Parsi cuisine

“The belly rules the mind.”
Spanish Proverb

SBOW Khan MarketSodaBottleOpenerWala, Khan Market. It was just going to be a matter of time. When AD Singh opened the now almost iconic SodaBottleOpenerWala in Gurgaon it made waves across the NCR. Soon there were groans from folk across Delhi, pleading for a branch in their part of town. With many iconic Irani cafés, a quintessential experience of a near extinct culture and cuisine, downing shutters of late in Mumbai, one might have wondered why Delhi would even consider a rebirth here. Then again, this is AD Singh & Olive …he got it spot on! Again.

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon You know I loved the first SBOW that opened closer to home in Gurgaon. I never stopped talking about it. Recently we heard whoops of joy from the Dilliwalahs. A Bawaji joint was opening in the heart of Delhi, and they were loving it! What better location for an iconic Delhi Parsi Cafe than the iconic Khan Market, vibrant and bustling. Tucked away in the heart of Khan market, Olive pays tribute to the dying legacy of the Irani café … bringing it to life in style!

SBOW KhanSBOW at Khan is located on the first and second floor off a long winding food lane, very old world charm. Quite unlike the Cybercity venue which is very retro, French cafe street feel on the outdoors, set amidst new architecture. The feel within is the same … chaotic, crowded, bustling, colourful, quirky, eccentric and real world Irani café. Up the steep stairs in Khan Market and you are once again ushered into a different world. Framed pictures in sepia and black and white from generations of Parsis unknown, actual antiques, quirky quaint mirrors, quotes so reflective of this small tight knit community. Barni glass jars, tiffin carriers, taxi meters, cuckoo clocks, tin boxes…paraphernalia galore, it’ a feast for the eyes!

SBOW Khan Market
Photo Courtesy Lavina Kharkwal

It was a cozy small get together at the launch … food enthusiasts from across the NCR, AD Singh in gentle attendance, drinks and food flowing non stop. Such a fun opening menu brought together by an ace team , drinks did the rounds with the heady Bawaji Nu Thullu and Raspberry Soda amongst the most popular, with the Shikanjiben following a close second. It was time to abandon the camera and nonsensical light headed banter took over!

SBOW KhanWith drinks can food be far behind? The menu sees several new additions and make overs from the first branch. My absolute favorites in starters were Mushroom on Khari, Breach Candy Awesome Okra, Tareli Macchi, Chicken Baida Roti. The egg lovers didn’t stop ranting about the Dukkar Galli John’s Famous Egg Sandwich, and couldn’t tear themselves away from it either. Everyone ate lots. LOTS!

Berry Pulao, Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, GurgaonSoon came main course. Main course? I was stuffed already but one look at the Berry Pulao, a lamb berry pulao at that had everyone grabbing forks again. It is the best offering from SBOW and one not to be missed. It’s a must try on their vast and intriguing menu. Add some Bhendi Bazaar Sheekh Paratha and Kolmi Fry and this gastronomic Parsi journey is even happier. Did I mention the sweetest and funniest young stand up comedian Danesh Irani? That too. He had the captivated audience roaring with laughter with ‘The Last Parsi’ written by Meherzad Patel.

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon

SBOW Khan 5Dessert anyone? I groaned as I was ready to burst but can you keep the fingers away from the delicious to the last crumb 5 Star Brownie? Not possible at all. Also impossible to resist is the Toblerone Mousse which is smooth, silky, indulgent … divine. Glass scraping good stuff. Another very interesting dessert addition is the Bun Maska Jam. Pillowy soft white buns smothered with butter and jam send you right back into a nostalgic journey into the past. Yes they’ve got it spot on. Again! SBOW KhanSoda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon It’s a celebration of a cuisine that faced possible extinction and exposure to a community which is very small and largely unknown for it’s cuisine in North India. Ad Singh with his wonderfully talented team has given Delhi a memorable foodie destination, not once, but twice over! Kudos to the team behind this legacy … very talented and quite unassuming Mohit Balachandran from the food blog Chowder Singh who’s been active with Olive for several years, Head Chef Kulbeer, Cuisine authenticator and Parsi Chef Manager Anahita Dhody

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“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”
Virginia Woolf

@ the Amaranta Oberoi for a special Parsi lunch created by the legendary Tehmtan and Shernaz DumasiaJust back from a trip to Leh, an invite to a Zoroastrian Rhapsody with the oldest Parsi chefs Tehmtan and Shernaz Dumasia promised to be fun, exciting, engaging and invigorating. It certainly was. Parsi cuisine is an involving experience,and offers the old world charm of a tradition well preserved. The exclusive lunch created by the Dumasias for a bloggers table of eight filled the ‘Amaranta’, Oberoi Gurgaon with endless cacophony and laughter…aMy first visit to the property wasn’t quite what I expected it to be. The Oberoi stands tall … very modernistic, high ceilings, loads of natural light, minimalistic too, ‘glassy‘ and quiet. Then the lovely Mallika walked in with her positive energy and enthusiasm and the silence was history. We met at The Piano Bar, greeted at the door by a stunning sculpture by new age contemporary artist Valay Shinde.Sculpture by Valay Shinde 2

This stunning sculpture in bronze discs and pocket watches is created by Mumbai- based sculptor and video artist, Valay Shende. He uses non-traditional materials like metal, fibre glass, copper and pocket watches to create stark, traditional images- trucks, animals and this dabbawalla!

@ the Amaranta Oberoi for a special Parsi lunchThere has been a bit of Parsi cuisine in our neck of the woods of late, the first that comes to mind, Soda Bottle Openerwala. Both offered different experiences, starkly different at times, yet both special. SBO with it’s endless energy, loud music,casual dining, constant movement, colour, noise etc while Amaranta is quite the opposite in ambiance. Fine dining, pin drop silence {until we spread our wings of course} … everything working like clockwork.

@ the Amaranta Oberoi for a special Parsi lunchThe Oberoi Gurgaon’s fine dining Indian coastal restaurant offers cuisine from nine coastal regions of the country. Guests can enjoy the best of the morning catch flown in everyday from the 7500 kilometre long Indian coastline, just in time for lunch. What impressed me at the Amaranta was the fusion cuisine we were served. A bit of Indian fine dining coastal in perfect harmony with the Dumanias hand cooked Parsi cuisine. @ the Amaranta Oberoi for a special Parsi lunchWe began with a fabulous in house ginger ale, served alongside some addictive bread with interesting sea salts trademark of the Oberoi Gurgaon. Curry leaf & Coconut Powder, Goan Spice, Kerela spice and Lentil & Curry Leaf … stirred into some olive oil offered a magical accompaniment for the fresh bread. In jugalbandi, or perfect harmony, were papad {crackers} served with the Dumanias trademark carrot date chutney. Finger-licking good stuff!

@ the Amaranta Oberoi for a special Parsi lunch 2Loved the starters, though was a bit iffy about the Parsi Lamb Cutlet coz it was a brain cutlet! Jabbering got the better of me, and before I knew it I chomped my way though them without realising that was brain. It was delicious … full of flavour, crisp with a semolina coating. The Chicken Farcha was yum too.

@ the Amaranta Oberoi for a special Parsi lunch created by the legendary Tehmtan and Shernaz Dumasia What made the meal complete was that the chefs joined us at the table. Parsi food is homey, comforting, traditional is satisfying only in good company. Chef Tehmtan talked us through his life, how his day pans out, the celebrities who love his food, the club he runs in Mumbai, songs he sings at the Christian gym every Friday {there’s nothing he doesn’t do}. Up at 4am every morning, he sets off to buy fresh produce, then comes back to wake his beautiful wife … and off they go to cook! Together since 17, the two are inseprable and you can see the harmony they share. He is outgoing, social, media savvy, a quick thinker, cracks jokes every minute. She is a little reserved, cooks diligently, smiles all the time, and looks completely relaxed.

@ the Amaranta Oberoi for a special Parsi lunch We continued to eat amid incessant chatter. Justice was done to everything we were served.Mutton Dhansak with kebab, Patra ni Machi / Banana leaf wrapped steamed pomphret, Jerdaloo Salli Murghi / Chicken cooked in roasted onion and apricot gravy … a champagne sorbet woven through too! It was good food, great company …

@ the Amaranta Oberoi for a special Parsi lunch Time flew by … and soon dessert was served. This was the part I loved the most. Haven’t had a better Lagan nu Custard {a rich baked pudding served at Parsi weddings} ever. Also excellent was the tender coconut ice cream … both desserts in perfect harmony again, and a perfect end to the meal!

Photo courtesy Anamika  @ Anandini Himalaya Tea
Photo courtesy Anamika @ Anindini Tea

Thank you Chef Tehmtan and Shernaz Dumasia for taking precious time out for a table for us, and for sharing the recipes for Patra nu Machi and Lagan nu Custard.. Thank you also Mallika for hosting us at the Oberoi Gurgaon, and Anamika for organising this.  It was a memorable afternoon indeed!

“With Sodabottleopenerwala, we give to you something unique to India; the dying legacy of the wonderful, chaotic, crowded, bustling, colourful, quirky, eccentric and real world Irani café. Our way of reviving the love for the edu and the disappearing race behind the cafés.”
AD, Sabina & Rustom Sodabottleopenerwala

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, GurgaonSoda Bottle Openerwala. It was love at first sight! Nostalgia embraces you the minute you walk in through the doors, rather a wave of nostalgia! The cheerful, café like exteriors already beckon curious eyes … wrought iron, relaxed seating, red Coca Cola chairs, 70’s-80’s jukebox music offering a heady mix of energetic english and Bollywood music, galvanised iron flower pots with cheerful winter chrysanthemums, attention to rustic detail in every little thing.

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon Then the trademark signage … the bottle opener from our childhood that every household had back then. My first impression of Soda Bottle Openerwala, a wonderful one! It’s the first ever Parsi food destination in Delhi {possibly North India}, and my first in-depth Parsi food exposure. Needless to say, I LOVED it!

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon 5Homey, comforting, flavourful, colourful, noisy and busy, you can’t but help notice the constant stream of patrons walking in! Great great experience. Well located in the very impressive CyberHub in Gurgaon, Soda Bottle Openerwala is like the cherry on the cake.

Irani cafes or Iranian  cafés are Iranian or Persian style cafés in India. They were originally opened by Persian immigrants to India in the 19th century. Today, Mumbai boasts the largest number of Irani cafés, which are very popular for Irani chai (tea). Iranian cafés used to be numerous and popular but competition from modern cafés and fast food restaurants have left them behind. In the 1950s, there were 350 Irani cafés and today, only 25. One of the most popular eating places is the 102-year-old Kyani Café, a heritage landmark in south Mumbai.

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon SBO blew me away. It’s been a long-delayed visit, one I longed to experience ever since I saw the FB update announcing it’s ‘birth‘! I fell in love with the name and knew it was going to be magic! Past the doors and nostalgia flooded my senses. The interiors are captivating in a ‘packed’ way! Lots of everything. Everything I love, everything I want to own, everything embraces you with a strange energy.

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon AD Singh’s very talented wife Sabrina has done the interiors and my word, what a fab job! It’s an instant walk down memory lane … huge glass jars  filled with home-baked cookies, chipped stained glass, typical chai wala glasses adorning ever table, red checked table cloths with the lace like the nuns used to make, a caddy on every table, old metal tin boxes, the cuckoo clock, kettles galore, chalkboard menus. I could go on forever but you have to be there to experience it.

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon 4My photographs cannot do justice to a place so graphic and vibrant. Did I mention the TV playing Parsi news and programmes in the background, or the old Kelvinator fridge in the door? Then all of a sudden you hear a barely audible ‘chugging’ of sorts… and Ruchira excitedly shouts, “Look, a train”!! We bought one like that from Canada when my daughter was 6 months old; still proudly have it almost 18 years later!

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon The menu layout, content and graphics is great; something you feel like framing to hang from your wall! The choice on offer isn’t too complicated, yet there’s loads of choice. Interesting Parsi trivia salt and pepper it, keeping you in splits and giving you loads of food for thought.

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon The manager Arnab looked after us and was a wonderful host. Well informed about Parsi cuisine, the history and culture, he took it upon himself to make sure we got a bite of everything. Even though the menu seems fairly simple, there is LOTS to savour.

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon It was time to dig in, and we began with the signature drink and starters.  You get transported into the heart of Parsi culture as the soda bottle with a SBO stirrer arrives, followed by a variety of other coolers. Not too sweet, they are good on the side. The starters were fab.

Soda Bottle Opener Wala I enjoyed the Keema pav, Aloo Aunty’s Vegetable Cutlis {or simply panko crumbed veggie cutlets} served with a tangy tamarind chutney, and the Bombay pav. Took us back to a recent trip to Mumbai and the roadside vada pav we had hungrily devoured. If food builds the connect, and hits the right spot, you know it is good!

Starters, Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, GurgaonThe way the dishes were served won my heart. Simply plated, rustically served and food from the heart is how I’d put it. The much awaited signature dish, the Berry Pulao {mutton version which was the dish of the day}, blew us away. 

Berry Pulao, Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, GurgaonBerries and fried cashews glistening temptingly, it was a matter of seconds before we dug in. A gentle suggestion from Arnab telling us to mix it through to distribute the flavours was spot on! Through the main course, we kept returning to the pulao. It was simple, yet flavourful, mutton cooked to perfection and the cashews and berries adding unbelievable delight. I would go back to SBO only to eat this over and over again!

Patrani Macchi and Salli Boti, Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, GurgaonAlso praiseworthy was the Salli Boti. Salli we were told {for the uninitiated like me} are the crisp potato sticks on top of meat curry. This is the only meat dish {I think} which is served on the bone. The curry had delightful subtle flavours, lingering good spices that teased the palette gently. The crisp potatoes were addictive. The Patrani Machchi was gentle, coconut flavoured and moist. I enjoyed it even though I am not very fond of fish.

Kolmi Fry, Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, GurgaonThe Kolmi Fry or the Parsi style fried prawns were fab too. Crisp, fun to eat and satisfying bites, these stayed crisp for a long time as we dug into the berry pulao.

Desserts, Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, GurgaonEven though we were bursting at the seams, it was unanimously agreed that the Millionaires Brownie was a must. We braced ourselves for more indulgence. Deep, dark chocolate brownie with the trademark Indian 5 star chocolate baked in, this was certainly indulgent. Served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was addictive good. The laganu custard wasn’t available that day, and that was just as well.

Chai Bar, Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon Chef Anahita was sweet enough to take a little time out of her busy schedule to come talk to us. We finished the meal with the chefs recommendation for tea/ coffee which is an intrinsic part of Parsi culture. The lemongrass and mint hot Parsi Choy was brilliant, as was the Pheteli Coffee Hot {pheteli refers to whipped}. We had fresh home-baked style cookies on the side. The berry nankhatai was full of crisp goodness, and the mawa cake moorish. Everything fell into comfort zone!

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon Candies from the good ole days were a final end to our meal … mango bites, kala khatta and boiled orange candy which evoked strong childhood memories. Stored on the shelf near large well-lit glass windows, were lines of quintessential  ‘martabaans‘ or rustic Indian glass jars. When we were little, each house had a few of these stocked with cookies, nuts or boiled candies. Blissfully, we would stick our dirty fingers in. 

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon It was an afternoon well spent with Sangeeta and Ruchira, connecting to Parsi traditions that have richly contributed to Indian culture and cuisine. The cuisine itself was a refreshing change. Trademark flavours of Parsi food are not commonplace in North India unless they are home cooked. Hats off to SBO for being able to bring alive the warmth and joy of this delightful, quaint and vibrant community.

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Also find me on The Rabid Baker, The Times of India

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