The Modern Parsi Menu by Chef Viraf Patel

SodaBottleOpenerWala turns 5 and we are celebrating it with this exquisite Modern Parsi menu curated by Chef Viraf Patel. Indulge in traditional Parsi dishes, served to you in a modern European avtaar.

Dates – 7th January to 28th February

Venue – SodaBottleOpenerWala, High Street Phoenix, Lower Parel, Mumbai

Time – Every Day, 12 noon to closing

Food For All

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you see a crisp, white Gandhi cap bobbing in a crowd on the sidewalks of Bombay? The iconic Dabbawala’s, isn’t it? So much has been chronicled about the Dabbawala culture of the city, from their sheer scale of production to their business management, they’ve been written about internationally but the real essence is what they really do, they bring the hungry, food! What could be more noble than that? The system is said to be 125 years old, collating food from 3,00,000 cooks by 5,000 dabbawala, the math itself is baffling but it’s done day after day, rarely missing a deadline or location. Legacy aside, the best part about the system is that each Dabbawala is a shareholder, making him an employee and an entrepreneur and the pride they take in their work is what gives them an error rate of 1 in 8 million. They have 6 hours to make over 2,50,000 transactions and they’re entirely dependent on the train system and their cycles but somehow the food is picked up, sorted, colour coded, loaded, unloaded and delivered and not one man goes hungry that day. Four Dabbawalas are involved in one transaction and they’re coordinated by complete precision which in itself is a marvel, then there is an added nobility to the effort, they love what they do, without this love they couldn’t possibly be driven to work like an almost robotised army! They are the world’s first and probably the best food delivery system in the world and if one analyses why, it is a combination of grit, planning and process, a holy trinity they’ve mastered over a century, from a 35 employee system started by Mahadeo Havaji Bachche in 1893, a migrant from Himachal, all he did was bring this initiative from Dharamshala to Bombay but little did he know that this endeavour would be recognized by the likes of New York Times and Harvard Business Review. Just one of the ‘not so’ small things that Bombay what it is, marvelous! 

Image Courtesy: Wikipedia

The Bombay Connection

When you think Bombay, you can’t separate the tinsel from the chaff. The stars here are human, the sheen is on screen and for all the spiel about crowds and space and the lack of it, the blanket of glamour is what adds true warmth to a city that never sleeps. For the longest time Bombay was the culinary capital of the country and in terms of history it remains so. Being a port, Bombay played host to many cultures that came to the shore and many that stayed. Today, it is the Irani cafes that hold the spirit of the city’s food culture, the metal chairs, the old man behind the counter, the bearers and most of all the food. This is where the all-day-breakfast was pioneered, with the whole Persian vibe, the marriage of Persian and Parsi and ‘edu’ all day. One dish that embodies this sensibility is the Paneer Sanju Baba, an ode to Chicken Sanju Baba from Noor Mohammadi restaurant opposite Bhendi Bazaar, SodaBottleOpenerWala brings you Bombay on a plate. Cooked in an onion gravy with whole spices, saffron and buttermilk, I like to assume this is also homage to Sanju Baba’s Punjabi roots or his mother Nargis’ influence in their kitchen, given that it’s paneer but most of all it’s an homage to Bombay and her rightful preoccupation with the Stars of Bollywood. The dish came before the movie and like the movie, it’s a conversation starter. Why Sanju Baba, well, because Sanju Baba is Bombay in so many ways and legend has it that he shared this recipe with the owner of Noor Mohammadi restaurant when the owners brother went to deliver food to the Dutt residence. Sanjay Dutt loved the Nalli Nihari there and people say he is quick to confirm that the dish named after him is indeed a recipe a recipe from his household, perhaps one day he will corroborate this story! When it comes to the history of Bombay and storied food like this, SodaBottleOpenerWala had to incorporate a version for those of us who didn’t have access to celebrity kitchens and that’s how Paneer Sanju Baba happened and we’re so glad it did!