Making a case for topli na paneer, a little-known but much-loved Parsi dish
Every Sunday, when I was a little girl, my family and I would trudge to Slater Road to my aunt’s house for lunch. Unfailingly at noon, as the sun blanketed the streets, we would hear the cry of the paneerwallo saying, “Surti paneer! Surti paneer!” Those plump, wobbly globes of paneer, soaked in salty whey, were an integral part of my childhood.
By Meher Mirza
Bhicoo J. Manekshaw, in her seminal book, Parsi Food and Customs, traces the origin of the paneer to Surat; after all, many Parsi snacks are a jumble of Gujarati, Maharashtrian and European dishes.
“One of India’s disappearing treasures,” writes chef and cookbook writer, Niloufer Ichaporia King in Eat, Live, Pray: A celebration of Zarathushti culture and cuisine; it was traditionally “made by dripping milk coagulated with rennet derived from dried chicken gizzard through individual flower pot-shaped baskets.”
Nowadays, vegetarian rennet is also used, but “the slightly tart flavour is lost,” laments Tardeo resident, Diana Mistry. Still, “it is a small price to pay for the nostalgic tastes from my childhood,” says Noshir Mistry who grew up in Dadar Parsi Colony. “The old paneerwallo used to give us salty and unsalted paneer that he would fish out of his earthen matka. It was truly unforgettable,” adds Noshir.
Both my aunt and the paneerwallo are now long deceased, but luckily the tradition of the topli (basket) na paneer still continues. Kitchen doyennes like Aban Pardiwalla of Peddar Road and DPC’s Dinaz Wadia are known for preparing this creamy Parsi paneer; it has even been spotted at Palladium’s Foodhall.