Spreading the word about Parsi food

Spreading the word about Parsi food

Dying legacy

When she entered the SodaBottleOpenerWala (SodaBottle) kitchen for the first time, other chefs looked at her thinking that she was just a girl who was there to be around tables and talk to the guests. But little did everyone know that the (then) 23-year-old Anahita Dhondy was going to be their chef manager from then on.

“They didn’t think I’d cook with them. It was tough to get them to listen to
me. So I started prepping and cutting, working hand in hand with them, long hours and late nights to get them to respect me. And to hear them say ‘chef’, was an achievement...” she shares her experiences of the very first day at SodaBottle.

Today, the restaurant — which is a tribute to the dying legacy of the Bombay Irani Cafes — is headed towards opening its fourth outlet in Noida. It serves typical Parsi cuisine, some Irani specialties and Mumbai street food.

From the “best tiffin in school” to the something the entire city is enjoying, Dhondy tells Metrolife how Parsi food happened to her.

“My mother has been catering Parsi food from home for the past 25 years, much before anyone used to sell it in Delhi. I have been exposed  to the most different kinds of cuisines cooked at home, in India and abroad. By the time I was 10, I started helping my mum ice cakes, cook along with her,” she says.

And surprisingly, pastry kitchen was something that she was more attracted to. “As all women in the industry have a natural inclination towards pastry because it’s prettier and a nicer kitchen to work in,” she says.

Narrating her story when she realised that she didn’t want to be “restricted” to pastry kitchen, she adds, “I also went in the same direction, until the time this chef at Taj (where I was interning) came and told me ‘You’ll only be a pastry chef and not an executive chef if you stay in the pastry kitchen.’ That’s when I decided to get into the messy, high pressure hot kitchen to explore flavours and cuisines.”

Hailing from family of
Delhi-based Parsis, rare but as typical as a ‘Bombay Parsi’, Dhondy mentions about the drastic drop in the number of Parsi restaurants and Irani cafes in Mumbai. Also in Delhi, apart from SodaBottle, there are not many restaurants serving Parsi cuisine.

“From 350 restaurants (in Bombay) we have come down to only 25 and the reasons for this our many,” says Dhondy.

“Parsi food was always associated with eating at someone’s place. If you had a close Parsi family you would know about the food and the authenticity, but many people in
Delhi didn’t know who Parsis were. Now that there’s some awareness created, people know about the cuisine,” she adds.

According to her, Parsi food is an amalgamation of different regional foods. At SodaBottle, she has picked up dishes from Gujarati, Maharashtrian, Goan, Portuguese and British cuisines.

She says that Berry Pulav is one of the most popular dishes at the restaurant. “The origins of this dish are from Iran, where meat and rice is eaten in abundance. It’s a fragrant rice dish topped with fried onions, cashew nuts and Zereshk Iranian berries. We’ve also made the same dish with a couple of interpretations of our own.”

One of the dishes that bring Parsi food closer to Indian food is Dhansak, says Dhondy. “It’s a whole hearty meal including vegetables, dal, rice and meat, all at once,” she
explains.

Now, all she wants is to get people into trying Parsi cuisine. “I want to fill this gap between Parsi food and Indian food, and this would be possible only if are willing to try and experiment. Almost anyone who’s ever tried it has been a fan, so I want to spread the word about the greatness of this cuisine to the world.”

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