To talk about being vegetarian and a Parsi is a bit of a contradiction. Most Parsis would even add meat to their vegetables as is evident in the vegetable preparations of cauliflower-nu-gosh (cauliflowers cooked with cubes of meat), bheeda-nu-gosh (lady’s fingers cooked with meat), French beans-nu-gosh and so on. Gosh! The possibilities of adding meat (gosh) to lentils and vegetables are endless. And to top it all: if there is no meat or chicken at hand, top the dish with eggs. One cannot beat a Parsi’s imagination when it comes to adding animal protein to make a recipe complete.

The majority of Parsis would say “perish the thought of being a vegetarian” but the fact is that four days every month, the Parsi Calendar does have days where a Zoroastrian can be vegetarian. These days pop up any day of the week and are not restricted to a Saturday or a Thursday. This inconvenient fact was brought into my life as soon as my Navjot or thread ceremony was conducted. (Parsis have equality of sexes: both males and females have their thread ceremonies and the event is celebrated much like a marriage, with great celebration and feasting where eggs, fish, chicken and lamb dishes are all served together.) My mother’s sisters were devout and laid the vegetarian days before me, not as the law but as a choice. My father’s family consisted of 6 brothers and 2 sisters: all animal lovers, especially if they were cooked and put on their plates! The knowledge of these dates has led me through some hilarious situations.

Grand lunch and dinner invites would invariably be on my green days which made me want to carry out my own anti-green revolution. The sight of fried chicken and mutton biryani would make me salivate and dum aloo and paneer in kaju gravy would seem like pale substitutes. I would hang around until midnight just to eat the non-veg dishes the ‘next day.’ In fact I would start loading pieces of lamb and chicken on my plate even before the clock stopped chiming 12 times. But horror of horrors, I was soon told that the new day begins at sunrise and not at the stroke of twelve!

The year I didn’t study much in college, I was told of the Parsi vegetarian month. No one had mentioned this before as they were sure I would not last the vegetarian course of 30 days. Chinese torture is nothing compared to vegetarian meals to a Parsi. I used to dream of legs of roast lamb running past me as I hastened to catch up. I must have mentally lost at least 5 kilos jogging behind food every night for a month! I realized that it was better to work hard and look at my books in time rather than trying the veg route towards earning brownie points with the Higher-Up!

I must hasten to add that the Parsi concept of vegetarian is very different. One can eat eggs, fish, and fish-roe (naturally, this being both egg and fish!).The definition of Parsi vegetarianism is rather ambiguous. Some feel that only 4 legged land animals should not be eaten. I help myself to squid, octopus and crab on my veg days as they have more than 4 legs or tentacles. I also eat duck (2 legs plus webbed feet so it is not a land creature) and this has been very helpful whenever I had to travel to the far-east on vegetarian days. My son goes further and insists chicken have 2 legs and are vegetarian fare too!

This week, I went to Delhi to leave him at Law School. The classrooms and his hostel room looked more like a star hotel, but when I left him, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as I was told that the food served there is strictly vegetarian! As a concession, they do serve egg. What my son was going to do for the next 5 years, I wondered. This boy would look at the table laden with fried fish-tartar sauce, saas ni macchi (fish in gravy), kolmi nu patio (spicy prawns) and ask, “Is it a vegetarian day, is that why have you have cooked only vegetables today?” Well, he has got his just deserts as he will not even have Fruits de la mer like oysters and shell fish to keep him company at his vegetarian hostel buffet now!

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23 responses »

  1. jsbroca says:

    Dear Beyniaz,a real gastronomic’s delight.We Sikhs also have a great debate over non veg dishes.It is about eating only “Jhatka”( Animals slaughtered in one clean shot with a kirpan such that its head separates neatly from its body) and not “Halal” (The Muslim way of chopping animals slowly while reading some lines from their holy book).

    Further more,besides non vegetarian dishes,Parsis are also a good company as far as jokes of this category are concerned.Sorry no offence meant.We Sardars also have a huge stock of such a category.

    One great funny Parsi politician was Piloo Mody.He was one of my favourites.Here is an old joke I read about him years ago:

    Piloo Mody was a weighty man with a mind as nimble as his body. During one of the interludes in an otherwise very serious conference in parliament, he regaled everyone with his plea for a Parsi State. This is how it went: ‘This country should be handed over to the Parsis – on a managing agency basis. We will charge only a five per cent managing agency commission, which is a hell of a lot less than the Government of India spends on administration.” For this, we will give you a clean, honest, impartial and non-discriminatory government. There are only a hundred thousand of us, and after we satiate ourselves with corruption and nepotism, there will still be enough left over for everyone else.’ We are the most non-communal community in the world. We believe that either you are a Parsi or you are not. If you are not, it makes no hoot of a difference who you are.’ Go ahead, go breaking up this country into a hundred parts. Finally our turn will come.” Then we will demand a Parsi State consisting of the area from Kemp’s Corner to Teen Batti (about two square miles). ‘But, as we cannot have a sovereign independent country of Banganga on the other side, you will have to throw in Banganga with the Parsi State. We need servants!’
    I am sure that if Piloo had had his way,he might have made Non Veg dishes the National Dishes of Apno Desh-and to hell with PETA and vegetarianism fanatics.
    Kudos !
    J S BROCA

  2. Smita Luthra says:

    what an enjoyable article! there is no truer love than the love of food. 🙂 your writing was laced with humor and true love. that’s what makes it so convincing. 🙂

  3. Sonal says:

    Hi Beyniaz, being a lover of non vegetarian food, I could thoroughly empathize with your son’s plight. But we non vegetarians somehow find a way, isn’t it? 😉

  4. Sneha says:

    I’m glad to read your article and also the comment that your son is finally happy eating the chicken burgers and mutton curry. Well, I’m a staunch vegetarian but yes, I can understand the situation here 🙂

    • Beyniaz says:

      Good to see u here, Sneha. Actually a vegetarian diet is MUCH healthier…especially for the poor animals’ health! 😉

      • Sneha says:

        Ha Ha Ha Ha ! Next time, we should possibly see your article in the HA HA Humour section, dear Beyniaz! 🙂

  5. sreelata menon says:

    Beyniaz your post reminds me a lot about our malayali and

    bengali brethern who can’t see the day thru without their

    ‘pound of fishy or otherwise flesh’ literally.

    Dhan sak isn’t it that has us drooling every time! Do let us

    know how your son fared!

    Thoroughly enjoyed the write up !

    • Beyniaz says:

      Thanks for reading this, Sreelata. Son is enjoying chicken burgers and mutton curry whenever a suitable curry-er is found.So it’s a happy ending.

  6. vimala madon says:

    Dear Beyniaz,
    A few years ago, listening in to a tete a tete between two sisters in their eighties about, what else, food, I remarked that I’ve noticed that Parsis are always either talking about food or about its digestion. The two ladies looked at each other in surprise and then remarked ‘how true!’ as if it had just occurred to them!

    Very enjoyable and I fully endorse your views about the Parsi predeliction for non-vegetarian cuisine. But you know, it was that way in my maika also, altho I had a Brahmin father fortunately offset by a north-eastern Christian mother.

    • Beyniaz says:

      Hi Vimala, you are the best commentator living in such close proximity to Parsis! 🙂

    • Sophia says:

      Hi Vimala

      I was reading thru Beyniaz’s article and saw ur name below in the comments, and wanted to ask u if u are related to the Madon’s from secunderabad.

      If u are the same Vimala, how are ur twin sons doing?

      best regars,
      Sophia

  7. Irene says:

    I am not as bad as you Parsis but yes, a prolonged abstinence is tough! Your poor kid!

    • Beyniaz says:

      Thanks for writing in, Irene. My son has circumvented the system: He has found a chicken and mutton carrier system! All is well in veggy-land!

  8. Shernaz says:

    From one Parsi vegetarian 🙂 to another – had a good laugh reading this one…

  9. vimala ramu says:

    Well, I happen to be a staunch vegetarian but still enjoyed your post immensely. My son in law who is born vegetarian was once invited for lunch at someone’s place. He refused politely saying, ‘Sorry, I don’t eat vegetarian food on sundays !’

  10. Dear Beyni,

    We can’t possibly separate Beyniaz and food, can we? So, even if your write-up figures in the humour section this time, you have us rolling in laughter imagining food and fun simultaneously.

    Shail

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