When Anahita Dhondy joined SodaBottleOpenerWala as chef manager in 2013, her objective was to bring endangered Parsi recipes to Indian homes and hearts. Eight years later, Dhondy launched her debut book, The Parsi Kitchen, which gives an insight into the unique traditions, culture, and food of a community that remains an enigma to many. The tastemaker, who also graces our cover this month, talks to our senior editor about her passion for regional food, travels through little-known Parsi towns for her book, and the road ahead. By Chirag Mohanty Samal
Anahita Dhondy talks to T+L
How did food impact you while growing up? What did you see in the ‘Parsi kitchen’ at home that left a mark on you?
Food has been an integral part of my childhood. My mom has been a home baker and a chef for the past 30 years, and looking at her create amazing recipes of not just Parsi food but also world cuisine got me excited. I began helping with her orders and by the time I turned 10, I was already icing cakes. At that point in time, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the food industry. Even now, if I close my eyes and think of my mom’s kitchen, I can picture delectable lasagnas and freshly baked souffles. I have tried capturing the ambience of my mom’s kitchen in my book.
What kind of research went into the book? Where all did you travel?
I decided to write the book in 2016, when I signed the contract with HarperCollins. It took me five years and three scripts to come up with it. I wanted it to give the public access to understand Parsi food and the community better. I did a lot of solo travel to gather information and recipes. In the book, a chapter called ‘Bombay Duck’ specifically talks about my month-long solo trip across Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Surat, Navsari, and Udvada. In Udvada and Navsari, I went knocking on doors. Some people shut the door on me while others welcomed me to their homes. Plenty of ground research was done and the reason I chose Gujarat was because that is where it all started for the Parsi community.
In the past, Parsi cuisine was influenced by other cuisines as well, so would you be open to presenting experimental Parsi dishes?
Earlier, there was nothing that was known as Parsi food. Parsi cuisine is a mix of Iranian, Gujarati, Maharashtrian, Goan, and British food. Parsis have travelled across the world and in India, they adapted to the terroir and ingredients. It’s an adaptive cuisine but at the same time, it holds on to its traditional roots. So going forward, there is a lot that can be done with Parsi food.
How does travel inspire you as a chef?
Whenever I’m stuck or need inspiration, I travel. Travel is the most liberating feeling. You meet people and learn. As chefs, we are constantly tasting new things. Due to the pandemic, we lost out on two years of travelling but I still managed to do a few things in India. It was good because a lot of people got to explore India and I think that should continue.
You left SodaBottleOpenerWala after nine years of working there, what’s the road ahead?
I was with SodaBottleOpenerWala from 2013 till 2021; I left in January 2021. In October 2021, my book came out and I had no plans of opening a restaurant till the time I met restaurateur Vishal Anand. The new restaurant that I’m working on along with him is called The Glass House. The kitchen is ready, and the restaurant, which is located in Gurugram should be ready in about a month. For the menu, I have drawn a lot of inspiration from my travels and hence, you will find something from Singapore, Hong Kong, and a lot of Parsi dishes. It’s a mix of global cuisines made with local Indian ingredients. I also have another book on ingredients coming up; it should be out in another year.
Related: Unravelling The Culinary Journeys Of Three Popular Indian Chefs