Some days draw me into the world of restaurants and cafÃ©s, tempting my tongue with the intriguing and the unaccustomed. Others though, are meant to be spent in the company of familiar Parsi flavours, a simple dhun dar chawal or a khichdi kheemo, comforting, frugal and unapologetic. This story points to these days. The shops and eateries I mention below are all unshowy and unpretentious, but the food is always compelling. They are my home away from home.
RTI (Ratan Tata Institute) outlets are sprinkled through the city, but the one I keep returning to is the RTI cafÃ© cloistered within the gardens of the Parsee General Hospital. This is where friends and relatives of incarcerated patients come to tranquillise the winnowing flail of hunger that assails them at mealtimes. On the menu - hearty Parsi cooking like dhansak and curry chawal. On the shelves - a catalogue of Parsi snacks like bhakra (a sort of tea-time cakelet), chocolate rum balls, chapat (pancakes fattened with a dense coconut stuffing) and cheese straws.
The B.D. Petit Parsee General Hospital, Bomanji Petit Marg, Cumballa Hill
Parsi Dairy Farm
What draws me to PDF's dazzling blue shop-front is the corpulent canine usually lolling outside. I am lured within by its slabs of malai kulfi. And the mawa ni boi, the fish-shaped sweet shimmering in its silver leaf skin. And tangled pats of snowy sutarfeni. And ghee fashioned from buffalo milk, and white butter. The list goes onâ¦
261-63, Princess Street, Marine Lines Flyover, Marine Lines (e), Kalbadevi
Meher Cold Drink House
Included for the frivolous reason that its name matches mine. Meher Cold Drink House has settled very comfortably into old age and has dedicated itself to the twin virtues of lassi (sweet and salted and most refreshing) and sweet dahi, set in little tea glasses.
5, Ground Floor, Mackawee Mansion, 7, Rustom Sidhwa Marg, Borabazar Precinct, Ballard Estate
It's a bit of a thrill to stumble upon this quaint little cafe in the tangled lanes of Fort. Ideal serves the usual suspects of Parsi food, but on Tuesdays they make kharoo gosh, a chunky stew of mutton and potatoes, flanked with rotli. And on Wednesday there is railway mutton.
12/F/G Hornby View, Gunbow Street, Fort
Don't be dissuaded by Paris Bakery's unassuming exterior. It is here that you will find the simple troika of flour, butter and water transform into the khari biscuit, the Bakery's finest offering. Light as a cloud, with a sunny-coloured glaze, the khari biscuit is meant to be submerged in hot chai at tea-time. Second best are the stubby little lumps of batasa biscuits, spiked with caraway seeds.
278, Dr Cawasji Hormusji Street, Our Lady Of Dolours Church Lane, Marine Lines
Full disclosure: I've eaten here only once, a long while ago, but reliable sources have told me that this is where one goes to get lagan nu bhonu i.e. the much-vaunted wedding spread of pulao-dar, patra-ni-macchi, marghi-na-farcha (fried chicken skirted by lacy batter), saria wafers, achaar and lagan-nu-custard. If I go again though, I'd order the dhun dal and tareli macchi, which is nothing but yellow dal and rice served with fish that has been fried until its skin blisters.
11, Vikas Building, Bank Street, Near Horniman Circle, Fort
This little store has been sliced into two, one half given over to the sale of sapat (slippers), topis and other Parsi worthies. The other half is devoted to pickles and pastries like the khajoor ni ghori (pastries infiltrated by date and jaggery, then fried until crunch gives way to tender); khaman na ladoo (velvety balls of dough with bellies of sweetened coconut) and patrel (colocasia leaf and gram flour furled together, then fried or roasted).
218, Chandra Mahal, Dr. C.H. Street, Marine Lines
Go to Royal Sweets for its crisp whorls of jalebi. Stay for its malai na khaja, slender panes of pastry stuffed with cream and tinged with nuts. Come home with the fudgy, coconutty kopra pak.
L.T. Market, Opposite Novelty Cinema, Grant Road (E)
This is one I would have left out since I have already written about PAC for The City Story, but it has crept back into this story, by sole virtue of its chicken pattice: a flaky, crumbly, golden-brown carapace that shields its creamy chicken depths. During the winter, PAC also stocks badam pak (a sort of savoury almond fudge) and vasanu (a spicy-savoury breakfast fudge, rumoured to impart strength on wintry mornings).
292 Shastri Hall, Shop No. 3, Nana Chowk, Tardeo Road
Dadar Perviz Hall
At Dadar Parsi Youth Assembly's Snack Centre, the best thing is the chutney egg, a dish of potato and green chutney folded round a boiled egg, and deep-fried to a crisp. Dar ni pori (discs of pastry, plumped with sweetened dal) comes a close second.
803-D, Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Road, Parsee Colony, Dadar
Honourable mentions must be made of Motilal Masalawala and Belgaum Gheewala, purveyors of all Parsi masalas, pickles and other condiments. This is where Parsis go to buy the Parsi dhana jeera, Parsi sambhar masala, dhansak masala, gharab nu achar (pickled fish roe), tarapori patio (Bombay duck pickle) and bafenu (an entire Alphonso mango submerged in a mustardy masala).
Motilal Masalawala, 405 Grant Road
Belgaum Gheewala, N. Bharucha Marg, Nana Chowk, Grant Road
âWith arrangements from citystory.com