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My Bombay Kitchen

My Bombay Kitchen: Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking

Foreword by Alice Waters
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 355
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  • Book Info
    My Bombay Kitchen
    Book Description:

    The Persians of antiquity were renowned for their lavish cuisine and their never-ceasing fascination with the exotic. These traits still find expression in the cooking of India's rapidly dwindling Parsi population—descendants of Zoroastrians who fled Persia after the Sassanian empire fell to the invading Arabs. The first book published in the United States on Parsi food written by a Parsi, this beautiful volume includes 165 recipes and makes one of India's most remarkable regional cuisines accessible to Westerners. In an intimate narrative rich with personal experience, the author leads readers into a world of new ideas, tastes, ingredients, and techniques, with a range of easy and seductive menus that will reassure neophytes and challenge explorers.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93337-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Alice Waters

    Niloufer Ichaporia King is one of the great cooks I know. Her food is so unexpected, and at the same time so exactly what I want to eat, that since I know I can’t reasonably expect an invitation to dine at her house as often as I want, it is profoundly frustrating to me that she has never opened a restaurant. Whenever Idohave the privilege of sharing her table, I’m as speechless with delight as when I first walked into her house and kitchen more than twenty years ago.

    Dinner with Niloufer and her husband, David King, is...

    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-26)

    A Bombay kitchen can be anywhere in the world. All you need is an insatiable curiosity about food and a love for sharing it. Over the past forty or so years since I first left India, my Bombay kitchen, a Parsi one, has moved across the United States from the East Coast to the Midwest and now finds itself settled in San Francisco, where I’ve lived for twenty-five years with the illustrator of this book, my husband, David King; my mother, Shireen Ichaporia; and an eccentric Amazon parrot who rules over us all.

    A freewheeling approach to food isn’t unique...

    (pp. 27-48)

    Kitchens in India have changed a lot since my grandparents’ generation, when they were smoky places ruled over by the family cook. Even now, the average Indian kitchen would look primitive to American eyes. Yet the quality of the food that comes out of these kitchens on a daily basis is nothing short of astounding. It really doesn’t take more than three bricks and a fire to cook a meal, a sobering reminder that it’s the individual who makes the food, not the equipment. Indian family cooks I’ve known have been ingenious in finding ways to meet their needs. Faced...

    (pp. 49-72)

    Before dinner, along with drinks, my grandmother might set out bowls of nuts, usually fried cashews or peanuts, salted and sometimes sprinkled with Indian chilly powder (much like American cayenne pepper). Other favorites would have beenchura(an addictive mixture of fried pressed rice, nuts, and seasonings, usually scooped with a little teaspoon, put onto the palm, and quickly gobbled up) orsev-gantia,an umbrella term to describe the infinite forms that seasoned chickpea flour batter can take when extruded through a special press (see page 71) into hot oil. For something more substantial, my grandmother might have offered crisp...

  8. SOUPS
    (pp. 73-82)

    Parsis love soupy food—though soup as a category is a relative newcomer to Parsi cuisine, an appropriation from the Raj. My mother remembers soup appearing regularly on the dinner menu when she was growing up, always as the opening course, never as the center of a meal. Cooks in Parsi households, and other Indian ones for that matter, could take humdrum soups from English cuisine and turn them into delicious hybrids. Tomato and other cream soups were always popular, along with a mulligatawny that bore little resemblance to the Anglo version made with chopped apple and curry powder.


  9. EGGS
    (pp. 83-92)

    The link between Parsi longevity and Parsi egg consumption would make fabulous Egg Board propaganda. We’ve never needed to be told that eggs are the perfect food, nor have we ever really believed the canard that they weren’t.

    To give you some idea of the importance of eggs, let’s look at an ordinary day’s meals in a Parsi household like my mother’s. Breakfast usually means eggs. Ever since I can remember, my mother’s breakfast has been a restrained soft-boiled egg. My father liked his eggs fried, with bacon. There are tales of heroic trenchermen in my grandparents’ generation who ate...

    (pp. 93-110)

    Every auspicious occasion in a Parsi household requires fish, because fish represents fertility, respect for the waters, prosperity. It may be a symbolic representation in chalk stencils on the floor, it may be a silver replica for the ritual tray, it may be a fish-shaped sweetmeat, it may be a pair of beautiful freshly caught pomfret brought to the door as a present, and it must be part of the day’s lunch menu, to be eaten with rice and plain dal. One might assume that fish became important in Parsi life and ritual only after the arrival in India. After...

    (pp. 111-160)

    Parsis brought a tradition of lavish meat eating to India, and centuries of coexistence with the vegetarian populations around us in Gujarat did not change our omnivorous, carnivorous ways—though we did avoid cows, out of respect for the Hindus, and later pigs, out of respect for the Muslims. No aspect of Parsi cooking reflects the food of pre-Islamic Persia as much as the way we deal with meat and poultry. Modern Iranian cooking also reflects the food of our common Sassanian ancestors, whose traditions were preserved, cultivated, and disseminated by the Arabs who conquered Persia and fell in love...

    (pp. 161-184)

    Ancient Persia was so well placed along the trade routes between China, India, and the rest of the known world that it had a look at anything interesting moving in either direction. We have evidence of rice cultivation there as early as 1000 b.c.e., most likely as a result of trade with India, and know for certain that rice was part of the diet of the luxury-loving Persians by 400 b.c.e. Wheat was the grain for the general population; rice was for the more affluent, cooked with fruit, orange peel, and saffron, forerunner of the festivepulaosand biryanis of...

    (pp. 185-210)

    I’m always fascinated to see what’s considered exotic in a market. Bombay markets are rich with choice. There’s a special section of vegetable stalls reserved for things like red cabbage, baby corn, sweet red peppers, asparagus, mushrooms, avocados, basil, and boutique lettuce. When my parents lived in Cochin in the fifties, the local bazaars were crammed with snake gourd, eggplants, long beans, pumpkins, plantains, and a variety of greens, but all the same my aunt in Ootacamund used to send them a weekly basket of what were called “English vegetables”—cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, string beans, and occasionally chayote, known in...

  14. SALADS
    (pp. 211-220)

    Nearly every vegetable stall in Bombay has a small section devoted to lettuce, orsalit. It’s usually a delicate leaf lettuce and, as often as not, it sits neglected and wilting through the heat of the day. In my childhood,salitappeared as a restrained border for sliced beets, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions—the green salad of so many Bombay restaurant menus—or as a surrounding garnish for mounds of mayonnaise-dressed meat, fish, or vegetables; either way, perfunctory appearances. I knew only one public place that served just lettuce, freshly picked, with oil and vinegar. This was my parents’ club,...

    (pp. 221-240)

    There are two schools of thought on pickles and chutneys. My mother thought that a well-seasoned dish didn’t need to be embellished. My father was in the other camp. He loved having at least three different pickles and chutneys on hand at all times because every dish, however well seasoned, could be made even more exciting. I’m somewhere in the middle. To me, chutneys and pickles are like jewelry for food. Sometimes you want to make a strong statement, sometimes a restrained one.

    Kachumbarsand raitas are another matter. Where a pickle or chutney is an optional adjunct to a...

    (pp. 241-268)

    Sweets are a regular punctuation mark in every Parsi life. Auspicious days, whether personal or religious, are usually celebrated with the distribution of sweets, and all the days in between are improved by their consumption. On birthdays, it gets even better. Breakfast consists of one of the required sweets, such assev(page 257) orrava(page 259), with sweet yogurt. Lunch will probably involve a special “pudding,” as we still call desserts, following the English pattern. Teatime brings a birthday party and a birthday cake. More sweet treats such as chocolates end a birthday dinner party. Seven months into...

  17. DRINKS
    (pp. 269-280)

    Parsis are no strangers to wine. Legend says that wine was discovered long ago, during the reign of Jamshed, the mythical philosopher-king of Persia. He was so fond of grapes that one day he decided to preserve them in jars. Sampling his experiment, he thought they tasted odd. Instead of throwing them out, he put the jars aside, marked as poison. A woman in Jamshed’s household had such a bad headache that she wanted to die. Spying one of the marked jars, she drank its contents down and fell into a swoon from which she recovered happily. From that day...

  18. MENUS
    (pp. 281-288)

    In any cuisine, familiar or new, there are the perennial questions of what to have and how to put it all together. The menus shown here are divided into two sections—the way my mother and grandmother organized their meals, and the way we do now in San Francisco. My grandmother’s and mother’s menus were more elaborate than ours today, especially when they entertained. Traditional Parsi hospitality requires a lavish succession of extravagant dishes, most vividly demonstrated by the ceremonial banquets served at Navjots and weddings. The wedding dinner menu below is more for historical interest than a suggestion.


    (pp. 289-314)
    (pp. 315-316)
    (pp. 317-322)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 323-338)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 339-339)