Once again I’ve decided to share an article I wrote for Parsi Times, Hope it gets you hungry-
Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. -Harriet Van Horne
Out of all my favourite food quotes, this one in particular seems a perfect fit to describe a pioneer of Parsi Cuisine in the city of Pune. Dorabjee and Son’s restaurant in the heart of Camp is a legend in this small town as is its owner Darius Dorabjee. Established in 1878 by his great grandfather Dorabjee Sorabjee, it was first a humble little tea stall for about six months before they introduced food and started running it as a restaurant.
Now his reputation precedes him but this is my first interaction with Darius and the first time I’m sampling his delectable food. What was supposed to be a quick pop in to take some pictures and grab a bite turns into a 2 hour lunch chatting with Darius and getting to know more about this famous restaurant. I couldn’t be more pleased. A yummy lunch and fun chat about food is my idea of an afternoon well spent.
Darius studied at Dadar catering college in Mumbai and then worked in Australia in a restaurant for three years. As they say home is where the heart is, in his case it’s in Camp, Pune in the kitchen at Dorabjee’s and sons and he came back after three years.It’s hard for him not to work at his restaurant because he’s grown up here. Most days as a child after school he’d come to the restaurant to eat lunch. He’s spent every school holiday and vacation helping out at the restaurant till he turned 16 and officially started working there. It’s in the restaurant kitchen where he learned how to master their signature dishes which coincidently are all family recipes of his grandparents and great grandparents that have been passed down through generations. He remembers his father telling him if he can survive the heat and stand all day in the kitchen only then can he consider working at the restaurant. I guess it’s true, if you can’t stand the heat- get out of the kitchen!It’s the things his father has taught him that Darius is who he is today and enjoys the success he and the restaurant receive and he’s eternally grateful to his father for teaching him.
The restaurant runs Monday to Sunday from 11 am to 11 pm and they have a standard menu with delectable Parsi dishes. I ask him if there is ever a chance of branching out and including a different cuisine on the menu and he promptly says no. He wants to carry on tradition and manage the restaurant as it’s always been. His niece seems very enthusiastic to join the family business when she grows up and tells him she would love to include a Chinese menu much to his horror. It would seem very hard to take Parsi food away from this Parsi!
Patrons are now very familiar with the menu and the food at the restaurants and it’s lovely to see them stroll in for a quick parcel. In fact I thought there were a lot more people who came in to parcel food than sit down. However the 2pm crowd blew that myth out of the water. It seems Dorabjee and Sons might be small and their menu standard but they attract many and their fan base is constantly increasing. I’m also informed that Friday to Sunday the place is packed with hungry patrons.
Despite the restaurant, Dorabjee’s are the most preferred caterers for weddings, navjotes, and even gambhars. He says during season time which is November to January he is flushed with occasions to cater to. He tells me the restaurant can cater up to 3000 people at a function and my jaws drop. I can’t imagine how Darius and his team can cook and feed 3000 hungry guests but he laughs good naturedly at my reaction almost as if to say he could cater with his eyes closed. To assure good quality and that he delivers well he restricts his catering to only one function a day. He refuses to take on more because he believes in focusing and delivering to his clients. Its practises like these which have made Dorabjee’s a house hold name in Pune. Why just Pune? His food reputation attracts many and he does admit he has a large share of clients that come from Mumbai specially to eat his food. Nothing pleases him more than someone complimenting his food. It’s his biggest high and certainly well deserved. He starts his day in the kitchen at 6.30 and ensures that he cooks the food himself. He’s extremely particular about that. He has many cooks and helpers to help him in the kitchen but the masalas and the quantity of the ingredients added is all up to him.
Dorabjees has an old world aura and charm of its own. Along with the present day menu, you will find a copy of their menus in 1955 and 1975. They were a gift from an old patron who found the menus while rummaging through old paraphernalia. Despite the restaurant decor, ambience and his friendly uncle Neville who sits at the counter, even the kitchen has an old world charm of its own. They insist that all their cooking be done on charcoal stoves as they feel it gives their food not only a better flavour but a longer shelf life as well. It is their USP and they are very proud to continue this practise from day one. They also feel that even though readymade packet masalas are easy to cook with they lack a certain flavour and instead they grind and make all their masala in-house.
While I’m chatting with him he brings out an array of dishes for me to try. It would seem my first meal at Dorabjee’s is eagerly anticipated by him as well as me!
It would prove to be my lucky day as I get to sample their mutton kheema, which is actually a breakfast item, salli boti which is delicious with soft tender meat with crunchy crispy potato straws on top.Dal ghosh, chicken farcha (which I didn’t even manage to sample because I was bursting by that time) and mutton biryani which was a relatively light biryani, well as light as a biryani can get. Almost as an afterthought he remembers to let me sample the famous mutton cutlets but by this time I’m ready to pass out into a food coma!
All this is accompanied with roti and bread and washed down with a chilled raspberry drink which is the highlight of my meal. I must confess I usually find Parsi food slightly heavy not to mention greasy, but Dorabjee’s takes it easy on the oil and masala and I’m grateful not to have a layer of oil coating my mouth by the time my meal is over !
Lagan Nu Custard
I can see the restaurant get busier and busier and during our conversation he’s interrupted for work at least 10 times. I thank him for what has been an enjoyable and informative afternoon. Darius Dorabjee is an extremely hospitable restaurateur and caterer. There isn’t a person who walks in that he doesn’t say a friendly hello or “saheb ji” to, if not even strike up a conversation or a quick chat to see how they’re doing .regardless if they are parsi, non parsi, rich, poor, regular infrequent customer or even worker. The treatment and friendly candour is for anyone who walks in through the doors. I can see why all his patrons are so fond of him. His love for food, talent in the kitchen and friendly nature is what has patrons attracted to him. With the kind of warm friendly welcome I’ve been give, my first trip to Dorabjee’s certainly isn’t going to be my last!