A Beginner’s Guide To Parsi Cuisine
Image Credit: Vritti Bansal

The Qissa-e Sanjan, a book written by a Parsi priest Bahman Kaikobad in 1599 CE, says that the Parsis migrated to India from Iran to be able to pursue religious freedom. A local Hindu prince allowed them to settle in the country, but on three conditions: that they speak the local language, follow local marriage customs, and not carry any weapons.

The Parsis settled mainly along the coast of Gujarat, in Mumbai and also in Pune and Hyderabad. Some Parsi families can even be found in Kolkata and Chennai. From Iran, the Parsis brought their heritage in the form of their cuisine, which was influenced by Turkish, Kurdish and Azerbaijani food. Persian food usually combines rice with meat like lamb, chicken, or fish. Nuts are added to vegetarian dishes. Saffron and cinnamon are used to give food a distinct aroma and flavour.

Within India, Parsi cuisine has evolved from Persian cuisine by adopting local ingredients and spices. It is mainly found in Mumbai and is less popular in other areas. The Irani cafés of Mumbai serve Parsi specialties like berry pulao, salli boti and keema pao. 

Parsis love their eggs. Be it ‘bhinda par eedu’ (okra topped with egg) or ‘akoori’ (traditional Parsi scrambled eggs) served with buttery bread, eggs form a major part of many Parsi preparations. Spicy, sour and sweet (which the Parsis call khattu-meethu) are dominant flavours. 

‘Salli’ or potato sticks are used to top dishes like prawn, mutton and chicken curries. Dhansak, a popular Parsi dal, is served with browned rice and meatballs or kebabs. It is a dish that Parsis love to enjoy on lazy Sunday afternoons, accompanied by a glass of cold beer. Fish is also an important part of Parsi cuisine. Coated with a spice mix and steamed in a banana leaf, it becomes the much loved patra-ni-machi. When it comes to dessert, Parsis have taken inspiration from the British caramel custard to create ‘lagan nu custard’ (eaten mostly during weddings). 

The iconic Irani cafes serving these dishes have begun to close down, but other restaurants passionate about preserving Parsi culinary heritage have cropped up. Delhi’s Rustom’s and Mumbai’s SodaBottleOpenerWala have made great strides in bringing Parsi food to customers who otherwise knew nothing about this rich cuisine. However, the best Parsi meals are still found at traditional Parsi homes or at Zoroastrian celebrations like a Parsi wedding or a child’s Navjote.