What is an Irani cafe set-up doing in the middle of Mumbai’s swankiest five star hotel, I wonder. I ought to be glimpsing Salade Nicoise and asparagus quiche; not brun maska andpaneer akuri in a place like Pondichery Cafe, Sofitel Mumbai BKC! And then it dawns upon me. The Parsi New Year is almost upon us and the good folks at Sofitel want me to have my dinner “Khavanu, pivanu, majjani life” style.
Although I’m hungry, I decide to walk around the restaurant first, admiring all the creative Parsi flourishes. At the live counter, paneer akuri and sali par edu occupy pride of place but there is much more on the blackboard menu: cream roll, bun maska and double omelettes. I love the toffees in a tin and the crates of raspberry soda, so typical of old Irani cafes in the city.
The waiters are wearing the velvety red caps that Parsi gentlemen love and a bike stands near the entrance proudly labelled ‘pappani bike‘ (father’s bike). A grandfather’s radio at the far end of the live counter would have made any old-timer Irani cafe owner proud. This being Pondichery Cafe, there is a plethora of Indian and international cuisine on offer as well. But I have my eyes set on the beautiful little portions of honey gold custard.
What we eat
Parsi cuisine is best known for its dhansak and patra ni machchi but this festival burrows deeper into the eclectic cuisine and presents you with options you may not have tried before. The array of vegetarian dishes impress me as well. And now, let me take you on a visual journey through the various Parsi delights on offer, some of which we sample and some which we don’t. Because a woman can only eat so much at one time!
If you ignore the sushi on my plate (I love sushi and can’t resist it), you’ll see that my plate is entirely occupied by Parsi dishes. I have the delicious lagan nu stew, a mixed vegetable curry in a tomato and onion gravy with warm tandoori rotis. The khara bhinda is a dry ladyfinger preparation with Parsi spices but the slight sweetness is not to my taste. The patra ni paneer is a vegetarian variant of the famous patra ni machchi and when I unwrap the parcel, I find a thick wedge of paneer coated with chutney. Their effort in creating a paneer version is commendable but among all the dishes, the lagan nu stew takes the cake for me. The ajwain aloo is best avoided and the beetroot raita makes for an excellent accompaniment to the meal.
For dessert (which is the most important part of a meal), I have the divine lagan nu custard, perfectly soft, light, flaky and flavourful. It is not overly sweet and comes dusted with nuts. A simple milk-based dessert, the lagan nu custard is faintly reminiscent of creme brulee and comes ensconced in caramel syrup.
What we don’t eat
Honestly, you can come twice for this festival and still not repeat a single dish. Being vegetarians, we do not try themutton dhansak, sali marghi and patra ni machchi. There is also paneer akuri and sali par edu on offer. Take a look.
I’ve always admired the Parsis as a community for their joie de vivre, sauve sophistication and inimitable sense of humour. Now I’ve found another reason to cherish a soft corner for this fast dwindling community – their drool-worthy cuisine!
(Some photos courtesy: Sofitel Mumbai)