Photo Credit: Aneesh Bhasin
For her, a meal was never complete without a small piece of fish on the side. While she'd be okay with some prawns or surmai, the way to her heart was to dish out some pomfret, or 'chamna' as we Parsis call it. Even when she lost her teeth and was forbidden from eating bony fish, she continued craving for pomfret and there was a big prize at stake for the grandchild that got her a piece of the forbidden fish without our parents finding out.
One of my favourite childhood anecdotes also revolves around the pomfret. Growing up, during the school holidays, I'd patiently wait at the balcony for the 'machchi wali' and even though no one wanted fish, I'd clap my hands loudly and call her up. Once the fisherwoman had climbed the two flights of stairs, mum was obliged to buy something from her. And, I would of course be at her side coercing her by smart mouthing that according to Mamaiji, the best fish to buy was the pomfret.
This obsession for pomfret transcends my family and it is fair to say that the pomfret is the queen bee of Parsi cuisine. It features prominently at Parsi weddings where serving a pomfret preparation is a must. While there are two kinds of fish generally served up, the iconic Parsi wedding dish has to be the Patra Ni Machchi. This one also happens to be my favourite.
As a child (and fine, I'll admit it even now) if I found out that this fish was on the menu, I refused to have any of the other food so that I could gorge on as many of these beauties as possible.
And, while I probably shouldn't admit this, I'll go ahead and share that #BawaGroom and I have gone to the lengths of not bothering to attend a wedding if we find out that the bridal party has decided to forego the traditional Parsi Patru for some fancy-schmancy Indian buffet which doesn't feature this iconic dish.
However, I can't possibly wait for a wedding invite to eat this dish--staying without Patra Ni Machchi for the eight months that no Parsi weddings take place is not an option, which is why I've started making it at home. I suggest you too give the recipe a try and feast on some Patra ni Machchi in the comfort of your home without having to give a 'cover' to the wedding couple or hankering after a Parsi wedding invite!
To make enough for four you will need:
4 pieces of fresh pomfret (the tails are the best bit!)
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp red chilli powder
salt to taste
2 banana leaves
Rubber bands or string
For the chutney:
½ coconut chopped into chunks
½ bunch coriander
1 tbsp jeera
1 pod of garlic ( 8 - 10 cloves)
5 green chillies
Juice of 1 big lemon
½ tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
Salt to taste
• First you will need to clean the fish and marinate it in the spices and salt.
• Once marinated, using your grinder whip-up a batch of the green chutney ensuring you don't use too much water and keep the chutney quite chunky.
• Cut pieces of banana leaves into half and sandwich a fillet of the fish between two tablespoons of chutney. Make sure that every inch of the fish is coated with chutney and then wrap the banana leaf with string to make a neat parcel.
• After all the fish is parcelled, it's time to steam it! To do that, fill up a pressure cooker with boiling water until it just touches the base of your steamer. Place the parcels of fish on the steamer and shut your cooker (without the whistle). Now, let the fish steam for 10 minutes on each side.
• Once the fish is steamed, serve the fish with the banana leaf still on and let your guests unwrap the yummy surprise!