Aban Pardiwalla: The best home food from someone else’s kitchen

“When my mother would ferment grapes, the entire building knew that the Contractors were making wine,” recalls Aban Pardiwalla of her neighbours’ displeasure at the stench the fermentation would cause. “My parents’ friends, eagerly awaiting the finished product, would even join us for our grape squeezing ritual.” Pardiwalla was only ten years old then, but she started young, helping her mother prepare wine and tarapori patia (dried Bombay-duck pickle) for the family’s many noisy pot luck dinners.

Today, the 55-year-old Pardiwalla is known for preparing the creamy topli paneer (soft cheese served in baskets), succulent pork chops in orange sauce and a mean patra ni macchi. She’s taken over her mother’s Peddar Road home and kitchen and cooks up dishes that most Parsis in Mumbai have grown up eating: dhansak, farcha, sali boti, chicken with cheese, spicy baked fish, and mutton in white sauce with sausages and bacon. She spends her days making kilo after kilo of mutton sali boti and crab curry for those who’d heard about her skills and this time the neighbours aren’t complaining.

Pardiwalla confesses a strong aversion to set recipes. She says that the closest she ever came to following one, was when she attempted to make cheesecake. But even then, she did it her way and used topli paneer instead of cream cheese. “It’s the perfect substitute,” she said, as long as you retain the paneer’s delicate texture by previously soaking it in salt water. Her customers seem to agree. Pardiwalla is besieged with orders for paneer cheesecake.

Everything in Pardiwalla’s kitchen gets special treatment. The vanilla pods in her desserts and the garam masala she uses for biryani come from Coonoor, near Ooty. “Though the basic spices used for the masala remain the same, they aren’t mass produced so they have a lingering aroma and deep flavour,” she said. Her gharab nu achaar (fish roe pickle) is made from the eggs of the bheeng fish from Bharuch, Gujarat. The shipment only comes in when there’s a good catch, so patrons tend to place their orders in advance and wait for that lucky day.

There’s plenty in her kitchen that they can make do with in the meantime. Pardiwalla sells frozen packets of wet, green, red and brown masalas for Parsi fish, chicken and mutton preparations as well as dhansak and vindaloo masalas. They’re perhaps the only vegetarian items she offers. Her four-page menu is a testament to the belief that most Parsis consider vegetarianism blasphemous.

The closest you’ll probably get is dry-fruit pickle or if you’re visiting the Pardiwallas, a box filled with 18 varieties of chocolate and home-made liqueurs. That should keep everyone happy. Kainaz Contractor

To order, call Aban Pardiwalla on 2352-6179/93222-77950. She takes orders for parties from six to 50 guests and needs to be notified two days in advance. No delivery. Meat dishes `175 onwards, fish dishes `225 onwards, topli paneer `200 a dozen, frozen masalas `120 for 250 gm and tarapori patia `100 for 250 gm, fish roe pickle `180 for 250gm.