The Art of Parsi Cooking: How one woman is reviving an ancient cuisine

Top chef Niloufer Mavalvala’s quest to share Parsi cuisine to an international audience is one step closer with the launch of her first cookbook “The Art of Parsi Cooking : Reviving an ancient cuisine” this month.

What started off as a blog to share recipes with family and friends in 2013, “Niloufer’s Kitchen” soon garnered online traffic that reached 140k visitors in less than three years.

Article by Nabila Pathan | Al Arabiya

Tumtumta Jhinga/Spicy Prawns (Photo courtesy: Sheriar Hirjikaka)
Tumtumta Jhinga/Spicy Prawns (Photo courtesy: Sheriar Hirjikaka)

 

Blogging led to the creation of a Facebook page, then went on to Twitter, as Mavalvala explains “simply to keep up with the times.” She adds: “From there the publisher Austin Macauley retweeted me – and that’s how we got to the book I have today.”

Described as filling a gap in the world of cookbooks according to the publishers, the recipes in Niloufer’s cookbook capture unique flavours hailing from ancient Persia with adopted Indian spices originating from west coast Indian cuisine. A particular trait of Parsi cuisine require “a balance of flavor’s that are “khatu-mithoo”, literally translated as sweet-sour.”

Ahead of her book release this month, Niloufer spoke to Al Arabiya English to explain her passion for sharing her food.

“Food is such a happy platform to chat about, and it can give pleasure to all who cook well, eat well and enjoy sharing at their table.”

“It is rewarding when many share a picture, and thank me for something they either never realised how simple it was to prepare, or a successful party.”

“The Art of Parsi Cooking – reviving an ancient cuisine” is structured as a personal culinary life journey. The book is categorized as pehli, beeji and teeji vahni (first, second and third courses). Each recipe is personalized with a short anecdote, followed by tips and trivia that aim to keep the reader engaged.

“I have written the book reflecting how I teach. Each recipe has a picture accompanying it – because of course we eat with our eyes!”

Rava on a Sagun ni Thali/Semolina and Egg Pudding (Photo courtesy: Sheriar Hirjkaka)
Rava on a Sagun ni Thali/Semolina and Egg Pudding (Photo courtesy: Sheriar Hirjkaka)

 

Niloufer was born and raised in Karachi and now lives in Canada. Her enthusiasm for sharing Parsi cooking techniques, learnt from various family members, started when she conducted cookery classes in Canada, the UK and Dubai.

Most of the recipes included in her cookbook have been passed down for generations in her family.

“I am lucky to be a part of the ‘Masterchefs’ for at least the three generations that I am aware of.

Khatai/Parsi Sweet Cookies (Photo courtesy: Sheriar Hirjikaka)
Khatai/Parsi Sweet Cookies (Photo courtesy: Sheriar Hirjikaka)

 

“My mother is an extraordinary chef. My aunts are all great chefs too. To add to the equation, my mother-in-law is also an brilliant chef. I have shared everyone’s personal favorites, included my own, and tweaked the laboriously long winded process in some cases to bring ourselves into a 21st century kitchen without losing the authenticity.”

“I have also created a couple of fusion recipes to add to the fun of it all. It is there to share whole heartedly, with anyone and everyone who wants to enjoy a delicious meal with their family and friends.”

One of Niloufer’s personal favourites in her collection is Papayta ma gos, a lamb/mutton/goat stew with roasted potatoes. She explains “there are many versions of this, and I am sharing the best one possible from my mother in laws maternal family. It has been hard to beat for at least a century!”

Machi no Sas/Fish in a Tomato Gravy (Photo courtesy: Nafessa Jalal)
Machi no Sas/Fish in a Tomato Gravy (Photo courtesy: Nafessa Jalal)

 

Parsi cuisine is still relatively unknown to the culinary world but in recent years, with the Parsi diaspora spreading all over the world, a new-found appreciation of Parsi cuisine in the West has made its way onto the international map. Following in the footsteps of other well-respected Parsi-cuisine chefs such as Cyrus Todiwala in London, UK and Jehangir Mehta of NYC, Niloufer is helping to bring the mysterious flavours accessible to a wider audience for everyone to enjoy.

With an unstoppable passion, Niloufer is already planning her next installments in her cook book range:

“I would like to do a vegetarian version book of more Parsi Cooking. I want to add all those delicious sweets that many in the next generation have not even tasted nor heard off. It is after all about reviving an ancient cuisine.”

Niloufer Mavalvala at Books for Cooks (Photo courtesy: Twitter)
Niloufer Mavalvala at Books for Cooks (Photo courtesy: Twitter)

“If I can know in my heart that this ancient culture and tradition now lives on for the next 3 generations thanks to this book, I think I have achieved the best reward ever”

Hardback copies of “The Art of Parsi Cooking-reviving an ancient cuisine” can be purchased online through Amazon.