Parsi indulgence on a plate

Perzen Patel, who is in the city to give us a sample of Parsi wedding food, talks to SUSANNA MYRTLE LAZARUS about how her blog grew into a catering business

Chicken farcha, dhansak, patra ni machhi, lagan nu custard… dishes we’ve probably heard of, and dreamt of eating. But what do you do when you have no Parsi friends to invite you to their homes and weddings, where you can sample these delicious-sounding treats? Chef Perzen Patel is your best bet. The founder of Bawi Bride Kitchen, a Mumbai-based Parsi catering and food delivery service, believes in sharing the best her cuisine has to offer.

29mp_bawi_JPG_2832029gIn Chennai to host a pop-up at Ashvita Bistro, Alwarpet, she says that the whole thing started from her blog of the same name. She was in the hospitality industry and lived in New Zealand for nine years, and moved back to India to get married, and soon after, started the blog in 2013. “It was an attempt to chronicle my amusing attempts at learning to cook Parsi food. And as I started documenting recipes, my readers started asking where they could find this food, as it’s not very accessible. So, I originally started this as a weekend catering service,” says Perzen.

Last January, she took up Bawi Bride full time. While there are several Parsi caterers, and food festivals featuring the cuisine are always popular, there is a dearth of restaurants where one can get a regular fix of delicacies like dar ni pori (sweetened lentils stuffed in pastry).

“In recent times, there has been a lot of interest around Parsi food, but it still continues to be available in only a few places in certain cities.

Only some dishes are known of, but obviously, there is a lot more to the cuisine than dhansak.” Her recipes are from all over: her family, friends, their families, old recipe books…

“One of the favourites is a cheese-and-egg cutlet recipe that a friend of mine shared. Her grandmother used to make it for her during the summer holidays. I don’t want to keep serving the same dishes repeatedly,” she says.

“I have done pop-ups regularly in Mumbai, and an 11-day food festival with JW Marriott; this, in Chennai, is my first one outside the city. But I’m looking forward to doing more, and in cities that don’t have a huge Parsi presence,” says Perzen. In an effort to be authentic, she has brought with her nearly 30 kg of ingredients.

29MP_CHEF_PERZEN_P_2832026g“A hallmark of Parsi food is that it is khatta-meeta (sweet and sour). For that, we use a very special kind of vinegar that comes from Navsari in Gujarat. Then there are the traditional masalas for dhansak and sambhar.”

As for vegetarians, while there isn’t much available, she makes do by keeping the base flavours authentic and swapping the protein for vegetables or paneer. “Caterers usually get scared when they hear the word ‘vegetarian’, and more so if it is to be eggless. That’s a double whammy! However, I try to keep the essential flavours the same. So, we have a wedding-style stew with root vegetables and a lot of cashews, dates and raisins; it’s called lagan sara istoo. We also make kaju paneer, adapted from kaju chicken, and vegetable pulao.”

At some point, Perzen wants to open a restaurant serving Parsi food. Yet, she still keeps her blog active. Parsi food is spoken about with reverence, but she intends to make it accessible, and let people know that they too can cook it. “Not many caterers will share their recipes,” she laughs.

“But it’s not like they are a big secret. I shared the recipe for curry rice — that’s on our menu — and someone from the U.S. tried it and wrote to me saying it reminded them of their grandmother. It’s a real feel-good factor when someone can relive memories through food.”