What is Parsi Food?
Parsi cuisine which has been a favourite of Mumbaikars for many years. Little known outside of Mumbai Parsi cuisine is now being showcased on the international foodie stage and it is a treat that many gourmets are coming to treasure and enjoy. These types of modified regional cuisines are becoming known as “micro-cuisines” because they are essentially hyper-local and not generally found outside of the area in which they have been created. In Malaysia, Penang Cuisine is considered a micro-cuisine and in India, Parsi is the micro-cuisine of the area of Mumbai.
Parsi Cuisine is the blending of two cultures – Iranian and Indian
Parsi cuisine is a hearty blending of Persian (Iranian) cuisine Gujarati flavours, Maharashtrian, and British influences. The Parsis fled from Persia to India in the 17th century to escape persecution, they were seeking religious freedom as Zoroastrians. They settled in Western India along the coast.
At the heart of Parsi cuisine is the “masala dabba”, a segmented box that contains the ground spices of turmeric, coriander, cumin and red chilli. Alongside these is the Parsi-style Garam Masala, which perfectly reflects this unique blend of cultures. The earthy warmth of green cardamom, cumin, and black pepper are perfectly balanced by the sweet heat of cinnamon, cloves, and star anise in the Masala. Parsi dishes reveal traces of their Persian past in its use of sweet dried fruit and nuts such as apricots and golden raisins, almonds, or Charoli seeds, and cashews.
Peri Avari is a Parsi Zoroastrian and a native of Mumbai in western India. The stunning flavours of the Parsi meals of her childhood set the stage for her love for good wholesome ‘real’ food. Peri follows her passion and promotes the versatility and adaptability of India’s varied cuisines on her blog Peri’s Spice Ladle, by creating simple recipes that appeal to a global palate.
According to Peri ‘non-negotiable’ ingredients to have on hand are Marchu-Lasan a chilli-garlic paste, cider or red wine vinegar (which helps cut the sweetness of many Indian dishes and Vanilla Essence for the traditional desserts and puddings.
The most notable part about the Parsi cuisine in India is that it has evolved and separated from Persian cuisine to carve a distinct niche for itself. Just like the Parsi community, the cuisine has adopted local ingredients and local spices to invent new dishes. Parsi cuisine also has Caucasian influences just like its parent, or Persian, cuisine. Modern-day Parsi cuisine was especially shaped during the British rule of India.
Parsi cuisine is famous in Mumbai and lesser-known elsewhere, and it has catered to the working-class population of Mumbai. The first ever memory of any Mumbaikar is often visiting an Irani café and dining outside from home.
Parsis love eggs, potatoes and meat. Almost all the vegetable dishes made from okra, tomatoes or potatoes will have eggs on top. Meat dishes will have potatoes in the form of ‘Salli’ (matchstick fried potatoes). Dishes like the khichdi and dhansak have lentils which are adopted from typically Indian preparations and given a meaty twist to make it their own. Fish dishes use local seafood like prawns and Pomfret, and the use of banana leaf in their preparation shows the skilful adoption of local ingredients and making it their own. The flavour of the dishes achieved with minimal usage of spices makes it akin to Caucasian cuisine.
Today, many households have gone ahead to adopt ‘chapatis’ to replace pao for health and convenience. These and other adaptations of the known ingredients into something unique is what sets Parsi cuisine apart from all other cuisines in India.
The desserts too, are made from vermicelli (sevaiyan) and semolina (rava) common to most Indian desserts but with a Middle Eastern twist and a unique flavour. The light goodness of caramel flan adopted to become ‘Lagan nu Custard’ with the addition of dried fruits is a typical example of the Caucasian influence on Parsi cuisine.
Inspired to explore Parsi Cuisine? I would love to hear your stories of micro-cuisines or your favourite dishes that you discovered while travelling.
Interested in reading more about world cuisines? Then check out these articles:
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