Navroz marks the first day of the Iranian calendar. The term Navroz comes from the Persian word, ‘nav’ meaning ‘new’ and ‘roz’ meaning ‘day’. So, both put together means a new day. And there's nothing quite like splendid Navroz meal during Parsi New Year celebrations.
Significance of Parsi New Year
The celebration of the Parsi New Year began 3000 years ago. On this day the Parsis pray for their prosperity, wealth and good health. The Parsi communities are Zoroastrian by faith and came to India when the Arabs invaded Iran. Says chef and academician Rukshana Billimoria from Mumbai, “Our celebrations begin with a bath in the morning and we wear new clothes and visit the fire temple. We offer flowers, milk, fruits and sandlewood to the fire god. On this day I usually prepare delicacies like meethi sev dahi, mora dal chawal, machchi no patio, mutton pulao, saas ni machchi, marghi na farcha (crispy fried chicken),patra nu machli, sali boti, berry pulao, jardaloo chicken, kid gosht, cutlets, mawa ni boi, lagan nu custard.”
Feasting during Navroz
The celebration includes feasting over an elaborate Parsi meal. Friends and family come together over an authentic Parsi spread. Parsis love their eggs and begin their day with Akoori which a kind of scrambled eggs served on toast. The Indian influence is quite obvious in the dish with the generous use of spices like cumin and coriander with a dash of garlic and is garnished with chopped coriander. Parsis are very generous with the use of butter too and the scrambled egg is soft and not like the typical anda burji that you get in a North Indian household. I remember tasting this at my friend Kaizad Taraporwala’s house.
The good thing about Parsi food is that, this particular community has retained its authenticity in food. The sweet and sour dishes with mild spices and the amalgamation of the Gujrati, Maharashtrian, British and the Iranian flavours gives all their dishes a very unique taste. Parsi food is mainly non-vegetarian and has a lot of Middle Eastern influences. British too have left an impact on their cuisine and that can be seen in the amazing range of puddings that they make.
Chef Pawan Bisht of Verandah Moonshine, Delhi says, “One of the most delicious and popular dishes of Parsi cuisine is the humble Marghi na farcha or Chicken farcha. It is tender on the inside and crispy on the outside. The dish not only goes excellently with all sorts of dals and curries but also can be served as an appetizer with some mint raita.” To make Marghi na farcha, the chicken needs to be washed and marinated well with ginger-garlic paste, salt, pepper, turmeric and red chilli powder. Parsi food is packed with mild spices, meat and seafood and this is what makes the dishes ridiculously tasty.
“When it comes to making the sweet dish on this special occasion, it is absolutely mandatory in our house to make ravo which is a sweet semolina preparation flavoured with dry fruits, nuts and rose petals,” says Billimoria.
Lunch is an elaborate affair. One of the main delicacies for lunch is the Patrani machchi which is kingfish fillets marinated and wrapped in banana leaves and steam cooked until tender. This dish has gained its popularity because of its unique style of cooking.
Says Chef Vaibhav Bhargava of Drunken Botanist, “Celebrations are incomplete without the much coveted Parsi mutton cutlets. It is prepared with minced mutton, potatoes, bread crumbs, eggs and a host of spices.”
Another popular Parsi dish is Jardaloo Salli Marghi. Jardaloo (apricots) Salli (potatoes) and Marghi (chicken) are beautifully combined into a dish and the taste simply lingers in your mouth. Says Chef Reetu Uday Kugaji, “This dish consists of chicken stewed with dried and soaked apricots. The sweet and scrumptious taste of the apricots combines fantastically with a sharp taste of red chilli powder and Worcestershire sauce. This dish is influenced by the British. Dried apricots are used in combination with meats to make special dishes on festive occasions. The dried apricots are soaked in water and then stewed along with chicken and aromatic spices. Potatoes are essential to Parsi cuisine. They are sliced thinly and shredded and then washed several times in water to get rid of the starch. They are then dipped into cold salted water, pat dried to remove excess of moisture and deep-fried until crisp and crunchy.”
For dessert too, they use eggs. Lagan nu custard is prepared with full-fat milk, eggs, sugar green cardamom powder, grated nutmeg, vanilla extract and loads of dry fruits and it is baked. The day ends by watching natak (Parsi skit) in the evening. The Bawa-flavoured Parsi skits are absolutely hilarious and one must watch this at least once in their lifetime!