After browsing through numerous photographs of Parsi food across the interwebs, reading the elaborate descriptions of their slow cooking process, the blend of spices and the traditions and food stories, I was very excited to be invited to try the food at the Parsi Food Festival at Firdaus, the Indian restaurant at one of Hyderabad’s most beautiful hotels, Taj Krishna.
A weekday is always made better with the prospect of good food and company and despite declining many previous invites from the good folks at the hotel, I made the trek half around the city to sample what I expected to be a gastronomic treat. I’ve only eaten Parsi food made home style and have sampled a few of their most famous dishes. I’ve always loved their Brown rice and have made versions of it in my own home several times. Their desserts are legendary and there was nothing to stop me from plunging headlong into many thousands of calorie laden decadent sweets :D
Firdaus is a fine dining elegant restaurant that is cocooned by huge gardens. The setting makes for a very pleasant dining experience.
Chef Manoj Vyas, from Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai is helming the kitchens for the festival and comes with the experience of dishing up exotic Parsi dishes which still retain the flavours of the West coast and blend with it the original influences of ancient Persian cuisine. The specially designed menu showcases some of the most well recognised favourites.
We begin with the starters. Parsi cuisine loves its cutlets and kebabs. This was on full display with the assorted appetizers that were served.
The Chicken Farcha a cutlet made of minced and mildly spiced chicken, coated with beaten egg and shallow fried to give it a crisp and delicate papery exterior. Served with the khatta meetha sauce, this was the first item served. I found the sauce overwhelmingly sweet and completely overpowered the delicacy of the cutlet. Had on its own, the cutlet is a nice contrast of textures from the batter coating
Lacy Cutlets made with ground mutton was similar to the chicken version, the spices again mild and subtle.
Kolmi nu Kebab this was minced prawn meat, spiced and batter coated before being shallow fried. The flavour of the prawns lends itself very well to this dish and I would recommend this if you like sea food. As a blanket rule, skip the sweet and sour sauce, unless you like dousing your food with jam.
For the vegetarians, the Khatta Meetha Paneer Kebab which is batter coated tangy paneer bites shallow fried was pleasant. The Vegetable cutlet, though it had a nice crunch with small chunks of vegetables as against the homogenous mash one usually encounters in cutlets, was very densely coated and needed a little more seasoning.
Over a few glasses of red and white wine and conversations on how the Parsis in India are famed for their interest and possession of the best antiques, rubies and automobiles, we moved on to the main course.
We were served an assortment of side dishes, with rotli (roti) and brown rice. A crescent shaped plate with bowls of Saas ni macchi, Mutton dhansak, Salli marghi and Zardaloo gosht arrived. Next came the Patra ni Macchli and Papeta par Edu.
The names are exotic and exciting, but the dishes didn’t exactly live up to my expectation. First up the pale yellow sauced Saas ni Macchi ~ Parsi style fish fillets in a gravy made out of eggs and flour (similar to a roux) the tang comes from vinegar and it has the by now expected balance of sweet and salt. I felt like I was eating lemon custard with pieces of fish. Tis dish has a very continental vibe to it.
The Mutton Dhansak is tur dal cooked with spices and simmered till it is almost mashed, mutton is added and this is slow cooked till all the flavours blend well. I loved the flavours, deep and rich and very comforting. I could draw parallels between this dish and Hyderabadi Daalcha which is a lentil and meat dish, cooked with spices. The vegetarian version of Dhansak also did not disappoint.
The pick of the lot was the Zardaloo Gosht ~ succulent pieces of lamb meat, slow cooked to perfection in a mild gravy, sweetened with apricots. I spooned out almost all of my portion.
The Salli Marghi ~ spiced chicken curry with fine fried matchstick potatoes was similar in taste and flavour to the zardaloo gosht, the matchstick potatoes adding the crunch and texture to the dish. This too paired well with the Brown Rice ~ Rice flavoured with deep fried onions, goes well with any of the side dishes, and flavourful enough to be eaten on its own
The Papeta par Edu is another classic potato and egg preparation which I instantly liked because the eggs baked sunny side up on a bed of curried potatoes, looked so good! This is definitely a dish I would want to recommend and also try making in my own kitchen.
The dish I was most disappointed with was the famed Patra ni Macchli ~ supposed to be fillets of fish marinated with a green herb and coconut chutney, wrapped in banana leaf and steamed. This is a classic Parsi preparation and has a legion of fans. It is a dish that is a must have for all festive occasions. I found the dish too sweet even tho the palette was now expected a hint of sweet in all savoury preparations. I assumed this was how it was meant to taste, but when my lunch mates some of who were not new to the cuisine pointed this out to the chef, we got a rather blase comment about how native Andhra / Telangana palettes, accustomed to loads of spice would not like this delicate dish. I protested, because I found the explanation ill informed and in very poor taste. Also one has travelled enough, eaten at many places, not to mention countries and tried enough variety in food to know the difference between a dish that has subtle undertones of sweet and one that is overpowered by jaggery. To me this dish tasted like a coconut jaggery sweet made with a tasteless fillet of fish. I would like to taste this again at an authentic Parsi joint to check if my expectation was incorrect or my taste buds un-evolved.
A special mention to the delectable range of pickles, both vegetarian and non vegetarian, piquant, tangy and very fresh tasting!
For the vegetarians, Parsi cuisine is a tricky place. The cuisine is meat heavy and it was interesting to see what was in store. We were promised that the vegetarians would not be disappointed. For the main course, we were served a sampling of the Lagan nu Stew which was a mixed vegetable sweet and sour stew. The base seemed to be made of tomatoes and that comes through quite strongly.
The Khara Papeta looked and tasted like a home style potato curry and I was beginning to tire of the meal by now.
The Dhansak dal which was made minus the meat was just as flavoursome as the non vegetarian version and was the stand out dish in the vegetarian platter. Like its fish friend, Ravaiya whole brinjals stuffed with the herb and coconut chutney and cooked was disappointing, no flavour, not fully cooked and full of seeds.
Just as I was mentally checking off this meal, a major change of pace happened when the desserts appeared. I imagined I wouldn’t be able to eat another mouthful of anything sweet considering how much of it was had during the main course. But how wrong I was. We were served a trio of much loved Parsi desserts – Lagan nu custard, Parsi Sev and Parsi Kulfi.
The Parsi sev was a subtle sweet dish of fine vermicelli, roasted golden in ghee and garnished with finely sliced pistachios and almonds. This reminded me very much of one of the sweets made in Hyderabad during Ramzaan. I enjoyed the simplicity of this dish.
Lagan nu Custard is everything it ought to be, rich, creamy, decadent and so indulgent that one needs to crawl onto a couch after eating this dish. It is thick and creamy and full of richness and yet that doesn’t stop you from gulping it down. Sort of a cheesecake made with condensed milk and eggs, which give it a pale yellow colour.
Parsi Kulfi, again sweet, rich and made with condensed milk is a treat for sweet lovers, the basil seeds and vermicelli used to garnish it adding texture to this dessert.
By this time I was fairly happy with the end to the meal. The desserts really were the stars of the meal experience.
Read what my friend Siri has to say about her experience here.
PS: All photos in this post are courtesy of Siri. As is characteristic of my forgetful self these days, I landed up for lunch minus the battery for my camera.