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Parsi restaurants now offer a vast vegetarian menu. But how authentic are these dishes?



Dhansak, Zardaloo Salli Chicken, Patrani Macchi, Salli Boti, Prawn Patia – the list of Parsi culinary delights is long and delicious. But try spotting a vegetarian delicacy and you might come up empty-handed. That Parsis lean more favourably towards meat and fish than vegetables, is common knowledge. In fact, if you take a look at Jeroo Mehta’s bestselling cookbook, 101 Parsi Recipes which has been reprinted since 1973, of 101 recipes there are just 15 vegetarian recipes. Anyone who’s had the joy of eating at a Parsi home knows that the only concession that Parsis usually make to vegetarian food is promptly topped by egg – resulting in spinach per eede, tomato par eedu. For the Parsis, vegetables have to be accompanied at all times by at least an egg, if not some form of fish or meat. Until the last few years that is when Parsi restaurants started popping up in Delhi and Mumbai.

Suddenly, you have an entire page of vegetarian delights – which do include the egg dishes too.Yet, while we are glad that vegetarians can now enjoy Parsi flavours, you have to wonder – are these authentic Parsi delicacies? Or are they concessions and creations being made for the potential vegetarian diner? We spoke to some Parsi chefs and restaurateurs to find out.

Speaking to IE.com, Kainaz Contractor of Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu fame cleared the confusion for us. “Parsi cuisine gets its non-vegetarian roots from Iran and its vegetarian origin from Gujarat. Parsi cuisine has a lot of vegetarian dishes to offer but it is mostly kept hidden in the kitchens of our homes. People never thought they were worth serving. Dishes like Lagan Sara Istew, Nariyal Na Doodma Cauliflower and Rawaiyyan have always been crowd-pleasers. But we never focused much on the vegetarian section of the menu as we are doing now.”

On digging a little deeper, we found out that the new focus on vegetarian fare has indeed been due to the growing demands of customers who are conscious of their meat intake and want more vegetarian options on the menu. There has been a rush of requests from vegetarians as well, who want to be enjoy Parsi cuisine. While it sounds fair, this brings us to another question – will a demands from clientele end up in restaurants replacing those golden, flaky, crunchy pattice filled with melt-in-your-mouth chicken or mutton with paneer?

Contractor admits that “there has been an increase in the number of vegetarian dishes we are doing. But we are only trying to include everyone. By no means do I want to compromise on the authenticity of my eatery. Because of growing demands from customers for more vegetarian options, I went back and did my homework – I referred to a few recipe books, spoke to my mom, my aunts, my grandmother and found out we have many unexplored vegetarian dishes. For example, I feel like the Patra Ma Paneer is a nice alternative to Patra Ni Machhi. We also have something called Topli Nu Paneer which is a moist, soft and silky cottage cheese made in small cane baskets but there’s no one who makes it in Delhi”, she added.

Anahita Dhondy, who started Soda Bottle Opener Wala, also believes that Parsis have always had a repertoire of vegetarian recipes to dish out but these have remained confined to Parsi home cooking till now. On asking how customers react to the change, she said that she has “not met with a negative response”.

Never take a cuisine for granted. After all, who knew thar the largely carnivorous Parsis had a whole world of vegetarian recipes up their leg-of-mutton sleeves. While it’s good news that vegetarians can now accompany non-vegetarian friends and family to Parsi joints, we still don’t know whether a paneer pattice will ever level up to a mutton pattice. Here’s hoping the quintessential Parsi doctrine of “khavanu, pivanu, mazza ni life” (eat, drink, enjoy life) keeps the authenticity in the khavanu alive.

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