There’s an amazing story that every Parsi child has heard from their grandparents or parents, a tale that explains why our community was quick to absorb local practices and traditions on settling in India. An age-old favourite called ‘Milk and Sugar’, it describes how the Zoroastrians arrived in India and goes a little like this. When the Parsis first landed in Sanjan, Gujarat, they were met by the local ruler Jadi Rana. Alarmed by the influx of foreigners, Jadi Rana invited my people to make a case for being allowed to enter his province. Legend has it that he used a silver bowl filled to the brim with milk to symbolize how crowded his lands already were, to make it clear that there was no room for newcomers.
The Zoroastrian elders added a pinch of sugar to the milk and said, ‘The way the milk has not overflowed, but been sweetened, we too will mingle with you and add sweetness to your lives.’ Wisdom won the day, and the Hindu ruler granted permission to the foreigners to settle and practice their faith. But the license to settle was not unconditional, and the Zoroastrian high priest was asked to explain his faith to the gracious ruler. The Kisseh-i-Sanjan by Dastur Bahman Kaikobad, one of the earliest accounts of the Parsi arrival in India, refers to the conditions Jadi Rana laid down before our ancestors.
The foreigners would learn to speak the local tongue (Gujarati). The women would eschew their traditional Persian attire for the Gujarati-style saree drape. The men would give up their arms and swear fealty to the ruler and his successors. There was no talk of conversion, as both Hindus and Zoroastrians believed in the right to practice a faith of one’s choice. Thereafter, the Zoroastrians came to be known as ‘Parsis’, a term derived from the last port in Persia that they came from—Pars. And honouring this sweet story of assimilation is a classic Parsi milk and sugar dessert called Ravo.
If you flip through a Parsi cookbook, you will see a lot of attention given to fish, chicken, meat, rice, eggs and vegetables. Then there are pickles, chutneys, preserves and relishes. The sweet dish section is smaller, and that is because the Parsi repertoire of desserts is so limited. Most of them are adapted from British dishes like puddings, custards, cakes and cookies. Many are also inspired by traditional Indian sweets; Dar Ni Pori, for instance, is a thicker derivation of a Puran Poli while Badam Pak is similar to Badam Barfi. Ravo, on the other hand, can be called a purely Parsi dessert because it’s inspired by the story of sugar in milk.
A little bowl of goodness, it’s a dish prepared on auspicious occasions. Ravo made birthdays, anniversaries and festivals more special. Even after Arush and I got married, I’ve continued the tradition of making Ravo to mark the Parsi New Years. I don’t make it on my birthday, though, because Mom still does. Ravo gets its name from the Gujarati ravo, or suji, and is best described as a semolina and milk pudding. Unlike Kheer, which has a liquid consistency, this has the fluffy texture of Halwa.
I recall how confused the team at SodaBottleOpenerWala was about the consistency and flavour of the dish when it was first introduced. Accustomed to preparing Halwa with suji and water, it took them time to grasp the idea of a suji and milk dish. You’ll rarely find Ravo on a restaurant menu, though. It’s usually served at home, during the morning meal, along with an Akuri and other dishes. Picture yourself having dessert with breakfast! In terms of significance, I would place it in the same category as Puran Poli or Khada Prasad. Friends who’ve eaten Ravo for the first time at my home have always loved it and become diehard fans of it! Like most Parsi dishes, the recipe of Ravo varies from home to home. The original Ravo that I love so much was made by my nani, Vera Ghandhi.
Also read: How koji adds magic to Indian food
1 cup granulated sugar
4–5 tbsp ghee
1 cup suji
4 cups full-cream milk
1 tbsp rose water (optional)
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/4 cup each of chironji seeds, almond flakes, cashewnuts, raisins, tossed in ghee
Preparation time 30 mins
In a pan, add milk and sugar. Warm the milk just till the sugar dissolves.
In another pan, heat the ghee and then add the suji. Slowly roast till it becomes a light almond colour.
Slowly pour the hot milk over the suji. Keep stirring till it thickens and you can see small bubbles. Make sure the milk is hot or there will be lumps in the Ravo.
Add the rose water and vanilla essence.
Once the Ravo thickens, pour it into dessert bowls and let it cool. (I usually do one big bowl which gets polished off very quickly!)
Garnish with dry fruits. Serve cold or warm, directly from the pan (which is how Arush likes it).
Don’t brown the semolina; it needs to be a light almond colour, which should take about 10–12 minutes over low heat. For my friends who insist that there needs to be a crunch in the Ravo: Take 300 g cashews, 200 g almonds and 200 g raisins. Cut the cashews and almonds into small slivers, then roast them in a pan with ghee till they are golden brown and crunchy. Make a bed of the browned nuts and raisins on top of your Ravo, completely covering it. Garnish with rose petals.
Excerpted with permission from ‘The Parsi Kitchen: A Memory of Food & Family’, authored by Anahita Dhondy and published by HarperCollins Publishers India