Bhicoo J Manekshaw has been the lone crusader of Parsi cuisine in the country. And at 83, she is still trying to popularise it through her books.
She was the first Cordon Bleu chef from India, passing out of the famed Paris-based culinary school in the 1960s. A cookbook writer, she set up Basil & Thyme, Delhi’s first standalone continental restaurant. She also served a long stint as food adviser to elite clubs such as the India International Centre — her ginger steamed pudding was popular amongst the members — and the Delhi Golf Club.
At 83, Bhicoo J Manekshaw is still passionate about food. And an author of two famous recipie books Traditional Recipes of India and Parsi Food and Customs. ”People don’t know that Parsi food is more than dhansak and patra ni macchi,” laments Manekshaw who is also busy organising a festival to showcase Parsi cuisine. She is right. For though there are Parsi restaurants like Jimmy Boy and Brittania in Mumbai when it comes to Parsi food, Delhi has no equivalent. So Manekshaw has teamed up with chef Nita of Jaypee to throw a spread to give the Capital a taste of this regional cuisine.
“Our food is mainly meat-based and has incorporated a lot of local spices as our ancestors came from Iran. We are also fond of a lot of
ginger and garlic,” she says. So we tried the delectable Maja’s prawn patio (sweet- and-sour prawn curry) and salli ma murgi (chicken curry topped with ”shoe-string potatoes”). Both delectable Parsi curries go well with ghau ni rotli or roti and bafeli khicdi served in the traditional Parsi thali.
”We also can’t do without eggs,” says Manekshaw, who was introduced to the smells and sights of the kitchen when she was just five. In 1963, she sought admission in the Cordon Bleu School in London. Her winning recipe? ”Papeta ma gosht athwa murgi, one of my mother-in-law’s chicken-and- potato delicacy. I was the 11th student though they don’t take more than 10 students,” she says glowingly.
Being the wife of Air Chief Marshall J H F Manekshaw — Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw’s brother — also took her to several places in India. The upshot was her first book, Traditional Recipes of India.
One of her favourite stories is of discovering the dhansakh masala recipe. ”I met a lady in Valsad, Gujarat, who made a dhansakh masala differently from my grandmother’s recipe,” says Manekshaw,
Later she set up her own restaurant in the capital Basil and Thyme which is now run by one of her two daughters and son-in-law.
”We didn’t do anything Parsi over here as I wanted it to be a strictly continental place,” says Manekshaw. Sitting at her residence, Manekshaw is taking it easy. ”Many elite clubs like the Gymkhana have approached me to act as food consultant, but I can’t do it anymore,” she says, taking us around the house adorned with colourful embroidery. ”Parsis are very fond of embroidery,” she explains, ”but the community is dying as are our customs. The cuisine, however, will stay even after we are gone.”
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