The Parsi love affair with food
Mumbai-based multi-hyphenate, Shenaz Treasurywala, discusses the Parsi community’s love for all things food and drink, and how eating to your heart’s content is what keeps the culture alive
By Anjan Sachar
If you’re based in India, it’s not often that you come across someone who identifies as a Parsi or Zoroastrian. Zoroastrianism may have first emerged in Persia, but a significant number of people following it migrated to India due to the Arab conquest of the country over a thousand years ago. Even though there has been a significant decline in those following the religion since, the ones that do have a niche of their own that they thoroughly revel in.
Parsi surnames often have the term ‘wala’ at the end preceded by a term, which stems from either their family occupation, the city they lived in, or even a certain food they liked. This took place during the British rule in India as an identifying mark for families and is a quirk that’s attached to the Parsi community even today.
While Parsis do reside all over India, they’re mostly inhabitants of Gujarat (Gujarati is their mother tongue) and Maharashtra. They helped build a lot of modern Bombay (as Mumbai was known) while the British were based in the country and also acquired prime real estate during that time, which is still part of generational wealth in Parsi families today. All things said, nothing comes close to their love affair with food.
‘Parsis believe that it’s all about eating, drinking and being happy. We have nothing like fasting in our community,’ says Soho House Mumbai member, Shenaz Treasurywala, an Indian actor, TV host, travel vlogger, writer and, of course, Parsi.
‘Food is extremely important to Parsi culture,’ she says. ‘We have this thing that we say when we go to weddings as well. It’s called “Dhan dane patio”, which is the food we eat, and “pet bhare ne jamjo”, meaning eat until your stomach bursts.’
Her favourite traditional foods? Dhansak (a traditional lentil curry eaten with rice) and Patrani Macchi. ‘Patrani Macchi is a fish cooked in banana leaves with green chutney – it’s divine. Also, Parsis love eggs. They have eggs with everything.’
Treasurywala dined at Soho House Mumbai with her family to celebrate Parsi New Year. Even though Mumbai has a significant Parsi community, there aren’t many outposts that cater to the cuisine today. One of the most popular restaurants for Parsi food is SodaBottleOpenerWala, and they created a special menu at the Mumbai House for the occasion. ‘The food was really good,’ says Treasurywala. ‘My sister actually said it was one the best Parsi meals she’s ever had.’ The menu included traditional dishes such as Chicken Berry Pulao, Salli Boti, and Lagan Nu Custard.
Most Parsi food takes inspiration from multiple cultures gathered over centuries. For example, the use of dried fruits, along with mutton from Iran, fish from the west coast of India, and baked goods and desserts from when the British ruled India. The ideal way to taste a traditional Parsi meal? At one of their family homes or at a Parsi wedding. The next best options? Mumbai restaurants such as SodaBottleOpenerWala (also in Bangalore, New Delhi and Hyderabad) and traditional Iranian cafes like Britannia & Co located in Fort (since 1923). There’s also Tanaz Godiwala’s A Parsi Affair and Bawa Zest by Cheron – two of the most popular Parsi wedding caterers in the city.