Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Banana Leaves & Chutney: Mumbai's Parsis

The feeling was immediate - it was in the air, in the laid back nonchalance of the people. We were no longer in New Dehli. This was Mumbai, the financial and cultural hub for 14 million clinging to the shores of western India on the edge of the Arabian Sea.

Mumbai is home to two-thirds of India's 61,000 Parsi, a relatively tiny minority of India's almost 1 billion population, but they're hugely influential and have traditionally flourished. Queen's Freddie Mercury came from a Parsi family and the Indian version of the Rockefellers, the Tata family, are Parsis. Today their influence is found all over the country from cars and trucks to hotels and tea.

The Parsis (Gujarati for Persian) originally came to the sub-continent over 1000 years ago, arriving from Persia, now Iran. They follow Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of Persia, and have been able to freely practice it in India. The center of Zoroastrianism is in Iran, but its adherents face discrimination and are discouraged from any open displays of worship. Nevertheless, most Indian Parsi long for a chance to visit Iran.

We read that Parsi food is delicious and were directed to "Jimmy Boy" restaurant in the Fort area of Mumbia. A seventy-year-old institution, Jimmy Boy is now run by the grandson of the original owner who explained his plans to return to Iran later this year. We ordered cashew vegetables and patra ni machhi or white fish baked in chutney and banana leaves.

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