Tanaz Godiwalla is the undisputed high priestess of Parsi wedding catering. Families are known to call Godiwalla before they book a venue or finalise the guest list. We wouldn’t be surprised if a few of them inform Godiwalla of the date before they telephone close relatives. After all, her catering services are so much in demand that her appointments diary is already packed with commitments until December 2014.
Godiwalla Caterers have been the community favourites for over four decades now. “Both my parents were great cooks; we had this tradition of cook-offs in which my siblings and I got to decide who made the better meal,” said Godiwalla whose father Rohinton and mother Freny set up a small canteen in Colaba’s Cusrow Baug in 1965. Their business gradually grew to become a catering service dedicated to weddings and Navjotes (a thread ceremony during which a child is inducted into Zoroastrianism). Tanaz Godiwalla took charge of the business in 1991, at the age of 21. Today, she single-handedly manages a staff of 350 people, and between November and March every year, she caters as many as 150 weddings and Navjotes a month. Godiwalla takes the rest of the year off to travel and attend to her table grape farm in Nashik.
If you’ve attended a wedding catered by Godiwalla (and chances are that if you’ve been to a Parsi wedding in Mumbai, it’s her food that you have eaten), you will agree that her extended holiday is well deserved. The lagan nu bhonu is a sit-down affair, where guests eat their meals in three or four orderly batches or sittings. Each batch is allotted about 40 minutes before the next set of hungry attendees queues up for the ceremonial grub. For the service to be smooth, the proceedings in the kitchen have to be seamless. Godiwalla runs an exemplary one, typically a vast empty room in a baug (the traditional Parsi wedding venue) that she converts into a kitchen by designating areas for peeling, chopping, frying, slow cooking and assembly. Sets of workers are assigned different duties that include boiling and frying eggs, marinating chicken, boiling or steaming fish, rolling and cooking chapatis, and frying sariya (long, rectangular wafer strips). “It’s almost like a first, second and third dance that the team has mastered,” said Godiwalla. “They can pull it off blindfolded.”
Godiwalla’s confidence in her staff is matched by her confidence in her food. “If I like it, I know the rest of the crowd will too,” said Godiwalla. At any function that she caters, Godiwalla will be seen wielding a teaspoon to taste all the food before it’s served to the guests. At a Parsi wedding, there are rarely any surprises as far as the menu is concerned. Chicken, fish, and mutton pulao and daal make up the standard wedding fare and the courses too are fixed. The meal always starts with the lagan nu acchar, rotli, and sariya; it ends with either lagan nu custard or kulfi; and has to include raspberry and ginger flavoured sodas. “At the most, someone will pick saas ni macchi (pomfret cooked in a sweet and spicy gravy) over patra ni macchi (steamed pomfret smeared with a spicy green chutney and served in a banana leaf) or opt for chicken bharuchi (chicken cooked with green garlic) instead of salli chicken,” said Godiwalla. For clients who want more elaborate menus, Godiwalla serves sweet and sour lamb; salli boti; dhan daal patio (rice, lentils and fish cooked in a sweet and tangy coconut-based gravy with drumsticks); and sukha bombil. Dhansak however is left off all menus because the dish is usually served on the fourth day after a person’s death.
On a busy day with multiple weddings to cater, Godiwalla and her team cook about 2,000 pieces of pomfret, over 1,000 kilos of chicken, and about 500 kilos of lamb. All the dishes are cooked using firewood, which Godiwalla says enhances the flavour of the food. Remarkably, for wedding receptions that typically start at 7.30pm, the cooking only starts after 5pm. This is because Godiwalla is against the practice of serving reheated food, which is common at most weddings. Because she doesn’t have her own central kitchen, she takes orders for tiffins only on days that she is catering a wedding or a Navjote at a baug. “It’s not Parsi food if it’s not cooked in a baug,” said Godiwalla. No culinary task appears to be too daunting for Godiwalla who works a daily 10am to 1am shift during the wedding season. Surprisingly, she fumbled when we asked her for favourite Parsi recipe. “I have no idea what quantity is required to cook for one person or a small group of people,” said Godiwalla. “But if it’s for a party of 500, I’m the person you want.”
To contact Godiwalla, call her on 98201 33399.