Takeaway

Bhonu apetit

Shabnam Minwalla | Updated on January 15, 2018 Published on November 18, 2016

Made for each other: Patra ni Machi — fish in a green chutney and steamed in banana leaves — is a crowd pleaser at Parsi weddings   -  shutterstock

Shabnam Minwalla   -  BUSINESS LINE

Parsi weddings make no bones about the fact that the evening belongs to the food

Winter’s clearly at the door. Dusk has started creeping in early. The air has the slightest nip. And those much-awaited cards — heavy, cream cardboard, inscribed with elegant, gold cursive — have started plopping into the mailbox.

The wedding season is upon us.

More importantly — as far as unabashed foodies in Mumbai are concerned — the Parsi wedding season is upon us. For while all shaadis come with their share of pink mocktails and pista rolls, shahi pulaos and sherbets, an invitation to a Parsi wedding is greeted with extra glee. For this is one occasion on which nobody — neither the bride’s doting papa nor the groom’s best buddy — pretends that the party is about blessings, togetherness and other such Hallmark sentiments.

Everyone knows it’s about the food.

So, however elaborate the flowers and dazzling the diamonds, the focus is the feast (in anticipation of which, many have skipped lunch and even breakfast). After all, it’s not often that one is confronted with a banana leaf heaped high with plump pomfret smothered in green chutney, soft chicken cooked in a rich tomato gravy and topped with crunchy potato salli, a wobbly slice of lagan nu custard and a rich mutton pulao. Not to forget the unique pickle, the little chapatis, the crisp white wafers and the unpredictable extras.

Most ‘Rustom weds Aban’ affairs begin like other polite occasions. Guests rustle into the baug in silks and chiffons, exuding White Linen and bonhomie. They hand over gifts to the parents of the bride and groom and utter perfunctory compliments.

They queue up to wish Rustom and Aban and pose for beaming photographs.

Then, duty done, they get down to the meat of the matter.

“Hey, Homi boss. Long time no see. Who’s the caterer? Godiwala? Good, good…”

Kem che, Dolly? Starters any good? What are you eating? Sev puri? Why are they serving vegetarian? Somebody’s sick, or what?”

“Waiter — Hi, Behram — Waiter, where are the kababs and chicken lollipops?”

Till recently, Parsi weddings didn’t bother with distractions like starters. Guests grabbed a drink from the bar or sipped on little glasses of Gold Spot or Pepsi, munched on salty, yellow wafers and looked longingly at the narrow tables being draped in white tablecloths.

Even today, the starters are mere frills. The real business of the evening begins with the announcement “ Jumva chaloji” (Come to eat). And the minute those potent words are uttered, there’s a stir amidst the chiffon-and-chantilly crowd. Conversations stop mid-syllable, chairs are pushed aside and crowds of guests — from hunched grannies to languid teenagers — stampede towards the eating area in order to find a seat.

After some cheerful jostle and grab, everyone settles down, scrubs their banana leaf with a napkin and breathes a happy sigh of anticipation. After some soul-searching, they choose from an array of bright cold drinks — my standard is a fizzy pink mix of Roger’s Raspberry and Duke’s Lemonade.

Meanwhile, other waiters are ladling out generous spoonfuls of Lagan-nu-achar — a delicious wedding pickle made from dried fruit, carrots and spices that goes marvellously with small, warm chapatis. Then come handfuls of saria — long, white wafers made of sago — and, occasionally, mounds of fresh, white paneer bobbing in whey.

By this point, everybody’s craning necks to identify the fish dish of the day. Patra ni Machi — fish in a green chutney and steamed in banana leaves — is a crowd pleaser. But I also adore Saas ni Machhi — fat pomfret in a sweet-and-sour sauce. (Though there are, of course, the grumpy souls who glower at the waiters and command, “Get me a piece of fried fish. Make sure it’s a tail piece. Quickly.”)

The next course arrives moments later. Either frilly, deep-fried chicken or sweet-and-spicy Sali Margi. Often, the chicken is followed with an egg or mutton dish. After which comes the grand finale — mutton pulao studded with little kebabs and served with a hearty daal. This is my favourite part of the meal but, sad to say, I’m usually too stuffed to manage more than a morsel.

The dessert is usually ice-cream or kulfi from Parsi Dairy. By which time, people eager to make the next sitting have already started peering over your shoulder, making it clear that it’s their turn now.

Till recently, it was essential to get invited to a Parsi wedding for one simple reason — it was tough to find the traditional bhonu elsewhere. Now, of course, things have changed. Restaurants like Sodabottleopenerwala and Jimmy Boy specialise in Parsi fare — while Dhansaak and Sali Mutton feature on the menus of many pan-Indian restaurants.

Still, there’s nothing as enjoyable as sitting at those long, narrow tables, while waiters rush past bearing thalis piled with redolent chicken, and little girls in stiff, pink dresses do the Birdie Dance. Which is why I’m thrilled that the first invite of the season has arrived.

Fingers crossed, a couple more will follow.

Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and the author of The Strange Haunting of Model High School and The Shy Supergirl



Lagan nu achar

Here’s a rare vegetarian Parsi recipe.

Ingredients:

Dried dates — 100 g, finely chopped

Raisins — 3 cups

Dried apricots — 300 g

Sugar — 2 kg

Carrots — 2 kg, grated

Jaggery — 250 g

Vinegar — 3¾ cups

Ginger — 20 g, finely sliced

Garlic — 50 g, finely sliced

Salt to taste

Dry red chillies — 15

Garam masala — 2 tsp

Method:

1 Soak dates, raisins, and apricots overnight in 1 cup sugar and about 1 cup vinegar.

2 In a heavy-bottomed pan, cook carrots, the remaining sugar, jaggery and remaining vinegar over low heat.

3 When soft, add ginger, garlic and salt and cook till mixture becomes sticky.

4 Add the dates, raisins and apricot mixture.

5 Bring to boil and add dry red chillies and garam masala.

6 Cool and store in airtight jars.



Published on November 18, 2016
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