I remember a friend who, tucking into a deliciously scrambled akoori, remarked, ‘When in doubt, crack an eedu’. She was, of course, referring to the Parsi embrace of eggs in dizzyingly imaginative avatars that incorporates the humble egg into cuisine and culture with equal gusto… from cracking an egg at breakfast to cracking an egg at auspicious occasions such as housewarmings!
It’s not just such eggs-on-anything preparations on account of which I look forward to invitations to Parsi meals. The Parsi table is truly glorious, especially during the rose-and-sandalwood scented Parsi New Year or Navroz celebrations, where a Sesh Tray graces the table. Traditionally, a silver tray is placed, with a container of rose water, bowls filled with betel nut, raw rice and raw sugar, a vase of flowers, a picture of Zarathustra and a burning flame. (An ‘afargania’ i.e. a silver urn with a small fire nourished by sandalwood and other fragrant resins, or a floating wick in a glass filled with water and topped with oil to fuel the fire.) A liberal garnish of crisp potato straws and dry fruits animates the sumptuous feasts around the centrepiece of the Sesh Tray, and living history is apparent in not only the flavours at the table but also in the exquisite gara-embroidered saris! Perhaps nowhere are the Silk Road trade links between the ancient civilisations of China, Persia and India as tangible as in heirloom Parsi cuisine and heirloom Parsi saris.
Zoroastrians worldwide celebrate Nowruz, literally meaning ‘New Day’, as the first day of the New Year. However, because the widespread Zoroastrian communities around the world have evolved slightly different calendar systems, followers of the Fasli variant of the Zoroastrian calendar celebrate Nowruz on the day of the spring equinox in March, while Parsi Zoroastrians who follow the Shahenshahi and Kadmi calendars, which do not account for leap years, celebrate Nowruz twice. Once as Jamshedi Nowruz on March 21 as the start of spring, and a second Nowruz in July/August as New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. This second Nowruz is celebrated after Pateti, the Day of Penitence, which coincides with the last day of the year.
Navroz welcome of guests is special: a sprinkling of rose water makes way for breakfast, usually a ghee-roasted preparation of sev studded with dry fruits served along with yogurt. And once the Agiary or Fire Temple visit to offer prayers is over, we’re back to elaborate feasting: sali boti, patrani machchi, dhansak, sasni machchi, chicken farchas, falooda, lagan-nu-custard… to name but a few of the delicacies.
Welcoming in the Nowruz on August 18 this year, ITC Hotels in Mumbai lays out a feast-tribute to the spirit of the community. If ITC Grand Central beckons with grand lunch and dinner buffets, ITC Maratha makes you an offer you can’t refuse: to aid the Navroz celebrations with family and friends, the fourth guest’s meal is charged at Rs. 1 only!