Navroz Mubarak! It’s day one of the Parsi calendar and it usually begins with something sweet. Homes and altars are decorated with fresh flowers, and a festive breakfast comprising sweet dishes are served on this day. There’s dry vermicelli infused with cashews and almonds and ravo (a version of the sooji ka halwa of north India). This is followed by lunch or sagan-nu-bhonu. “It means food for a good day,” explains Shelley Subawalla of Zarin’s Kitchen, a Delhi-based, home-run business that specialises in Parsi spices and sweet dishes.
Lunch, according to Subawalla, is a simple affair of moong daal with steamed rice. Fish, either made with gravy or fried, adds a festive touch. Pomfret or prawns are the most prefered for gravy-based dishes like machhi (fish) no patio or chingri (prawn) no patio. This dish has an appetising sweet-and-sour flavour and acidic tang with the addition of sugarcane vinegar.
The sweet dishes, made for breakfast, could be served as dessert. There’s another item, mithu dahi, or sweet curd which comes close to the Bengali mishti doi. With changing times, kulfis and ice creams have become part of the dessert menu too.
Some homes prepare palao dar, which is rice cooked with chicken or mutton. “Think of it as the Parsi biryani,” says Subawalla. In addition, one could make a sali ma marghi (chicken) or sali ma gosht (mutton), which is a spicy tomato-based gravy strewn with crispy potato straws or sali. The magic ingredient is the Parsi sugarcane vinegar, preferably from the brand Kolah, that lends a lip-smacking flavour.
No dhansak (the famed Parsi dish of tender mutton chunks cooked in lentils and topped with crispy fried onion strings)?
Subawalla explains dhansak is not considered to be a festive dish. In the Parsi community, dhansak is made on the fourth day of mourning to pray for the departed. “In Parsi cuisine, there are dishes which are served on auspicious occasions, like New Year, birthdays or weddings, and those that are reserved for other days, like a period of mourning,” she says.
The ten days that precede the Parsi New Year are observed as the period where one prays for the departed. It’s known as muktad. On the Instagram page of Mahrukh Mogrelia, a Mumbai-based home chef who runs Mahrukh’s Kitchen, there’s a post on muktad, mentioning that the end of this period marks new beginnings, and day one of the Parsi calendar, which is today.
New Year's Day dinner is often a lavish spread. Mogrelia says, it usually begins with mutton cutlets or chicken farcha—a batter fried chicken that can give KFC a run for its money. There’s also zardalu sali mutton, which is lamb cooked in apricot curry and underscores the connection of Indian Parsi cuisine to middle eastern Persia, where cooking with apricots is prevalent. For a textural variation, a generous garnish of potato straws or sali is added.
On Parsi New Year, Mogrelia shares the recipe of patra-ni-machhi—the cult favourite steamed fish in banana leaf.
4 pomfrets, medium-sized
Salt as per taste
Half tsp turmeric
1 coconut, pieces
3 green chilies (or as per preference)
1 tsp cumin seeds or powder
Handful of coriander leaves, chopped finely
Juice of one lime
1 clove garlic
5-6 mint leaves
1 tsp oil
1 tsp vinegar
Make slim incisions on the pomfrets. Rub salt and turmeric and let them marinate for 10 minutes.
In a mixer, add the coconut pieces, green chilies, cumin, clove, coriander, mint, lime juice, salt and oil. Grind to a smooth paste. The oil is needed to make the fish moist.
Coat the pomfrets with the coconut chutney.
Wrap them, individually, in banana leaf and secure with thread.
Place them in a steamer and sprinkle vinegar. The vinegar makes the fish nice and moist.
Let it cook for 10-15 minutes.
Serve with chappatis.