Pasta on the patra

The Parsi lagan nu bhonu, the last of the purist community wedding feasts in the city,is also going the mishmash way

By Mahafreed Irani | TNN

When Sam and Freny Satha were preparing to send out the invitations for their son Marks wedding recently, they felt an unstoppable surge of nostalgia. Their own wedding had taken place at the same venue and on the same date exactly 30 years ago.But the similarities ended there.

While the senior Sathas had an opulent reception where every guest was treated to a sitdown patra service of 12 dishes, Mark had opted for a buffet-style reception.The hiatus with tradition saddened his parents,but its one thats getting more and more reinforced in the Parsi community of late. Like Mark, many Gen X Parsis are junking the elaborate patrani machchi-prawn patiasali margi-pulao dal-lagan nu custard line-up for a more varied cuisine.

The change is coming,interestingly,from the same caterers who specialise in Parsi cuisine,an increasing number of whom are adapting to changing palates by adding variety to traditional menus. Chef Farrokh Khambatta of Joss, an incorrigible advocate of food served on a banana leaf al fresco,admits that he came up with a few innovations to liven up the humdrum patra menu. At his son Hushaans navjote,the banana leaf was lined with fusion cuisine: Patra ni kolmi (chutney-stuffed prawns), dhan dal with lobster patiya (dal and rice with lobster in a spicy sauce), foie gras with Parsi chutney,khatti meethi Chilean Sea Bass and Bombay duck pickle. As a caterer I love preparing for the sit-down but there is a criminal waste of food as people are usually over-served, he says.

Godiwala Caterers, the stalwarts of lagan nu bhonu, who have been in the business for 40 years, are also keen on sustaining customers by giving them elaborate choices. Tanaz Godiwala, who has amplified her menu by offering up to six varieties of every dish, maintains that inflation has prompted her to have different versions of the patra to suit every pocket. Anahita Hakim, who plans parties, weddings and navjotes, concurs, saying that over 60 per cent of her clients are now opting for a buffet-style dinner. Clients want to offer their guests a wider array of starters, salads and desserts from different cuisines instead of the traditional one chicken, one mutton, one fish, one rice line-up of traditional sitdowns, she says.

For Godiwalas rival, Punjabi caterer Harmeet Singh of Mini Punjab whos served at the Malcolm and Albless Baugs, the changing face of the lagan nu bhonu is more about health choices. Calorie-conscious Parsis come to me because they prefer my barbecued prawns and fish over farchas (Parsi-style fried chicken), he says. And its also about variety as one of his discerning clients, Delnaz Zaveri,who wanted a more adventurous cuisine for her sons navjote reception, points out. I was bored of eating the same chicken, fish, mutton and pulao dal at every other party, she says. From November to February, theres a reception almost every week. How much of the same food can you eat?

Indeed, pasta and Peking Duck seem to be giving patra ni machchi some stiff competition. In the last two years, Ive eaten a lot of Japanese, Italian and Chinese at navjotes and Parsi weddings which were held at hotels where multi-cuisine is fashionable, says 33-year-old Jamsheed Gandhi. A buffet meal is a time saver as compared to a sit-down dinner where individual guests have to be served.

However, the charm of the sit-down dinner is something else, say votaries of the lagan nu bhonu. And this is directly linked to the sprawling baugs in Mumbaithe open grounds attached to an agiary, where most Parsi functions are held. Sit-down dinners for hundreds of people take place at these open grounds, like Charni Roads 143-year-old Albless Baug,a favourite venue for navjotes, weddings, jashans and gambhars. The baugs managing trustee, Roshan Lenten, concedes that the sacrosanct custom will become extinct should the baugs disappear. The baug and patra service are synonymous, she says. Adds writer-columnist Bachi Karkaria,who dismisses the concept of tandoori being served on a patra as a spurious surrogate : The baug and patra are an analogue to sali chicken.

Farzana Contractor,editor of food magazine UpperCrust, says she feels cheated when she attends a Parsi event that doesnt have a sit-down dinner al fresco. Pasta on the patra is a no-no, she says. Every community should stick to serving its own kind of food, she adds. When I go to a Muslim wedding, I want to eat biryani and at a Gujarati event,I look forward to a thali.

Pasta might be worming its way into the Parsi menus. But for die-hard aficionados of Parsi cuisine,Jamva chalo ji will always and only be an enticing call for a patra dinner.