When the Zoroastrians, who were fleeing from persecution in Iran, landed in Navsari , centuries ago , a large number settled in Gujarat itself, and their descendants are now known as the Parsis.
Several became shipbuilders (Wadias) or shipchandlers, and worked in small business and trade, in the port towns of Gujarat.They did well during colonial rule and, under the patronage of the British, several of the community rose to become well known businessmen.(Besides the famous Tata and Godrej, there was Readymoney, Screwvala,( yes I know, poor chap) Sodabottlelightbulbwala, and many others who became known by the names of their businesses.)
When the first permanent British Cantonment was set up in Pune, Parsi merchants ,who followed the British army where they camped, to supply them with everything from soap to candles, came along with them.
One of them, Dhanjishah Wadia, constructed the first cement road in Pune in honour of the proposed visit of royalty from Britain...The Prince of Wales drive.Perhaps it is the only road in good repair in town today ?
Pune became the place, after Bombay, where the largest number of Parsis settled. And with them came their cuisine some of it with Persian roots and some a strange mix of Iran and England (chips and boiled eggs with biryani).
Parsis are famously known for their enjoyment of life and have a saying:
"Khanar pinar ne khodai apnar." God gives in abundance to those who eat and drink. And it seems to be true for this fun loving and generous community, so much a part of the Poona landscape.
One of their most famous and mouthwatering dishes is Patrani Machhi, which literally means fish in leaves, and in this case refers to pomfret wrapped in a banana leaf.It is an absolute standard on every Parsi festive menu and must come from the community"s seafaring and coastal days.
Pomfret is a slim, pale grey to white, flat fish ranging in size from 14" to 5 " and has a delicate flavour.Patrani Macchi calls for it to be filleted and stuffed, then parcelled in banana leaf and steamed.
Here is my take on the recipe... a whole lot quicker and with a more substantial fish -Surmai or King Fish. Surmai has one central bone and is a bit more oily than pomfret . This leads a more succulent result after baking without wrapping, compared to pomfret.
- 2 steaks, 1/2 " thick, of a large (8" across)Surmai / King Fish. Each about 1/2 kg in weight .
- 1 large bunch of hara dhania/coriander cleaned and chopped.
- 1 onion chopped.
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 4 green chillies
- 1 tsp jeera /cumin powder
- 1 tbsp dhania/ corainder powder
- 1/2 tsp haldi / turmeric
- 1/4 coconut grated (optional)
- 2 tblsp lime juice.
Throw all the ingredients into a blender with three tablespoons of water and puree till very smooth. Wash fish slices and put into a ovenproof baking dish . Pour a tablespoon of olive oil or any other vegetable oil over each slice of fish.Sprinkle some freshly ground pepper and add salt to taste. Slather the fish with the green chutney to which two tablepoons of lime have been added. Let stand for a half an hour or more, turning once in between so the fiah can soak up the marinade.
Bake in a preheated oven (about 350 degrees ) for 20-25 minutes till done.The fish should flake when tested with a fork but should NOT be dry.
It is as tasty as outstanding as the real Parsi thing. Promise.