On the occasion of Jamshedi Navroze, which falls today, I present you Parsi festive food at the Ideal Corner Restaurant,Mumbai's only genuine Parsi restaurant. As a rule, the place is closed on Sundays, but today, for the first time in its history, it is kept open (11.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m.) to cater to the public with chicken pulao and jerdaloo boti. So let me describe today's New year lunch.
A saffron chicken pulao dal. The saffron (kesar) comes from Iran, Proprietor Pravez Patel assures me. Just a pinch of it and the whole restaurant is filled with the scent of fields of saffron. For a Rs.60 portion, you get a generous portion of basmati rice, half saffron coloured, half white, a quarter of a chicken in the rice, plus large pieces of potatoes, fried crisp and gold with browned edges, and slices of hard-boiled eggs. The dal comes separate in a bowl, it is a tur dal, somewhat thick, rich in what are known as Parsi masalas of dhana-jeeru, etc. The rice and the chicken are cooked independently at first, or half cooked, then mixed together and put on dum. In the sealed vessel, an aromatic combination of basmati from the Doon Valley and saffron from Iran's fields takes over. The special pulao dal is priced at Rs.60 and it should make a perfect Navroze lunch.
The other item on the Navroze menu is jerdaloo boti (also Rs.60). Ideal serves a sali boti (Rs.40) every afternoon, but not with the jerdaloo, this is special. Onions and tomatoes are fried and a base created. Then the boti put in. The meaning of boti is small round pieces of meat, boneless, and they come from the tenderest part of the meat, often with a little fat. When the meats are on the verge of being cooked, the dried apricots are released. It is a sweet and sour dish, as a number of Parsi dishes are, and, if the sali is used, it becomes a touch salty. You eat it with soft bread, dipping it in the gravy produced by the onion-tomatoes and the juices of the cooking meats. The regular sali boti, which is on the menu every afternoon, is the second most popular dish at the restaurant. The first is mutton dhanshak, naturally.
Dhanshak is not on Sunday's special menu, it is not something Parsis eat on auspicious occasions. But there is a chutney fish, pomfret fillets, rolled in a chutney of red chilli powder and coconut, covered with egg batter and deep fried. The wheat rotlis (ghaoo no rotli) are also special, normally there is only bread at the restaurant. And the custard is the regular lagan nu custard, but with a rich mewa of cashew, charoli, black raisins, nutmeg, added to it. At Rs.25, it is a steal. Have two, but remember, they are difficult to digest. The regular lagan custard, minus some of the mewa, is Rs.20, it uses the full fat milk of Parsi Dairy, boiled, thickened, and boiled again, plus sugar, eggs, nutmeg powder, it is then baked in individual aluminium foils and comes to the table warm. In certain respects, it is the most edible dessert in the world. I have done with the Navroze special menu for Sunday, I will now come to the regular menu. Note: Ideal Corner is open for breakfast and lunch only, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., there is no dinner service. It is easy to find, situated in Gunbow Street, the street parallel to Pherozeshah Mehta Road, entry from Dadabhoy Naoroji Road, you enter and there it is bang opposite you. It is a modest place, a ground-floor with a kitchen at the back, tables close to one another and plastic go-go stools, menu chalked on a blackboard at the entrance, with the prices. The services is fast and friendly, and the proprietors are always available. The customers are mainly regulars, diners who know exactly how they want their lunch. The dishes are fixed, particular dishes for particular days (if it is Tuesday, it must be khichdi and prawn patia), but the entire menu undergoes a change every two or three months.
Dhanshak is on Wednesdays and Fridays, and you better go early if you do not want it to be finished. Also, order a mutton dhanshak, no thoroughbred Parsi eats a chicken dhanshak. Both cost Rs.50 and the mutton dhanshak comes with two kebabs. There is also a vegetable dhanshak for vegetarians, Rs.40.
Parsis grade their dhanshak in five classes, the Ideal Corner dhanshak would come in class two, which is quite high. Yacht and Ripon Club dhanshaks are class one, but they are clubs, you can't eat them unless you are members or members' guests. I suggest you try the Ideal dhanshak, they use tur dal, and extra methi, which gives it a strong twang, plus both pumpkin and brinjal for body. The dhanshak masala comes from a little shop inside the Fort Market, in the rows of vegetable stalls. It is called Umrigar & Sons, and those who know it swear by it. It is expensive but the quality is excellent, and it is good for all masalas. This is my New Year tip to you. Eat the dhanshak with the Kachumber, that is already treated with vinegar.
Tuesdays are for khichdi, the yellow turmeric treated rice, and it is served with a hot prawn patia, or a very wet kheema, or masoor. On Tuesdays, they also serve a masoor gosh, which is the Parsi national anthem. It is the full masoor, cooked in the juice of the meat, and the meat is with the bone. The masoor is a little wet, they give you Zend M. Zend's freshly-baked bun bread to eat with it. And remember to ask for raw onions. Not kachumber, plain raw onions. The masoor gosh costs Rs.35 and can be a meal by itself, for vegetarians there is plain masoor. Similarly, there is papdi gosh on Wednesdays, another Parsi speciality. The papri is again cooked in the juice of the meat, and full pods of garlic, unshelled, are released in it. If you ring up Ideal Corner, 262 1930, perhaps, they may arrange to send their weekly menu to you. Or pick it up the next time you are passing by.
And don't forget to go there for breakfast. They make an excellent akuri, two eggs, onions, tomatoes, coriander, chillis, not too solid, not too soft, the texture just right. And they make the Parsi poro, thick, browned and deep fried.