Slurrp Exclusive – Chef Anahita On Parsi Flavours, Her Journey And Her Book
- Ayandrali Dutta
Updated : June 10, 2022 10:06 IST
Anahita feels food is more about stories than recipes, and the same reflects in her book too.
Think Parsi food and the very first name that pops up is none other than that of Chef Anahita Dhondy. The lady who gave Parsi cuisine it’s long lost identity has always been passionate about cooking from a very early age. Today with one book “Parsi Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family”? under her name, she is all set for her next adventures. She is an absolute example of the fact that chefs cannot sit idle at home.
You are known to have given Parsi food an identity that was missing for years. What do you have to say about this?
There’s a chapter in my book which talks about how I re-discovered my love for Indian food and most importantly love and respect as most chefs kind of miss out on that. While we are in culinary school, we don't give Indian food that much importance I don't know why happens, but glad that’s it's changing now. So when i got this opportunity to work with Mr AD Singh of opening a SodaBottleOpenerWala, it was like a dream come true.
When I was in London, I was absolutely sure that I want to come back to India and popularize my own cuisine and showcase my community food. I am really happy that we all have reached a point where we are talking about regional Indian food and home cooked food. There are lots of people who are front runner and doing the same but I am happy to be one of them and doing my part.
Is the book a lockdown baby?
This book is not really a lockdown baby, it was actually I signed way back in 2017 and it’s been five years, so not very much not in the lockdown. We thought about the book and I worked on couple of scripts from 2019 to 2020 and 2020 to 2021 is one we actually got around to complete most of the book. Lockdown started in the meantime and as chefs were away from the kitchens and I tried to use most of my time at home to complete the book. So yes it was it was planned way before lockdown.
What shall one expect from the book “Parsi Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family”?
The book “Parsi Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family” is actually an interesting read for someone who would like to know more about the cuisine and the community. I always wanted the book to be very simple very approachable very interesting for anyone to kind of pick up and get to know little bit about the community and the cuisine. That's why I always have been saying you know that the book is not just a recipe book.
The book also tells stories as well because I associate food and people together because so many dishes that we eat or we have experienced they have stories behind them. I think that is very important to tell those stories and that's why I want to the book to be a mix stories and recipes. That’s what one could you expect from the Parsi Kitchen once you get your hands on it.
Tell us something about your travels through small-town Gujarat. Do we see some influence in the book?
Actually, there’s a chapter on my travels through Gujarat, and this place remains very special for the community as well as for me. For the community because that was the first place where the Zoroastrian landed. They came from Iran so you know Sanjan, Surat etc all these places are extremely close to our heart and is very important as that’s where Parsis were settled. Over the period of time they obviously expanded and slowly all over the country right from the northern bits of Nainital, Jamshedpur, Bombay and down south Chennai..
It is well it was great to experience to travel alone through Gujarat alone when closed on month. It was all about researching and travel into small towns and cities. People were very approachable very helpful that gave me a lot of insight and there were some who didn’t want to share their family recipes or treasures or secrets. But overall, it was an interesting journey and 90% of people that I met were very loving open their homes in 2017. It was a beautiful journey. I got to learn origin of so many dishes first hand and also got experience of first-hand cooking from the Parsis in Gujarat and finding the importance of certain ingredients and recipe. That’s how I would sum up my journey in Gujarat.
What has been your biggest pandemic learning?
My biggest pandemic learning has been to learn to ADAPT, as chefs we are always in our kitchen and in the beginning, I really wasn't sure what am I going to do sitting at home till the time I started creating videos online. I think we just have to adapt and we have to be very resilient. Personally, a lot gratitude and patience lots of respect for so many people who had on the ground and working and helping people during the situation and now that we are back into literally the third wave, so I think personally and professionally there has been learning on both sides and they have been huge. Just feel grateful to be here.
What is your fondest food memory?
I am blessed to have a lot of very good food memories right from my childhood as my mum who was a great cook would cook variety of cuisines at home. She was very experimental she could be making Thai basil stir fry or soufflé or roast chicken and yes, we did have our regular khichdi and dal chawal too. But when she would experiment it would be like a feast for us. The bakery and confectionery was the special highlight of our days. Hence lots of amazing good food memories that I have from my mom's kitchen.
But other than that, my very interesting food memory would be Hong Kong. The entire city itself is a big melting pot of cuisines and travelling around the city and tasting food had been amazing experience, but coming to pinpoint to one memory that’s a bit difficult as from my childhood or my travels I always love to travel for food, food is always the centre focus, be it street or checking out restaurants.
What according to you is the most wrongly interpreted thing about Parsi cuisine?
I personally think that Parsi cuisine is interpreted to be very heavy and super rich, also people think very limited. These are two big misconceptions. Like any other Indian dishes we do have dishes that are extremely heavy. At the same time, we have light dishes like Khara Ghost which is chicken or mutton just sautéed with some ginger garlic and onions and made into soup and served to kids or the like the Dhandar which is the simplest dal chawal with side dish. So yes, these are two misconceptions.
What next shall we expect from you?
I have always believed that it's important to keep evolving. I moved on from SBOW January in 2021 and over the year I have told myself I have to travel but keeping pandemic that's not happening. I do hope to work on my second book and new project and along with working on some pop-ups which will help me talking and popularizing the cuisine, along with menu research and more.