Bombay’s Best Foodwallah

Table for Three

Bombay’s Best Foodwallah

Illustration: Cleon Dsouza

Iam a child of four cuisines – though my gut now is an offspring of many more. It was heaven for a growing boy with a shameless love for food and no dietary restrictions. At home, I grew up on a steady diet of chorchoris, jhols, and jhaals. But I also grew up in the Dadar-Matunga area, going through sambars and chutneys from the best Udipi restaurants in the city, and wadas and amtis from the kitchens of my Marathi friends in Hindu Colony. But my most vivid memories are of the outstanding snacks from Parsi colony.

The Parsi community conjures up a variety of stereotypical images in people’s minds – philanthropists, aficionados of western classical music, lovers of vintage cars, even the shallow, asinine caricatures from our movies. What these stereotypes miss out on is Parsi food. Which is an absolute shame because it is unique. And it is unfairly delicious.

My earliest memories of Parsi food go back to the uncle whose business was headquartered at Khodadad Circle. His business model was the simplest: Plonk down two gigantic tiffin carriers full of delectable Parsi snacks at the Dadar circle sidewalk at 5 pm. Wait for the Parsi Colony residents and patrons like me to mill around and clean the stock out. Close the empty tiffins at 5.45 pm. Head home. I loved his daadi-wala cutlets (literally cutlets with beards, created from the strands of fried egg batter that coat the chicken or mutton mince); his special for the day, often kheema-par-edu or tamater-par-edu; and his egg-chutney chops.

I discovered the meals section of the Parsi smorgasbord relatively late compared to my head-start with the snacks. I used to stroll down the leafy lanes of Parsi Colony sniffing at the delicious smells wafting from the kitchens of the Tehmi Villas, Pateti Houses, and Percy Manors, but never could muster up the courage to knock on one of the doors saying “Aunty, that smells wonderful. Can I have a taste?”

With Parsi cuisine, there’s one thing to remember. You’ll come for the food, you’ll stay for the sensibility.

It was when I first attended a Parsi wedding when I was in high school, that I realised I should have steeled my nerves and asked the question. Jardaloo salli boti or meat cooked in a spicy gravy balanced with the sweetness of apricots; chicken farcha (batter-fried leg and thigh of chicken); and dhansak and caramelised, browned rice arrived in an unending stream. All washed down with the very sweet, very pink Duke’s raspberry drink.

I was hooked, and since then, have been seeking out Parsi friends whose marriages and whose children’s navjotes I want to attend, shower my heartfelt blessings on and hit the dinner right after. I can’t find Parsi food in Singapore where I live, so it’s our trusted and well-thumbed Parsi cookbook Jamva Chalo Ji! (Let’s Eat!) by Katy Dalal, to the rescue. I love the overwhelming desire to surprise otherwise harmless dishes with eggs to make them more interesting: Such as Kera-per-Eda (on fried bananas) or even Bhida-per-Eda (on okra).

A Parsi meal is a top option when I’m in south Bombay – home to most of the good Parsi restaurants such as Paradise in Colaba – and have a craving for a full-on meal where I don’t have to exercise mind or body too strenuously for the next three hours. My wife, Priya, and I love Jimmy Boy Café, which mentions that it’s a “Family Restaurant” on the signboard just in case you were expecting a bawdy Wild West parlour, for their lagan nu bhonu. Their Patra ni Macchi and Lagan nu Custard are obvious favourites, but I also love Jimmy Boy’s old-world charm. The cast-iron staircase leading to a second storey, the slightly worn but proud decor, the familiar waiting staff that solid, old establishments like Jimmy Boy’s tend to have…

With Parsi cuisine, there’s one thing to remember. You’ll come for the food, you’ll stay for the sensibility. I love that about the Parsis. Their love runs deep, for music, for antiques, for cars, for their little quirks, and above all it seems, for their recipes. I love how an impeccably dressed, utterly sophisticated Parsi gentleman or lady will quickly head to the sit-down dinner at a wedding for the next seating (none of this buffet nonsense!), politely wait at a safe distance behind your chair signalling to the world that he/she will sit on that chair for the next seating. No hustling, no hovering: Just a classy demonstration of their love for food!