The Parsi people belong to the Zoroastrian community; Zoroastrian being one of the oldest religions in the world, founded over 3,500 years ago in ancient Iran by the Prophet Zoroaster. Somewhere between the 8th and 10th century, the Parsis migrated to Sindh and Gujarat from Greater Iran to avoid persecution from Muslim invaders who conquered their homeland.
Settling in the west coast of India in Gujarat, Parsis adapted to Indian culture and food habits very quickly, though at the same time they established their own unique west coast cuisine, which continually adapts throughout the years.
Although Parsi cuisine is constantly evolving, its roots remain grounded in ancient culinary traditions and techniques learned when Parsis lived in Persia – now called Iran. Parsi cuisine draws influences from Persian cuisine as well as from the cuisines of Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Visit any Parsi home and taking pride of place in the kitchen cupboard will be two ingredients: vinegar and sugar. Most staple dishes of home-cooked Parsi fare achieve a balance of acidity and sweetness – known as ‘katthumithu’ – delivered through the use of these two ingredients. Mastering the art of balance can take years for cooks to perfect.
Perhaps one of the most popular home-cooked dishes which achieves a sweet-acidy balance is Patio, a curry with a tomato base. Though you may not be familiar with the Patio, there is one Parsi dish most of us all know and love: Dhansak. Dhansak is a lentil-based curry that can be served with or without meat; in Parsi homes, it is typically served alongside spicy, caramelised rice. A fine example of how Persian cooking techniques have fused with Indian flavours over the years.
Parsi cuisine comprises many different fruits and nuts, including pomegranate, apricot, raisins, almonds and pistachios. It is common for fruits to be added to meat dishes, such as in a JardalooSaliBoti, a curry comprising of boneless lamb cooked with apricot.
To accompany main dishes, Parsis will often prepare a cooling salad known as Kachumber, which is made from chopped onion, tomato, diced cucumber, green chillies and coriander. A tangy lemon dressing is squeezed over the top of the Kachumber before serving. While most Indian homes serve chapatti or flatbread with main dishes, Parsis often opt for rice preparations instead.
Parsis live close to the coast, and this has meant that seafood is a key part of their diets. Favourite home-cooked fish dishes include Patra niMacchi, fish that has been cooked in a banana leaf with a green chutney; and SaasniMacchi, a white fish curry with a vinegar and egg base. To accompany these fish dishes, Parsi people will often prepare an assortment of pickles. One of the most popular of these pickles is SukhaBoomla, which is made using the ‘khattumithu’ technique.
Parsi home cooking is all about mastering the art of balanceto achieve optimum flavour. And we’ll tell you who else has mastered the art of balance: the chefs of London’s fine Indian restaurants. Saltiness, sourness, spiciness and sweetness – each dish on the menu achieves the perfect blend of each.
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