Celebrities such as John Abraham and Bomani Irani (as well as several non-Parsi personages) swear by their patra ni machchi, their dhansak is considered among the best in Mumbai and, for the past seven years, they have been catering to the 120-year-old Ripon Club in Mumbai.
Tehtman and Shernaz Dumasia have certainly come a long way since setting up K Caterers in 1992. So when Executive Chef, Ravitej Nath of the Oberoi Gurgaon wanted to organise a Parsi food festival for the hotel’s specialty Indian restaurant Amaranta (on till June 22), he phoned Mumbai, prompting the Dumasias to come to the Capital for their first catering.
“I apprenticed in Parsi cuisine under my uncle, the legendary caterer, Minoo Bharucha, who encouraged me and Shernaz to branch out on our own. Shernaz learned Parsi cooking from her mother,” says Tehtman, who started out as a florist for weddings and other functions, something he still does at K Caterers, which takes care of all the minutiae of Parsi weddings, funerals and other functions. While they both cook, Shernaz prefers to stay in the kitchen while Tehtman, who is “more social”, steps out and interacts with guests.
For their first Delhi event, the Dumasias have brought with them masalas, red vinegar and other ingredients from Parsi stores in Mumbai. “We have also decided to fly in pao from Mumbai because, on arriving here, we found that the pao in Delhi is too sweet,” says Tehtman, elaborating that Parsis do not like experimentation, preferring their cuisine as traditional as possible, served on a banana leaf and accompanied by copious amounts of beverage.
On the menu is patra ni machchi (fish marinated in green chutney and steamed in a banana leaf) and saas ni machchi (fish in a sweet-and-sour white sauce), both of which use pomfret (“Pomfret is the quintessential fish in Parsi seafood preparations,” says Tehtman), brain and mutton cutlets, sali boti (meat curry with shoestring potato), prawn kebabs, laga nu custard (a Parsi version of Creme Brulee) and, of course, the dhansak, among several Parsi specialities.
Dhansak is traditionally a funeral dish, meant to be had on the fourth day of mourning. The first three days have to be vegetarian, with mutton dhansak an obligatory dish on the fourth day, the Dumasias’ version having become the dhansak du jour in Mumbai for several years. On sampling their dishes, it becomes clear why the Dumasias enjoy the reputation they do. If their brain cutlet is an ephemeral confection of yielding protein in a thin, crisp breadcrumb coating, their patra ni machchi is as kzesty and sun-filled as a herb garden, comprising a whole pomfret, deliciously enbalmed in a chutney and shrouded in a steaming banana leaf.
The recipes are family heirlooms, that are closely guarded. It’s so traditional that it’s brand new. Tehtman promises, “You wouldn’t have tasted these flavours in Delhi before.”
This story appeared in print with the headline Feeding the Fire