Reading Anahita Dhondy’s new book, Parsi Kitchen, was like an explosion of nostalgia. In a candid interview, we explore all things food and Parsi with SodaBottleOpenerWala Head Chef Anahita Dhondy.
Growing up in Mangalore, my best friend and neighbor was a Parsi girl. Hers was the only Parsi family in Mangalore at the time (and maybe still is), and we bonded primarily with food. Every Sunday there was bafat pork at my house and dhansak at her house, and we exchanged plates for lunch. We went to different schools but often traded lunch boxes right before we left – especially if she had salli par eedu (thin slices of potatoes with masala and a cracked egg on it) and rotlis. She learned to make choi very early on, with that touch of mint and lemongrass, and although we couldn’t have her when we were young, her parents indulged in a lot of cups.
In conversation with chef Anahita Dhondy about her new book, The Parsi Kitchen
Reading Parsi cuisine by Anahita Dhondy was like an explosion of longing for me. Not only does Choi and everything by eedu appear in it, but it speaks of his memories with his family, their quirks, their creativity, their love for food and their general “bawa-ness”, of which I have a lot of. souvenirs. too much. Anahita, well known as the chief manager of SodaBottleOpenerWala, has several awards to her credit. She was also featured in the Forbes Asia 30 under 30 ranking for food sustainability and popularization of Parsi cuisine.
The Parsi kitchen is a work of work that took five years and many drafts set aside, to become this beautiful red cardboard edition. One draft was a deep dive into Parsi food with methodical divisions, another was a historical account of the Parsi community with its recipes. Finally inspired by Like Water for Chocolate, Anahita decided that there are so many people and stories associated with a dish, why miss them. âI realized that I had to write down my thoughts and write down everything related to family. In my travels and researching for the book, I met people and also incorporated their stories into the book, âshe says. Interestingly, the book was designed as a 200 page book and that is exactly the number of pages it contains. A rarity, writers would agree.
The book makes reading easy simply because each chapter is like a story in itself. Nothing spills over, so you can pick it up and start pretty much anywhere. I started in dhansak because that’s what I like a lot and Parsis families also on Sundays. The recipe for âthis beautiful mix of vegetables, meat, herbs with caramelized rice, kachumbar and a dash of lemonâ, as Anahita describes it, surprised me when I saw sambar masala in the ingredients! âIt’s pronounced ‘Sam-bhaar and is not the South Indian sambar masala,â she laughs to me. âIt’s a masala with a spicy kick of pepper, and for lazy Parsi who don’t want to bother with too many masalas, it works for a lot of dishes,â she adds.
I’ve never heard of a jackfruit dhansak, but Anahita’s mom Meher has a great recipe featured in the book, which she nurtured as a family before the jackfruit gained its cool factor.
Contrary to popular belief, Parsi cuisine offers several vegetarian options. Grab Anahita’s favorite – the dhan dhar patio – rice, dal, and a spicy and tangy side dish. âParsis loves fish terraces, but I love making brinjal or pumpkin terraces. The patio can also be an achaar (pickle), âshe adds. Vegetarian dishes with okra, or like chutney patties, or coconut curries with vegetables are all part of this repertoire.
And then, of course, the Mangaloreen in me focused on the vindaloo recipe, which here instead of coconut or toddy vinegar uses kolah vinegar made from sugar cane. âThe way vindaloo entered the Parsi kitchen is due to the many domestic helpers in Goa who work in the Parsi houses. They cooked themselves and Goan curries and vindaloos also came into our kitchen, âsays Anahita. You have to read the chapter about vindaloo in the book and how Anahita did it for her roommate Nitya after a particularly tough day.
What I liked about my friend Parsi’s meals was the way everything worked with eggs. This was the first place I tasted bheeda by eedu (eggs over okra), salli by eedu and of course akhuri, which is not on anything, but still a si nice egg scramble. âI think the idea of ââcracking an egg over anything and making a new dish came from Mother Parsi who wanted to reuse leftovers. There are many combinations, including one on soggy wafers, âsays Anahita.
The Parsi Kitchen is a book filled with nostalgic stories of family, food and love – a combination that easily resonates with everyone. This makes reading this book a pleasure and opens up a world of recipes that are not what you may see casually browsing online. “I wish people would take the book to find out something and maybe include it in their everyday food – who knows, maybe a dhan dar patio could replace your Sunday dal chawal,” said Anahita.
All images: Courtesy of Anahita Dhondy