A yearly pilgrimage to Udvada is a tradition we have in the family. While it is a religious one for my Bawa husband, it is the foodie kind for a non-Parsi me. That does not mean that my husband does not plan equally in detail about what he wants to eat in Udvada while we are there, and what we must bring back for friends and family. It's obvious that I picked up all the knowledge on food of this little town under the tutelage of expertly seasoned taste-buds of you know who?
For the uninitiated, Udvada is a small coastal town in the Valsad district of Gujarat. It is a religious destination for the Zoroastrian community, and has the Atash Behram, which is said to be the oldest continuously burning fire-temple fire in the world.
Here's some of my favourite things to eat and drink in this quaint town of Udvada.
Neera and Taari: We picked the pouches of neera at Dahanu, which is the centre of neera and taari/ toddy tapping. Neera is the sap of the Palmyra tree, and it is tapped from the tadgola or ice apple trees. The tapper slits the flower buds and insert a tapping to allow the sap to flow and collect in an earthen pot. The fresh early morning sap is sweet and refreshing, and is called neera. You will get it straight from the pot in Udvada. The neera ferments as the day progresses, by afternoon it has fizz and zing and then it gets the name taari. While neera is non-alcoholic, taari is intoxicating. Both are very popular local drinks.
Fried boi, salli marghi, kachumber and rotli. Photo: Anjali Koli
Fried Boi and Parsi Bhonu: Boi/ White Mullet is an auspicious fish for the Parsis, and a symbol of good luck and prosperity. It is abundantly available, fried with a generous dusting of masala. No Parsi bhonu or full meal is complete without it while in Udvada. The other components are Masala dal plus Parsi brown rice (the Dhansak combo), salli marghi, rotli and kachumbar. Or steamed rice and yellow dal combo called Dhandar and Patio, a kind of stew made with onions, tomato and prawns or dried Bombay duck. You can eat this at the hotel and there are only two, Globe or Ashishwang. The other option is renting out a studio at Iranshah or other apartments where you can order a Parsi dabba at the reception. They get it from one of the Parsi homes for you and deliver to your studio.
Doodh na puff: If Delhi has its Daulat ki chaat, Benares its Malaiyo, Parsis swear by their Doodh na puff at Udvada. Doodh na puff if you get the hint has the same ethereal quality, but in a glass. You don't know if you are eating it or drinking it when you do the bottoms up in seconds. It is made from extra creamy, full fat milk and sugar combined together. It is hung in a pot all night, out in the open for the dew drops and cool temperature to do the magic in the dawn hours. Women churn this mix and lace it with cardamom and nutmeg and scoop up the frothiness into glasses. When it reaches you, scoop up the foam and put it in your mouth. It just disappears and what you have is just a spoon or two of milk at the bottom to give you a moustache.
Autorickshaw mango ice-cream. Photo: Anjali Koli
Mawa cake, Cashew macroons and coconut cookies: There is only one bakery left in Udvada now, which churns out limited quantity of mawa cakes. Make sure you reach before noon to get your quota at the Irani bakery. The mawa cake here is a tiny muffin dense with milk solids, a bit of rava and just a dash of coconut (I figured) spiced with cardamon and nutmeg that is so Parsi.
While you are there, you can also taste and buy the cashew macaroons - they are flat, hard made with powdered cashews and folded in egg whites and baked, which are meringues basically. The bite-sized coconut cookies are little marbles of dough encasing sweetened coconut, delightful to the core literally.
Autorickshaw mango ice-cream: For a town so small, the autorickshaw mango ice-cream is 'TOP' as a Parsi will tell you. It is hand-churned and frozen in pots that are then carried across the town in autorickshaws for sale. You can wave out to stop one or just inform at the reception of your accommodation, and they will deliver it to you. It comes in two tiny scoops in small plastic cups. Inexpensive yet delicious.
After these indulgences, go around the almost deserted town and admire the Parsi homes. Buy some souvenirs with Parsi symbols. Bow your head to the Iranshah, the fire of the highest order for the Parsis and promise you will visit again.