For any reason or season, this simple but flavourful dish is in high demand at every Parsi table.
Growing up in London, the only tangible link I had to my Parsi heritage was through the food I ate. My mother would cook dishes from memory, drawing on her own childhood with occasional prompts from an old and slightly bedraggled copy of 101 Parsi Recipes by Jeroo Mehta. It’s not that Indian cuisine as a whole is a mystery in England – as their very culturally creative concept of a National Dish goes to show – but Parsi food is still hidden away within the small pockets of the community scattered across the country. It was only after relocating to Mumbai that I truly understood the vast scope that Parsi food had beyond the kitchens of friends and family. Learning how its Persian roots worked in flawless collaboration with Gujarati additions and then sprinkling in with some off-the-rails Bombay flair, opened up a whole new world. But despite having old institutions to explore, new restaurants to haunt and endless recipes to experiment with, there was one dish that had an unshakeable vice on my heart, soul and stomach. And that was the somewhat humble but eternally exquisite Dhan Dar Patio.
Made up of 3 parts – Dhan (rice), Dar (yellow arhar or toor dal) and Patio (prawns or fish in a sweet-sour tomato sauce) – it is a consummate dish for all occasions but is seen most often during celebrations. It somehow manages to be light on the stomach while bursting with rich flavours, probably why it’s the lifeblood of most Parsis when struck down by illness. The sweet but acidic Patio perfectly balances the uneventful but wholesome Dhan Dar like an unlikely but comfortably happy marriage.
Most families have their own twists and tricks to make the dish their own. Some prefer jeera rice over the standard white basmati. Others sweeten their Patio with jaggery instead of sugar or add a specific type of vinegar to their mix. An oft-debated issue is the nature of the dal itself. Opinions vary on whether it needs to be arhar or toor dal or whether should you just split the difference and add both. Some are judged for blending their dal to a smooth consistency or relying on ghee and butter to make it creamier while others believe that chunkier is better. I for one don’t feel like the dish is complete without a topping of crispy fried garlic slices for some extra texture. Everyone’s sure to have very specific opinions on their Dhan Dar Patio, and when serving it to other people you’ll probably get a passive-aggressive comment or two if you miss their mark.
Whatever variations you add to your dish, the three elements only truly need each other. They can be served up alongside fried fish, Parsi kebabs or maybe some kachoober if you’re feeling rebellious though. It’s doled out on birthdays, weddings, navjotes and of course, no Navroz is complete without it, but it could also show up on a completely unremarkable Tuesday to the same enthusiastic welcome. Such is the magic of Dhan dar Patio.
Patio (Fish or prawns in tomato sauce)