It would have been just another day for us, had it not been for a formal luncheon invitation that we had received from the famed 90’s pop star, Anaida Parvaneh at SodaBottleOpenerWala at Khan Market, Delhi. As a part of 3 year celebrations, SodaBottleOpenerWala has joined hands with Anaida to bring the tastes of Persian traditional food to the Indian food lovers by means of a menu especially curated by the latter with ingredients brought in from Iran. The traditional Persian dishes was available at SodaBottleOpenerWala, Delhi’s Khan Market and Noida outlets from March 18th to April 30th, 2017.
Anaida and Persian food – I could not relate it at first, but it soon got answered during the course of our conversation with the pop sensation.
The one song I relentlessly kept crooning on my way to SodaBottleOpenerWala was one of Anaida’s popular pop songs – ‘Oonchi Neechi hai Dagariya’. I was suddenly pushed back to the 90’s when I was a kid and I remember Anaida as one of the few Indipop singers contributing to the then evolving pop music industry in the country with her chartbuster numbers.
However, to our dismay Anaida was not there at the restaurant when we reached, but we were asked to go about our lunch and that she would join us any moment.
We were served a glass of water-melon juice first, and then our tryst with Persian food for the first time began.
Tastes of Iran…
We started our first course with Anaida’s Magic Soup (or Anaida’s Soop e Jadooi) as recommended by the manager of the restaurant. We ordered for the veg one however, which has shiitake mushrooms with pearl barley, mixed sprouts, turnip, mushroom, carrots and roasted vermicelli in it (the only replacement in the non-veg will be the chicken in place of mushroom). The thought of trying another traditional Persian soup made us choose this time Osh-e-Reshte (wheat noodle and vegetable stew) which is a traditional Persian mixed vegetable stew with red beans, chick peas and wheat noodles and flavoured with kashk (made from dried yoghurt).
We were finishing our soup when Khoresht e Bamiye or ladies fingers cooked in tomato and onions topped with fried eggplant and fine dried fried potatoes was brought to us. We tried this with Baghali Polo (Dill flavoured rice with Fava Bean Rice, topped with saffron flavoured butter). Both the dishes complemented each other wonderfully well and we would have been at a loss had we missed it.
The next dish in our menu was Anaida’s Kashk-e-Bademjan (eggplant roll) – flavoured with fried onions, mild spices and plenty of kashk. It was a simple dish, but the presentation style really amazed us. In fact, most of the Persian dishes that we had were devoid of excess oil and spices, a point that Anaida raised when she spoke to us later about her special Persian dishes.
I being a non-vegetarian wanted to taste an Persian non-veg dish too and when suggested Esfahan Beryani, said to be one of the oldest Persian dishes of fire roasted lamb mince, mildly spiced and served in a naan, I just could not say no. An interesting fact I came to know about Persian biriyani is that it contains no rice! Yes, you heard it right; you would not find a single grain of rice and is a deviation from the biriyani that we all are accustomed with, in terms of both the preparation style and ingredients used. It is a special dish that got its name from the place it originated from, Esfahan (a province in Iran). Anaida later told us that the original naan used is a much larger one and in earlier days in Iran it used to be roasted in a tandoor.
For dessert, there was Persian Halwa made with wheat flour, cooked in ghee and rose water, flavoured with cinnamon and nuts and the special Shole Zard or ‘yellow flame’, a Persian pudding dating back several thousand years made of aromatic rice flavoured with saffron and almonds. Both the desserts were just a perfect end to a sumptuous Persian meal.
By the time we were done with the food, Anaida was back at the restaurant and was pleased at seeing us relishing her specially curated dishes. She then ordered for Irani Chai for us, much to our delight, which she thought will set the stage for a pleasurable conversation on Persian food. Irani Chai is black tea that was served with dates and sugar cubes on the side.
A tete-a-tete with Anaida…
Cooking for Anaida started as a desperation to have good food and like any art that she is involved with, she takes it with much enthusiasm and passion. She also got a lot of inspiration to cook from her mother who was a naturopath. “The talks with SodaBottleOpenerWala started one and a half year back but I never expected that it would take off so well. Ideally I would do it different to what I had done it this time, but for that everything has to be in your own control. I left to play with food a little bit psychologically, like I use a lot of rose petals in my dishes. Iranian cuisines use rose water in some of their dishes but they would not use rose petals as much as I do,” she said.
You love to do things that you enjoy the most and Anaida says that she enjoys cooking as much as she loves to sing or paint. She believes that one cannot learn art and that is the reason why she never took any professional training in any of the things that she does. “My way of looking at things is a bit unconventional but they have worked perfectly fine for me. But I have been lucky to do everything on a very high level.”
She however pointed out the fact that Persian or Iranian food has still not become popular in India. Though a few restaurants claim to be serving Iranian food, it is never the authentic food in the truer sense. “Because I am Iranian I will understand that what is being offered is not the authentic Iranian food. I just wonder why there has been no experimentation with Iranian food; and then I realized that it is risky as Iranian food has no spices or chillies in it. But I wanted to stick to completely authentic food and did not want Indianized version. So what you are having now is complete authentic Persian food,” asserted Anaida.
Besides cooking, Anaida has also been associated with a lot of other things, like she has been doing meditation music since 1996. “I tried a couple of times to release it in the market by speaking to different music labels, but none of them were interested then. My other music kept on going alongside my meditation music, which I made for myself and my close pals around me. It was December 2015 when I finally released 4 of my meditation tracks and believe me there was not any kind of promotions done. It was in June 2016, when I had come back from one of my yoga camps that I came to know that one of the tracks of that particular album had gone on the charts. In less than a month it went to the No. 17 on UK charts,” she said.
Anaida is also contemplating of releasing her Sufi album, which will be in Parsi, very soon besides getting involved in many other singing projects. “I no more do any kind of promotions for my songs and videos. The person who finds it will come for it, that’s what I feel. So yes, there are a lot of music assignments coming up for me.”
– Samrita Baruah / Anjali Sethi Joshi