This Parsi cook’s secret lies in her grandma’s recipes

Enter Aban Pardiwalla’s home on Pedder Road, and Kylie and Kinky scramble forth to greet you. After the ceremonial sniffs, the Lhasa Apsos ease out, allowing us to concentrate on the talk. “I am a bit nervous,” admits Pardiwalla as we settle down for a chat. Dishing out traditional Parsi specialties from her kitchen to select customers for the last 10 years, the 55-year-old is not used to interviewers.

By Humaira Ansari / DNA

“It’s like suddenly I am famous at 50,” she says anxiously.

Aban’s introduction to cooking came early on — when she was an eager child of 10. She would assist her mother — a pro at Parsi cooking — in the kitchen to finish small orders for friends and family in time. The clientele grew through word of mouth. In the 70’s, Pardiwalla would accompany her mother to cooking demonstrations conducted by foreigners in the city.

Yet it was hard for Pardiwalla to slip into the role of a chef from that of a helper after her mother’s death.

“That was 10 years ago. I was very depressed. Many memories of my mother are associated with that kitchen,” she says pointing to the space where she spends most afternoons creating elaborate dishes. It was Pardiwalla’s husband who coaxed her to don the chef’s hat.

Today her menu lists elaborate dishes — it is a veritable assortment of Parsi and non-Parsi dishes and deserts. Pardiwalla’s topli paneer, soft cheese cutlets preserved in salt water and served in miniature baskets are quite famous, and can be found on the shelves of select city stores.

The tempting patra ni machhi — fish done up in green masala; gharab nu achar — a seasonal pickle made out of a certain bheeng fish sourced from Bharuch, Gujarat; prawn pickle; and the succulent pork chops made in orange sauce or wine are among the fastest-selling items. “Parsi food has a lot of onion, garlic and masalas,” says Aban. She relies on spices from Conoor for certain dishes like the biryani.

“It’s not a catering service that I run. My vessels cannot hold food for more than 45 people. I love to cook and I treat every order as if my own family were to eat it,” she says adding that her husband Bomi, a surgeon and a self confessed foodie is her best critic and invariably the “guinea pig,” each time she gets a little experimental in the kitchen.

Pardiwalla’s has a substantial clientele, one being theatre personality and grooming expert, Sabira Merchant, who often orders food for family dinners. “I cook a lot myself and though I have a taste for Parsi food, I can’t cook it. Aban just fills in the gap for me and my family,” says Merchant, whose favourite is the sasma machhi. Zarina Screwvala, wife of UTV head, Ronnie Screwvala, is all praise for Pardiwalla’s palau dal.

Besides food, Pardiwalla also makes assorted chocolates. Her readymade masalas — vindaloo, dhansak, green fish fry and ready to use curry packs that can be cooked in a jiffy in plain or coconut water, are a hit with the travelling lot.

Ask Pardiwalla her kitchen mantra and she instantly offers, “My mother always told me never take a shortcut. Don’t use a pressure cooker when you can saute; the food on low flame in a vessel.” She does not even fall back on a cookbook; instead she banks on her grandmother’s recipes, and that too word by word.

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