Anahita Dhondy’s new book wraps Parsi food in stories

In 2012, Anahita Dhondy had an epiphany.

She was studying at Le Cordon Bleu in London, where she learned that spices were typically used only to cover up faults in the food. Salt and pepper were all the flavouring needed when cooking with fresh, well-cut ingredients. One day, she cooked the perfect pork fillet with prunes, which won her praise from her master chef. Yet, deep within, she felt something was missing. She took the leftover pork home, washed off the sauce, and turned it into a pork vindaloo (following her mum’s recipe).

The dish was life-changing.

“In London, I realised that I could make the most beautiful lamb or pork chops by displaying a lot of technique. But, ultimately, flavour is king. I think that’s why that vindaloo dinner was a turning point for me.” She soon started making chatpatta, more Indianised versions of Le Cordon Bleu's food at home. “[The pork vindaloo] made it clear an emotional connection to food was important for me. That’s how I found my culinary niche as a regional cuisine chef.”

Dhondy’s grandmother’s ravo

Dhondy’s grandmother’s ravo   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Pen mightier than the knife?

These epiphanies and food stories are part of chef Dhondy’s debut novel, The Parsi Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family.

It took the former chef-partner of SodaBottleOpenerWala, the Bombay Irani café and bar chain known for promoting Parsi cuisine, five years to collate and put together; years spent doing research, practising the recipes at home, and choosing what to leave out. “It’s very difficult for a chef to make that transition. We are eccentric, restless and super active. To actually sit down and write a book takes time,” she says. “It’s easier plating food for 200 people. That comes naturally to us!”

Dhondy is one of a growing group of celebrity chefs swapping their kitchen knives for pens. “It takes time to evolve your own style of cooking,” she says. “For me, it was finding my roots and discovering recipes I hadn’t cooked even when growing up. Our cookbooks are thus an extension of our unique styles.” She shares that there are plans to get back to professional cooking, but for now she’d like to keep those to herself.

Chef Anahita Dhondy

Chef Anahita Dhondy   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Marketing is a breeze

Like most cookbooks these days, Parsi Kitchen… also has a personal element and is peppered throughout are anecdotes: the secret of her father’s tea blend, her paternal grandfather’s mango philosophy, the impact of marrying a Punjabi reflected on her ravo recipe, and more. She shares snippets of her daily life — the family’s love for Pheteli coffee; the history of certain Parsi dishes and why they’re beloved, and stories like Patra Ni Machhi and its role in weight loss. “Everything that has gone in it [the book] is very real, to the point, and interesting.”

Highlighting the rare
  • The Parsi Kitchen is an extension of Dhondy’s work in popularising Parsi food in the mainstream. She’s seen the gradual change — with restaurants and hotels more open to regional food. “You will now find salli boti, akuri and dhansak on menus. I am happy to see that representation. Talking about the popular dishes is one step closer to getting to the lesser-known ones, such as topla na paneer or doodh na puff,” she says.

It’s why Dhondy finds it ‘natural’ to take on other roles too — to market the book, talk about it and do signings and events. Her schedule for the next two months includes marketing on social media, doing virtual classes and food demonstrations. To her, it’s just an extension of what she’s been doing over the last few years. During the lockdowns last year, she had started a weekend Parsi kitchen with her mother, wrote the book, and did vlogs and recipe videos on Instagram. “When you are passionate about something and love doing it, you will find the time,” she says, adding, “Cooking is a skill and can be used in many different ways. It can be used to feed people in a Covid crisis, run a restaurant, showcase a regional cuisine, educate people on Instagram and YouTube.”

Lagan nu Bhonu or the Parsi wedding meal

Lagan nu Bhonu or the Parsi wedding meal   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Book of tales

Dhondy is an avid collector of recipe books, old and new. And she’s seen the change in them over the years. “The major difference is the visual representation: the plating, the ingredients. It is so much better today. Also, back then, recipes were much shorter. We [try and] go into much more detail.”

She explains it as part of the evolution of cookbooks. “Today, there is the space, knowledge, time, and money to be able to do all this. We give more details because people want to know, and it helps them recreate something exactly the way the writer intended.” Her book is “not just a recipe book”, she concludes. “It is a book of stories. Each chapter has a story that goes into a recipe. It offers insight into the culture and community.”

Published by HarperCollins, the book (₹999) is available online and at all major book stores.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 11:14:36 PM |

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