London - UK Chowdown: A Classic Parsi Meal
London-based Chowhounds came together for a Chowdown this evening. Howler managed to convince the kitchens of the Bombay Brasserie to produce a special, off-menu all-Parsi meal. The Parsi-Zoroastrian community numbers only 100,000 worldwide, but its vast influence belies its size. Parsi cuisine is rare, but treasured by Indian food connoisseurs for its subtlety and unique combination of Persian/Iranian and Indian styles of cooking.
Our dinner this evening:
- Patra ni Machchi – fillets of halibut (in place of Arabian Sea pomfret usually used in Mumbai restaurants for this dish) covered with a greenish-paste of ground mint, coriander leaves, grated coconut, chilies, garlic, sugar, onion, cumin seeds. The fish was wrapped in banana leaves and baked. The carefully-prepared version here, with very pronounced flavors from the fresh ingredients used, was better than the more rustic preparations I’d tried in Mumbai & Bangalore’s Parsi eateries previously.
- Akuri toast – Parsi-style scrambled eggs, seasoned with garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, tomatoes & turmeric, served atop tiny canapé toasts. My complaint: much too small portions, rendering the classic eggs-on-toast combination a bit too dry to the taste. I need more ‘body’ to my scrambled eggs, i.e. larger portions.
- Parsi lamb cutlets – the most delicate lamb cutlets I’d ever encountered – the meat was similar in texture to veal schnitzel, and was covered thinly with spiced, mashed potatoes & a coating of beaten eggs & crumbs before being pan-fried until a golden-crisp crust was obtained. A thick spiced Parsi-style tomato gravy was served as an accompaniment to the lamb cutlets. To-die for.
- The classic Parsi dish, Goat Dhansak –subtly spiced and very tasty – one of the best Indian dishes one would ever had.
- Lagun nu stew – a Parsi dish of spiced gourd, perfect accompaniment to the Goat Dhansak.
- Tilapia Fish Patio, a tomato-ey, almost sweet-sour preparation with a killer gravy.
- Mori Dal is a deceptively simple yellow dhal preparation with an addictive taste – the liquidy gravy went well with the Dhansak rice
- Dhansak rice – the classic Parsi basmati scented brown rice dish, traditionally prepared in Parsi homes to accompany the dhansak goat stews and kachumber salad.
- Kachumber salad – another must-have component of any Parsi spread: a refreshing salad of sliced cucumber, onions & tomatoes, with lime & vinegar dressing. It serves to undercut the richness of the rich dhansak and patio dishes. I chose to juxtapose its crisp texture and sharp flavors against the milky-richness of the mori dhal gravy.
- Naan – the restaurant seemed to have pull all stops here to produce some of the crispiest, tastiest naans & parathas to complete the spread.
- Lagun nu Custard, a milky-rich Parsi classic dessert studded with finely chopped almonds. This is usually served in Parsi weddings or special occasions, and a rare treat indeed for us here this evening.
- Parsi Sev – another sweet which the Parsi serve on auspicious & celebratory occasions. The version here was served in pastry cups and tweaked slightly so as to make itnot too sweet. Very nice.
Overall, the quality of the dishes we had showed that the Indian chefs here in London, if required, can indeed rise to the occasion & churn out a marvelous 100% authentic Parsi meal. It was also a pleasure to catch up with fellow Chowhounds zuriga1, deansa, JFores, Limster and his friends, and a special thanks once again to Howler for making this possible. This is a rare treat indeed, and I'm going to ask fellow Chowhounds from the China/Southeast Asia board to attempt something just as ambitious when we hold our annual HK Chowmeet next March :-)
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Goat meat is frequently also called mutton in Malaysia, Indonesia ("Kambing" = goat, traditionally. Sheep is "kambing biri-biri" or "domba") especially with regards to Malaysian-Indian or Malay/Indonesian cuisine, although lamb/sheep meat is certainly both raised and imported (and the sheep meat also called "mutton" in English there). Less so in Singapore, I believe (klyeoh, would that be right?) especially with Chinese vendors, who use the word "mutton" for sheep meat; don't know about Thailand (even though goat is eaten there, sheep/lamb much less so)
Some other links:
(Two examples. The signage has the Chinese characters "羊肉" indicating "sheep meat")
An interesting article about raising sheep in tropical/SE Asian climates: http://www.fao.org/docrep/004/X6517E/...
LOL! Well, the Parsis are descendants of early Zoroastrians (followers of Zarathustra, and worshippers of the fire-god, Ahura Mazda in ancient Persia). They fled their homeland from cruel Muslim invaders around the 10th-century, journeying thousands of miles & hand-carrying with them the scared eternal flames from their destroyed temples, all the way to the distant lands of what now constitute modern-day India.
Their fire-temples (Parsi agiaries) survive to this day in Mumbai and some other Indian cities, the eternal flames therein having been kept burning continuously for over a thousand years since they arrived from Persia.
(Photo below of a fire-temple's entrance I snapped during my last trip to Mumbai. This temple's located on Dadabhai Naoroji Road in downtown Mumbai).
The Parsis are a very distinct community in India - fair-skinned & fine-featured, setting them apart from Mumbai's indigenous darker-skinned Marathis. Among the more famous Parsis abroad are late-singer, Freddie Mercury, and conductor, Zubin Mehta.
Their cuisine, similarly, is rather exotic, even to those of us who're very familiar with different regional Indian cuisines, due to their rarity.
re: Charles Yu
Ah, Charles - the 'Godfather' of HK Chowmeets. I'm banking on *you* to organize the "mother of all Chowdowns" in HK next Mar :-D
Somehow, pomfret is hard to come by in London. But I do think flounder, sole, turbot, plaice and halibut are all good substitutes,even if they do not have that typical "pomfret" flavour.
Using tilapia for the Fish Patio dish is fine, as the use of aromatic spices, and the assertive sweet-sour-spicy flavours typical of this Parsi dish would negate any "smell" from the tilapia.
Personally, I never liked white/silver pomfret, regardless of type of cuisine or how it was done. Black pomfret I liked. That wild-caught tilapia you had for a meal back in M'sia not so long ago sounded nice, but farmed tilapia to me is just edible. The others you mention - sure. :-)
Just a follow-on - Charles Yu *did* organize a big March 2013 Chowmeet in HK, but I was in Delhi at the time and missed that :-(
However, last weekend, I flew into HK for a smaller Chowmeet which Charles had specially arranged, and caught up with fellow Chowhounds FourSeasons, NilesCable, HKTraveller and skyline33.
As befits a 2-Michelin-star Cantonese restaurant in Hong Kong, Ming Court at the Langham Place Hotel produced a stellar Cantonese dinner, combining traditional and modern-Canto dishes: