“I decided to write this book out of a sense of duty,” says Farokh Talati. The head chef at London’s St. John Bread and Wine may have spent his career working in the U.K.’s most venerated kitchens (with the likes of Heston Blumenthal and Angela Hartnett, to name a couple), but Talati looks inward at his family history with this latest project—a new cookbook titled Parsi: From Persia to Bombay: Recipes & Tales from the Ancient Culture, out December 6 (Bloomsbury).
Parsi culture has early roots, dating back to the 7th century when a group of Zoroastrians, a pre-Islamic religious group, fled persecution in present-day Iran and eventually landed on the west coast of India, in the town of Sanjan. Their language, way of life, and culinary traditions mingled with local customs, creating what is today known as Parsi culture.
Talati grew up in a Parsi household in London, and his first cookbook feels like an artful heritage project—a show-and-tell of the recipes he was raised with, the dishes his parents ate in India before emigrating to the U.K., and present-day Parsi home chefs in Mumbai, where most Parsis live today. It’s inspired by his own travels back to India to learn more about his roots, but fosters a mission of showcasing and preserving Parsi cuisine—for those who’ve never heard of it, and for new generations of Parsis alike. “This book represents a very important aspect of the Parsi community and shows it to a new audience,” says Talati. “My hope is that Parsis who do not know how to cook the foods their mums, dads, and grandparents used to cook will pick up this book and learn to make these dishes and reconnect with their heritage.”
Whichever camp you fall into, the stories and 150 recipes that adorn this book’s pages offer ample inspiration. There are lamb stews, quails stuffed with biryani, mango desserts, and even tips on how to crack coconuts open at home. (Talati’s favorite recipe is Dinaz Aunty’s curry; more on that below.) There are also images of Parsi libraries and places of worship; informal breakfast cafés and markets. Importantly, though, the book provides a portrait of the Parsi community, and what their culture looks like in today’s India—not to mention the Parsi dishes to seek out on your next trip.
Below, we share a selection of images from the book, taken across the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra, and the stories behind them—courtesy of Talati.
[Editor’s note: Talati uses Mumbai and Bombay, the city’s former name, interchangeably.]