malido lies in its texture. The ordinary bad Malido is brownish, stone hard, without haemoglobin and inedible. The ultimate item is like Silk Smita (the late South Indian actress with the famed silken complexion so smooth that if a droplet of water was placed on the nape of her neck, it would travel down to her ankle, without dissipating) – golden hued, blended to perfection, feather light on the tongue, endearing aroma and silken smooth. The divine vibrations of prayers at Jashans and Fareshtas with the Malida centrally placed, renders it more delightful. Malido is as Parsi as you can get. The royal splendor of Malido is enhanced, if eaten fresh and slightly warm. Alongwith a unique Parsi bread called the Papri (not to be confused with the vegetable). The salty taste of the Papri bringing out the inherent flavor of the Malido. A unique Parsi sweetmeat, indeed.
The final item on our list is Chora-ma-Khariya (mutton trotters).
Before we talk about Chora-ma-Khariya, it should be recorded that this dish narrowly beat three others, to make it to the top-10. Tarapori Kolmi no Patio, due to its similarity with some Goan Portugese preparations, Titoli and Dodhi ma Gosht – which may seem a surprise item but when prepared by the Parsis of rural Gujarat, of sublime deliciousness and memorable taste – often served during the four days of feasting at Parsi weddings in Gujarat.
While even the Europeans eat trotters, it is more like an insipid soup. Some Parsis follow this practice and serve trotters in large soup bowls. However, we are talking about trotters in Chora ni dal – spicy, tangy, sweet-sour and original. Anyone using any device other than his fingers to eat this delicacy, is, being silly. Years ago, we had a rather pompous colleague, who was very proud of his rich, blue blooded mother-in-law, who was so sophisticated, that while she would condescend to eat Khariya by using her manicured fingers, she would only spoil her first phalange (technically, distal phalange, meaning the tips of the finger). Other Parsis eat this delicacy by spoiling all their phalanges (as kids, we would avoid washing our hands immediately, fascinated by the fingers sticking against each other due to the gelatine). Chinese prepare pig trotters in ginger and vinegar but C-ma-k is absolutely authentic Parsi. To be marinated over 48 hours ideally, this is not an easy dish to cook.
We invite our readers to send in their assent, dissent, comments, experiences and other entries into what qualifies as original and distinct Parsi cuisine.