My need to voraciously absorb all odd bits of information was the reason why I used to be good at General Knowledge in school. Parents obviously approved and hence every Sunday night at 9.00 I was allowed to sit through Siddharth Kak-Renuka Shahane hosted Surabhi—a true blue infotainment programme which will strongly be embedded in any ’90s kid. It was here that I had first heard of Navsari and Udvada, the first ports of call for Zorastrians and Parsis into the subcontinent.
Ten years in Mumbai was enough to make my resolve strong to visit Udvada made it a bucket list entry. The plan was put in motion some time last year, but it wasn’t until April this year that the road trip materialised and the calendars of our motley crew of four finally synced and off we went.
I always thought I grew up in a sleepy little town, but Udvada is smaller and sleepier still. As a matter of fact, for most parts it is still just a village but generously sprinkled with mansions and bungalows built by Parsis, thanks to their expedient enterprises. What drew them then and draws them even now is the Iran Shah, a fire temple with oldest continuous fire in the world. Parsi rigidity about their religion forbade us to step inside, we, very happily, made peace with the quaintness.
The highlight, of course, was the food and as luck would have it, it was Bengali New Year and a mighty meal was only fair. Let me be clear, we did not go pillar to post trying out all the famed eateries trying out Parsi fare; we stuck to one place, for both the meals—Cafe Farohar at Sohrabji Jamshedji Sodawaterwalla Dharamshala. We were there only for the day and wanted to go exploring as well.
Parsi food has been on my mind ever since my first taste of Parsi Akoori at Kyani & Co in Kalbadevi. It has been a personal mission to savour as much as possible of the cuisine. Many of these experiences were simply fortuitous, like when I was invited to Anjuman I Islam’s hotel management college to attend a Parsi wedding-themed F&B promotion hosted by their students. The meal was as lavish and as-original-it-could-get and involved my first taste of Patrani Macchi and Lagan Nu Custard. Then there was a wine pairing exercise with Perzen Patel’s The Bawi Bride, which was the beginning of my love affair with Talera Boomla.
Cafe Farohar will be another indelible memory in my annals of Parsi food. Amongst the four of us, the table was full with food. Everything from Chicken Farcha to Boi Fry was ordered and washed down by local Sunta Raspberry Soda. As we devoured our Mutton Pulao Dar and Prawn Dhandar Patio we mourned that we couldn’t order more. Instinctively and unanimously, it was decided that we were coming back here for dinner. Our luck also favoured us as a local sancha ice-cream seller in his rickety autorickshaw dropped by, serving the most amazing hand-churned mango ice cream.
As a hardcore pescatarian, it was the Boi Fry that stole my heart. Indian White Mullet, locally called Boi, fresh from the shores, was lathered in Parsi masala mix, the secret to which omni-present Auntie Hilla wouldn’t part with (she and her son, Shehzad, run the cafe and manage the Dharamshala), and the delicate meat cooked to flaky perfection. Finishing that fish, head to tail, was the most satisfying part of the meal!
As we roamed around the little lanes of Udvada, we came across an old lady selling fresh Parsi chai masala—peppermint, mint, lemongrass and lemon. I picked up a bundle of peppermint; using it in tea seemed far-fetched so I made a batch of peppermint bitters, now my Udvada memory will last while longer. Next stop was Irani Bakery, selling freshly baked Mawa Cakes, desi version of macaroons and coconut biscuits, a batch of these were also picked up.
The gallivanting came to an end with the sunset. We parked ourselves on a parapet to watch the big red ball of fire sink into the Arabian Sea. We would’ve continued sitting there, extrapolating the deeper meaning of life, if our stomachs hadn’t ever so slightly grumbled. That sign was more than enough for us to look forward to the dinner. Frankly, dinner was on the back of my mind ever since lunch got over. Typical!
Dinner was supposed to be light since we were driving back. It involved was croquettes and shrimps and mutton and chicken and custard, that’s all. This is one of those times I realised there is safety in numbers when you want to try out so much, but there is only so much space in that stomach. Generously divided in four people, both meals led to happy tummies.
The drive back was a discussion about the amazing food splattered by our observations on Udvada, its quaintness and its people. A good day trip indeed.