Like Sugar In Milk: How Parsis Arrived In India
Image Credit: Berry pulao is a famous Parsi dish | Instagram - @spanner2spatula

The Parsi community is an endearing minority of Zoroastrians from Iran who have made their home in India for almost a millennium. Not only have they assimilated into Indian society while retaining their unique traditions, but they have also introduced several staple dishes that are now popular across the country. In this article, you’ll learn about the history of Parsis in India and their culture. You’ll get to know more about these Zoroastrians who call India home, as well as their unique customs and cuisine. Read on to find out more!

Parsis, who are descended from Zoroastrians in Persia, fled to India during the Arab conquest of Iran. The Parsi epic Qissa-i Sanjan, written in the 1600s, recounts how Zoroastrians from Greater Iran kept moving to the Indian subcontinent between the eighth and tenth centuries. Thanks to the welcome and promise of protection from a local Hindu king, they eventually settled in what is now the state of Gujarat.

The local ruler, Jadi Rana, reportedly granted the immigrants permission to stay provided that they learned the local language (Gujarati) and that the women dressed like the natives, who wore the sari. Sanjan, presumed to be named after the city of origin, was founded by the refugees after they agreed to the terms. Within five years of the initial group, a second group, also from Greater Khorasan, arrived, this time bringing religious artefacts (the alat) with them.

A Fascinating Story

How Jadi Rana and the newly arrived immigrants first met is the subject of an intriguing, albeit possibly fictitious Parsi legend that went like this: When the Zoroastrians sought refuge, King Jadi Rana waved a full milk jug to show that his kingdom was full. Zoroastrian priests responded by adding a little sugar to the milk, a symbol that they wouldn't fill the jar to the brim but would still improve people's lives. Jadi Rana, impressed, then provided a safe haven for the refugees and encouraged them to maintain their cultural practises.

This exodus is known as the Parsi migration to India. Since then, Parsis have been an important part of Indian society and comprise a community of approximately 105,000 people. Minorities can also be found in Karachi (Pakistan) and Chennai, although the majority of their population is concentrated in and around Mumbai and a few towns and villages primarily to the south of Mumbai.

Particularly notable Parsis in the fields of science and industry include physicist Homi J. Bhabha, nuclear scientist Homi N. Sethna, industrialists J. R. D. Tata and Jamshedji Tata, regarded as the "Father of Indian Industry," and construction tycoon Pallonji Mistry.  A few other notable and well-known names include cricketer Farokh Engineer, rock musician Freddie Mercury, and conductor Zubin Mehta.

Parsi Cuisine

Over the years, they perfected their own cuisine, which combined the best of Maharashtrian, Gujarati, and British flavors to enrich India's already rich culinary heritage. The subtle but distinct flavor, the potent use of common spices blended into the dishes, and their extravagant feasts are all hallmarks of Parsi cuisine.

Parsi meals are khattu-mithu | Instagram - @_wandering.soulmates_

The Parsi diet is known for being "Khattu Mithu," meaning it has the ideal balance of sweet and sour flavors, and it makes extensive use of spices, both whole and ground. The Irani Cafes of Mumbai and the rest of India serve traditional Parsi fare, including Irani Chai, Bun Maska, Lagan Nu Custard, Mava Cakes, Ginger Biscuits, Omelets, Akuri, Chicken Dhansak, Puffs, Berry Pulao, Custards, and Puddings. Many of their recipes feature unique flavors thanks to the use of dry fruits, cumin, berries, and rose water.

In the Parsi dish Sali Boti, tender pieces of mutton are braised in a sauce made from tomatoes, onions, jaggery, and vinegar. It tastes best when served hot with fried potato snacks and has a strong aroma of spices like turmeric and ginger.

Mutton cutlets are another huge hit and are made by combining ground lamb with mashed potatoes, grated ginger, ground turmeric, and other aromatic spices and served with chutney.

Dhansak Masala: Dhansak is one of the most well-known traditional Parsi dishes. Chicken, meat, and other main ingredients benefit from this fragrant blend of spices and elements from Persian and Gujarati cooking.

The Parsi community is an exceptional minority of people who have assimilated into Indian society and culture while still retaining their unique traditions. If you ever have the opportunity to visit a Parsi household or wedding, do try their delicious food and be pleasantly surprised!