Parsi Culture and Cuisine at the Sofitel Mumbai: A Review

It is not very often I am happily surprised by a personal experience. As a native Mumbaikar, I’d think I’ve seen quite a bit. But I got mine late last week in the most (again) surprising of places. The much loved and seeping-with-old-world-charm Ripon Club along with Sofitel Hotel at Bandra Kurla Complex are hosting the “Parsi Culture to Cuisine Trail” a Parsi Food Festival from 7th to 18th August 2015. And this very vocal ladyfinger (bhida/bhindi) hater is grudgingly admitting here that her favourite dish from that very extensive spread of yummy parsi dishes was Bhida ma Marghi, a wonderful soupy creation of ladyfingers and succulent chicken. I’m still in shock because I’m still thinking of that dish. Such is the quality of the food at the festival that a regular true blue parsi cant stop raving about it even a few days later.

Ripon Club – a bastion of the old Parsi ways, the ones we have heard only from elders and seen in pictures is also the keeper of our culinary heritage. It is a place where time stands still; a quaint little club comprising 2 floors in the beautiful N. M. Wadia Building at Fort and it has a rich history. The Ripon Club was founded in 1884, by stalwarts such as Sir Phirozeshah Mervanji Mehta, Jamshedji Tata and Sir Dinshaw Manackjee Petit. It’s the ideal place for parsis from all professions to meet over lunch. The bonhomie at the Club every afternoon is rivalled only by the bonhomie on Wednesdays, when they traditionally serve dhansak. The traditional Wednesday dhansak is so famous that seeing non-zoroastrians, including foreigners is not out of the ordinary. There’s laughter and loud talking and clinking of raspberry filled glasses, interrupted by the gentle snores of the odd old gentleman who’s busy with his daily snooze on one of the antique easy chairs across the hall. If you’ve never visited Ripon Club, you’ve surely missed out on a beautiful experience. The food is of course the centre of any such place and Tehmton and Shernaz Dumasia of K Caterers make sure the members and guests keep coming back. But being an exclusive Zoroastrian club, the patronage is considerably limited to members and their guests.

To bring focus to the Club, our outstanding cuisine and culture, the Management of the Club decided to give Mumbai an opportunity to sample what our culture has to offer. The swanky Sofitel at BKC, could not have been a better setting. The Pondicherry Café played host, on behalf of Ripon Club and brought the festival to life. The hotel has to be mentioned for its warm and welcoming service and their incredible ambassadors; I’ve never been cared for so thoughtfully at a restaurant. And their attention to detail and creating a full rounded parsi experience was note-worthy. I’d also like to thank Sofitel for the generous invitation extended to Parsi Khabar to experience the festival. We are truly honoured.

Upon receiving the invite, I cleared my evening and off I went. The first dose of parsipanu came from the ‘Oh Khodaiji, so beautiful’ vintage car displayed outside the lobby. I was excited even before I stepped into the lobby. The entrance to the restaurant was gaily garlanded along with lovely painted caricatures of parsi life and phrases as also photos of community achievers on various walls of the restaurant. The added impact to the festival is a set of very informative and unique pop exhibition installations and an tiny but amazing book nook of collectible Parsi books. Seeing the tomb of Cyrus the Great made me wish I were in Iran seeing the real thing. My favourite installation is a set of stained glass panels that depict symbols associated with each roj of our month. Accompanying the panels were detailed descriptions of each roj with the corresponding symbol as a guide. I have never seen this one before and I loved it. From worshipping the fire to the rising sun, the Archaemenian Dynasty to Naqsh E Rustom, the hotel encapsulates the right energy as soon as one walks in. Then came the clothes. How is anything parsi complete without the garas and the daglis. My face lit up when I saw that all the restaurant ambassadors were dressed in daglis or garas; as were some of the guests. From afar, the place looked exactly like a navjote or lagan gathering. To add to that there were some beautiful garas and embroidered womens garments on display too. I fell in love with them and I think I know what my next big purchase will be.

Of course we didn’t waste any more time and attacked the food. The menu at the festival is fantastic. Its well thought through and brings forth dishes which a non-parsi will otherwise never eat outside a parsi home, or Ripon Club. There is an authenticity to the selection that left me awe-struck. There is stew, papeta per edu and titori and my yummy bhida and kolmi na kavab (I lost count of how many I ate). Of course there are the big draw dishes too amongst the spread. The patra ni macchi is fantastic and should be followed by the pulao dal. And washed down with a chilled Rogers ice cream soda. Not to be outshone, the sev and the lagan nu custard hold their own against all the savoury dishes. I cannot begin to tell you what a great job Tehmton and Shernaz are doing to bring this feast for us. My dinner guest, Benifer Dalal, an accomplished cook herself made the distinction when she pointed out that this food is so good because it is cooked by a Parsi in the business of it rather than a generic chef of the hotel. A big thank you to Sofitel for opening its kitchens to Tehmton and Shernaz.

Xerxes V. Dastur, Chairman and Hon. Treasurer of The Ripon Club was a charming host and his dedication to the Club and his passion in hosting this festival was clear to see. The force behind this endeavour, he wants to see more youngsters indulging in their traditions and carrying our rich legacy forward whilst enjoying themselves, hopefully at The Ripon Club. I’d say that step one to achieving these goals is a success. I’m sure we’ll see bigger and better things in days to come.

So all in all, I know that Parsi New Year is coming up. Go to Sofitel. It will be a new year you’ll remember for a long time. There are also a lot of non-zoroastrian parsi food lovers out there. Don’t wait for a wedding invite to a godiwalla catered wedding in the winter. Go experience parsi food now. This is the place to go to. I guarantee you wont come back disappointed. But if for any reason (better be a good one) you cant go there, call on us. Parsi Khabar will take you to experience the magic of The Ripon Club and you’ll know that our money is where our mouth is.