The first encounter I had with Parsi food was in Mumbai. I was in my mid-teens, and the idea of sitting still was alien, mostly. I had walked up to the place with my cousin, sat down at one of the tables, and he had ordered a cup of tea for himself and a raspberry soda for me. I had been instantly smitten with the pink of the soda, being the closet romantic who refused to remove the stars from her eyes and hope of true love from her system. Cups of that tea, buns, keema and eggs later, not to mention the appearance of more people at the table and animated chatter, I had realized that time had passed by, and I hadn’t realized it.
Years and many Parsi haunts later I had understood the rough rhythm which is the essence of the people whose food I taste so happily. The rhythm is gentle – its peaceful and slow and perfect for lazing about – the food represents that as well: platters of food which can be consumed both piping hot and stone cold with equal aplomb, cups of strong tea, served steaming hot and allowed to rest – bottles of beer and raspberry soda to while the days away, the food wasn’t just food, it was a way of life – gloriously hedonistic and complete acceptance of it.
Which is why, every time I go inside a Soda Bottle Openerwala, I long for that rhythm. So far, I have visited three outlets in two different cities – and they are mostly jam-packed, probably because the food’s rather nice and the service quite quick. However, somehow, my experience has always made me feel slightly dissatisfied afterwards – as if I was missing out on a crucial part of the experience. I wasn’t able to put a finger on it the first two times, but as they say, third time’s a charm.
I had waddled in with G at their Noida (DLF Mall of India) outlet a few days ago on a lazy Sunday afternoon, around three, hoping to get a table. Alas! The line was rather long, people were eating, drinking, and, in general, being merry and yes, for a few seconds I felt like the Little Match Girl, standing outside in the cold, but that feeling passed soon when the attendant informed me that a table for two would be available in ten, and would I mind sitting at the bar? Seeing the tall bar stools, we declined, and politely waited for our turn, when the attendant called us back, we entered and saw, to our great consternation, a table with two bar stools on either side. Undaunted, I climbed up on one, and realized that apart from being tall, it was also, rather dangerously rickety. As a side of anxiety was not what I wanted with my Berry Pulao, I quickly batted my eyelids at the nearest server, explained the situation, and thankfully, was shifted to a table meant for seating a five-feet-three-inch tall lady with more bags than she could handle.
After being seated and a brief tussle with G about what we should order, I settled on the Goan Sausage Pao, the Mutton Berry Pulao (which was what I had returned here for), and the Parsi Macaroni, which had both bacon and minced meat in it. I noted that the menu here was an abridged version of the other places I have eaten – and the service, I admit, was brisk yet comfortable.
I had picked the Phateli Coffee because I wanted something different from my usual order of Raspberry Soda (they do a very nice version, but its not Pallonji’s so I am still not fully satisfied by it), and this was rather creamy on top, but burning hot under the froth – something I would love to sit with for some time and drink in between arguments. Its not too sweet, and they don’t give you sugar on the table, so you would have to ask the server politely for more sugar, and then proceed to destroy all that lovely froth as you mix it in. Its not too strong though, and reminds me of the thousands of cups of “espresso” coffee I have had at various weddings, and thus, lacks the element of surprise which you want to have after ordering such a dramatically named drink.
The Parsi Macaroni came sizzling to the table, and we were warned of the cast iron skillet – so, it took some gentle maneuvering to serve ourselves – the portion size is definitely generous, and what we both liked was the fact that this was filled with mince – definitely not a dish for those who like their pastas on the lighter side, and we had to ask the server to pack more than half of it in a doggy bag because after a couple of spoonfuls, this was too heavy for our palate. The Goan Chorizo Pao was my order – the smoky chorizo was gently cooked down with a hefty dash of coriander, cumin and garam masala – the buttered pao proved to be no match for the smoky flavours, so I ended up finishing it with some of the rice from the Berry Pulao.
The Mutton Berry Pulao was a repeat order – I had had their version of the dish made quite famous by the much-lauded Britannia, and I quite like their version – a bed of rice hiding soft chunks of meat cooked in a onion-based gravy, and topped with a generous handful of dried berries, fried onions and cashew – what I loved was the softness of the meat and the fluffy rice, which has always been my downfall. The mint leaf was superficial – this dish actually needed no accompaniment, and I should have ordered this and not shared.
Soda Bottle Openerwala is good – the food is consistent, the service is friendly, and the ambiance is fun. What it needs to do is perhaps to relax its pace a bit and allow the patrons to sit and chill more often – not just over the drinks, but also over the food, because that’s the thing with Parsi food, you just can’t hurry things up there.