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If you are a child of the 90s, it is very likely that Indian pop sensation Anaida was an integral part of your growing up years. Peppy numbers from the stylish crooner like ‘Oova Oova’ and ‘Hoo Halla Hoo’ blared out from television screens and went a long way in helping youngsters gravitate towards the fledgeling Indi-pop scene. Although the heydays of Indian music videos are long behind us, you can still find the pop star donning the chef’s hat in a Persian pop up titled Postcards from Persia at the Khan Market and Noida outlets of SodaBottleOpenerWala, the Irani-café-inspired restaurant.
Digging deep into her own Persian heritage (she is half-Iranian), Anaida has scooped out recipes that she personally loves digging into and has collaborated with the restaurant’s chefs in hosting the pop-up. And although the flavours are familiar, they are much mild and funkier than the food you have sampled before. The menu glimmers with a startling variety – from the zingy Irani Chai (yes, it needs to be daintily sipped from porcelain tea cups in between bites of dates and sugar cubes) to the Laboo Burani (hung yoghurt raita, speckled with sweetened beetroot and flavoured with rose petals).
In recent times, Persian cuisine has been generating a global buzz with its muted flavour profile and exotic ingredients. A cornucopia of refined condiments – mint, rose petals, pomegranate molasses, preserved lime, kashk or dried yoghurt and saffron form the bedrock of traditional Persian gastronomy. So, the new pop-up at SodaBottleOpenerWala is not only topical but also contributes towards the city’s gourmet awakening. In fact, the perfumed cuisine from Persia, not too well-represented in the capital so far, now gets a powerful voice through dishes like Osh-e-Reshte (traditional wheat noodle and vegetable stew), Jujeh Kabab (chicken kabab marinated in saffron and mild spices), Esfahan Beryani (a non-rice dish that is made from fire-roasted minced lamb, mildly spiced and snuggled into the folds of a naan), Irani Haleem, Khoresht-e-Bamiye (an Iranian preparation of ladies fingers) and more.
It is a fact that the ancient cuisine of Persia has managed to shake up the culinary traditions of several regions including North India, Morocco, Middle East and Turkey through the centuries. As a result, Persian spices and herbs are not really alien to Indian taste buds. Yet every morsel manages to surprise the palate in fresh and original ways. For instance, the Fesenjan, which is a chicken stew with pomegranates and walnuts, delights the senses with its tart and sweet gravy that is redolent with the fragrance of walnuts. Similarly, the rice dishes (Baghali Polo, Lubiya Polo and Saffron Rice) dazzle with each aromatic grain in them begging to be scooped up with your fork.
Most importantly, it is not just the Persian pop up that is on offer at the restaurant but also the SodaBottleOpenerWala’s new menu is worth salivating over as well. Available across all outlets of the restaurant in Delhi-NCR, the new menu features a showstopper dish called Parsi Style Jumbo Prawn, where jumbo prawns made in traditional Parsi curry style are served with steamed rice. In case you are ravenous, you can also try the Bambaiyya Chicken Biryani and round off your feast with a new selection of desserts including the Matunga Coffee Cake and Mixed Berry Trifle.
Clearly, the menu at SodaBottleOpenerWala is a festival of flavours. And no self-respecting foodie can afford to miss this carnival.
Susmita Saha is a Delhi-based Features Writer. She has worked as an Assistant Editor at India Today and The Telegraph and writes on arts and culture, films, travel, food, architecture, design and various other lifestyle subjects. She has seriously itchy feet and plans to tick the world off her bucket list, one burger at a time.