Noshtalgia | Food

Malai pao, meat feasts and ice cream: My grandfather’s joy in eating

A Parsi feast.   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

I remember very little of my grandfather. In every evocation of my childhood, his face dims into a blur, my memory smoothing the reticulation of wrinkles on his face and turning it into a misty suggestion.

Other things about him, I do remember. A tall man, whippet-thin and blade-tongued. I remember his strident voice, heavy with the weight of a lifetime spent in a small-town cotton mill in Gujarat. I remember the way he looked at me, his first grandchild, with a smile as wide as the sunset.

I remember my name typed under the photograph of a little girl, framed and set above the dining table. It hung there for years and years, yellowing with age long after he had gone. I was his little bakalyu, he was my beloved dada.

Most of all, I remember the joy he drew from eating. He was a man of prodigious appetites. I remember his breakfasts — scrambled eggs, hot and creamy, made with lots of eggs and lots of butter. Sometimes there was pora pao — a slab of garlicky-gingery omelette stippled with green chillies, onion and green mango with flecks of coriander tousled in; all fried in butter and folded into a pao. The pora was made with three eggs at least, and sometimes it was wrapped into ghaoon ni rotli (wheat roti) — either way, he ate it voraciously with both hands, in a sort of private orgy of delight.

Sometimes, there would be boi fish, fried and eaten, sometimes akuri. On winter mornings, there was a splodge of vasanu (a spicy savoury breakfast fudge, rumoured to impart strength on wintry mornings) or eeda pak (a kind of savoury almond fudge). Most people would take a spoonful. My grandfather would take four. This was usually accompanied by doodh na puff that was once, by necessity, a winter dish. Bapaiji, my grandmother, would boil fresh, sweet milk the evening before, leaving it to cool overnight on the kitchen window, in a dekchi covered with mulmul. The next morning, she would whip the dew-soaked cream that had risen to the top into a bone-white lather, then scoop it into glasses and feed everyone with holiday abandon.

Delicious deliveries

Quite often, there was also malai pao. When my grandfather was a strapping young man and my father a little lad, trays and trays of laadi pao would stride in every morning on a train from Valsad.

My father and his brother and my bapaiji would wait at the station for the delivery, my kaka (uncle) especially ravening with excitement for the sleeves of fresh-baked bread (each pao was pimpled with a little puff on its browned roof) that he brought home, mutinously eating one on the way.

Then, back home, bapaiji would skim spoonfuls of cream off the top of a basin of freshly-boiled milk, bring out great big bowls in which the malai, pearl-coloured and glinting with sugar, settled in its little puddle of milk like silt in a pond. Dada would tear off a chunk of the pao, tracing its rim round the soggy edge of the bowl, and scoop it into his mouth. Even afterwards, when my grandfather retired and they moved to Mumbai and the world tilted this way and that around their axes, there was malai pao on the breakfast table. There was always malai pao.

Like many Parsis of his time, my grandfather’s table was a parade ground of meat — the tongue of goat burrowing under a mound of masoor (split red lentils); sweetbreads shrouded in caramelised onion; plate after plate of bhujan, the meat stewed to bursting over a charcoal fire; its gravied cousin, khurchan; sali marghi, chicken in an apricot-swirled gravy, its surface craggy with potato matchsticks deep fried to shattering crispness; pan fried boi, its skin incised with turmeric and chilli powder; papri ma gos, a mound of mutton, its tawniness abraded by earthy papri (broad beans). Much of this was village food, rugged and homey; village kitchens always seemed to send out the most tantalising clouds.

But the thing we talk about the most was his propensity for ice cream; the ice cream, lifted out of the icebox (and later the refrigerator), was always eaten out of soup plates! He simply couldn’t have enough of it. Twenty years after he passed away, we still marvel at it.


Mutton Bhujan

Bhujan is often made with the liver, kidney, testicles and spleen of the goat, but this, an old recipe of my mother’s, has substituted chunks of mutton for the squeamish among us.


1 kg mutton

1 dessert spoon (dsp) ginger-garlic paste

2 tsp chilli powder

1 dsp salt (less if it is table salt)

3 dsp cooking sauce

10 cardamoms

3/4 tsp turmeric

1 bunch coriander leaves

8-10 green chillies

7-8 mint leaves

1 tsp pepper

3 dsp vinegar

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 piece cinnamon

5 dsp boiling ghee

1 banana leaf, washed and wiped dry


1. Grind the coriander, chillies, mint, coriander seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, pepper and salt (to taste) into a masala, and set it aside. Wash the meat and dry it well, with a cloth. Cut it into big pieces and stab each piece thoroughly with a fork, to aid the absorption of the marinade.

2. Mix the mutton with the paste and add in the remaining ingredients, making sure to massage it all in thoroughly. Cover the bowl with a cloth and keep aside it standing for a minimum of 3-4 three to four hours.

3. Heat 1 dsp ghee in a saucepan, then layer it with a banana leaf (the ghee will keep the leaf from sticking). Next, pour in another dsp of ghee (again, the ghee should keep the meat from sticking to the leaf), then add in the marinated meat, then pour 1 1/2 dsp ghee onto the mutton pieces.

4. Cover with a tightly fitted lid and bung something heavy on top; it should be tightly closed, almost dum-style. As soon as the mutton dries up and shrinks, stir it and add the remaining hot ghee. It is when the oil rises that you will know that it is cooked. Serve at once.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2021 9:17:39 AM |

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