Book review: Parsi: From Persia to Bombay by Farokh Talati
Farokh Talati's debut book, Parsi: From Persia to Bombay, instead takes inspiration from the food of the author's childhood and heritage
You may expect that a cookbook from the head chef of St John Bread and Wine would focus on traditional, quintessentially British cuisine, incorporating the nose-to-tail approach and stripped-back style for which the Michelin-starred London restaurant is known. But Farokh Talati's debut book, Parsi: From Persia to Bombay, instead takes inspiration from the food of the author's childhood and heritage.
As Talati explains in his introduction, the Parsis are an Indian community who follow the Zoroastrian faith, with the original Parsis having fled what is now known as Iran during the Arab conquest of Persia in the seventh century.
Talati was raised in the UK, but his passion for food seems to have been kindled on childhood trips to India. "Everywhere you looked people were eating or drinking," he explains. "People would gather to eat as if it were a national pastime." Back home in London, Talati was unable to find the magic of the dishes he ate abroad, but was determined to discover what was missing: "Food was now my conduit to connecting to my Parsi heritage".
A lot of dishes fall under what many people would recognise as ‘Indian' food (spilt red dal and pulao rice, for instance) but, as Talati explains in his introduction, Parsi cuisine comprises influences from many different communities, from the French (a recipe for chaapat pancakes compares them to crêpes) to the Gujaratis (from whom the Parsi community adopted patrel – stuffed and fried taro leaves).
With Talati's experience at St John, it's unsurprising to see offal appear, such as in recipes for spiced lamb kidneys and spicy black-eyed beans and trotters. His mission to capture the magic of Parsi cuisine doesn't have him stick rigidly to ‘authenticity' – there's a recipe for spiced game pie, despite there being no pies in Parsi cuisine – and this experimental attitude extends to his readers too, with Talati encouraging us to try recipes without fear: "You have to crack a few eggs to make a Parsi omelette, and burning rice is just one of the stops on the road to the perfect pulao."
Parsi: From Persia to Bombay by Farokh Talati (Bloomsbury Absolute, £26)