PAC SERVES PARSI SNACKS FOR THE SOUL
Parsi Amelioration Committee or PAC as it is better known, is over 70 years old and is named for the charitable work that is done by a Parsi trust for the poor and the needy. It’s an easy to miss food stall near Nana Chowk, Mumbai. Our advice would be to make a little effort and not miss PAC if you’re feeling peckish (or ravenously hungry). Think rawa fried lamb cutlets, chicken pattice with puffy, buttery pastry, not-too-spicy lamb samosas, badam pak, chapat and other utterly delicious Parsi snacks. Parsi Amelioraton Committee, 292 Shastri Hall, Shop No. 3, Nana Chowk, Tardeo Road, Mumbai 400 007
If you’re looking for a charming café, this isn’t it. PAC isn’t the most salubrious space – frenetic Nana Chowk traffic ribbons past it, the harsh glare of the tube light illuminates a shabby glass display and you will have to step over a stray dog who drapes herself across the entrance. But none of this matters once you have eaten there, because the food is excellent (and the dog is gentle and adorable). The glass counter is stacked with mostly non-vegetarian snacks that flaunt themselves like cheap tarts at anyone who passes by. I am always passing by and always smitten by them, my stomach loudly confessing its desires for the pies and the pattice, the samosas and the batasas, the shrewsbury and ginger biscuits. PAC is where I go to escape the pap and pabulum of everyday mealtimes. PAC (Parsi Amelioration Committee) is nearly 75 years old and is named for the charitable work that is done by a Parsi trust for the poor and the needy. Today, most of the staff ladling out the goodies are non-Parsis; gone are the bustling, sonsy Parsi matrons of yore. Not that that makes an iota of difference – the cooking has always been consistently good.
PAC’s mango chunda packet tells us that it is “Tenderly pickled With loving hands”. How do you resist such a thing?
As a delicious shoehorn into the world of Parsi snacks, try the chicken pattice, little golden pies small enough to be polished off in two big bites. The puffy, crispy, flaky, buttery pastry hides a belly full of lightly spiced, creamy chicken. If you like, you can lift the pastry lid right off and eat it plain so that it crumbles in your mouth. Then you can eat the rest. This pattice has sustained me lovingly, during my most difficult times — on exam days, after acrid fights, on long and empty nights. Cold, claggy pattice straight from the fridge may not have been the most delicious thing in the world, but it was always solidly, comfortingly there. I’m waxing on about the pattice, but the Mirza family favourites are the samosas. These are not the regular Punjabi samosas with their thick shell and vegetable stuffing. PAC’s samosas are to the baug-born – an unctuous mutton or chicken filling with the barest hint of heat, enveloped in a thin shroud of batter and deep fried until crisp. There is no chutney that accompanies these samosas. Eat them at tea time, after roasting them on the tawa. Then there are PAC’s very good, very sturdy mutton cutlets. The heart of the cutlet is a mince and potato blend that is well-seasoned, wrapped in rawa and fried. There is also the chicken farcha, in which the chicken comes cloaked in a veil of lacy batter. PAC’s mango chunda packet tells us it is “Tenderly pickled With loving hands”. How do you resist such a thing? And although winter definitely isn’t coming any time soon, keep an eye out for the vasanu, eeda pak and badam pak (savoury, spicy, fudgy concoctions) that are rolled out in November, December and January to warm stomach and soul. People also flock to PAC for its coconut ghari which is a pastry with a sticky, shaved coconut stuffing; dense kumas cake; toddy-soaked bhakra biscuits and chapat, a sort of Parsi crepe. Clearly, I have eaten at PAC many, many times. Yet, whenever I think of it, I am always reminded of the first time it swam into my life. Many years ago, my parents hosted a jashan ceremony at our home to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Family and friends poured into the hall, the priests’ sonorous chants engulfed the room and the smoke from the holy fire stained the air. When it was all over, my mother came in with cool rose sharbat for everyone. Tray after tray of PAC’s samosas, pattice, cutlets and bhakras were disgorged from the kitchen, and I was assailed by a meaty, smoky aroma. It was, of course, the smell of the food, but also, in that moment, the aroma of my culture, of camaraderie, of happiness, of enduring love.