Former Indipop icon Anaida has reinvented herself as a chef of gastronomic Persian delicacies which are all authentic home recipes from her mother’s and relative’s kitchens.
Back in the Nineties, Anaida was one of the few pop artistes of international descent who made a huge name for herself on the (now defunct) Indipop scene.
She has performed live with Latino star Peter Andre, her track Good Day to Die was included in the Buddha Bar Living Theater Compilation Project and she has also contributed to the soundtrack of many critically acclaimed films like Split Wide Open.
But with the popularity of Bollywood film music escalating to heady proportions in the early part of the Twenty-First Century, Indipop has unfortunately died out and Anaida has gracefully moved on to other more fulfilling pursuits.
Over the past few months however, she has been making mouths water in the culinary world with her Persian food pop ups at the Sodabottleopenerwala chain of restaurants across Delhi and Mumbai.
“With so many Irani’s in India, there was no restaurant serving authentic home-style Persian food,” she tells us. “Everything you get in the restaurants is Indianised to suit the Indian pallett’s fondness for spice,” reveals the songstress with dismay.
In reality, Persian food is flavoursome and non-spicy. It focuses more on aromatic spices rather than chilly hot spice, she tells us.
After the penultimate success of the pop ups in Delhi and Mumbai, Anaida’s cuisine – sourced from recipes from her Mother’s kitchen and from the hand-written recipe books of her relatives – is now available as part of the regular menu at Sodabottleopenerwala in Powai, Mumbai.
On a sultry afternoon, we headed over to venue which almost borders the picturesque Powai Lake and as soon as we stepped into the restaurant, we were transported to the Irani Cafes of the past, albeit with a few modern, quirky touches.
Like the Irani Cafes of yore, the decor has retained the trademark red and white checkered table cloth and the walls are replete with eccentric “Do Not…” signs. Sepia-tone pictures of Parsis in their regalia are found in various nooks and corners and most importantly, pictures of Britain’s Royal Family dating back to King George V, take pride of place on a wall at the far end. The quirk factor is seen in the steampunk art work and artefacts which are hard to miss.
As we settle down to our meal, Anaida orders her version of a magic soup (Soop-e-Jadooi) which is a bowl-full of chicken pieces, shitake mushrooms (finely chopped), pearl barley, mixed sprouts, turnip, carrots and roasted vermicelli.
“It’s called magic soup simply because it’s wholesome enough to battle fatigue, the flu and even reduces blood sugar and cholesterol,” says Anaida as we heartily slurp away at this soup which comes with no condiments or sauces.
We are tempted to ask for another bowl (since we can do with a bit of MAGIC in our life) but just then, the server gets us a plate of Dolmeh (treated vine leaves) stuffed with minced onion and three types of mushrooms.
These are not yet on the menu but will be added soon. A single bite into the Dolma had us transported to another world – blame it on the fusion of flavours which dance on your palette. And again, there is not an iota of spice or any sauce to accompany it.
For the main course, Anaida orders for us the real Biryani, or in this case BERYANI. Having found it’s roots in Esfahan in Persia, the original version of biryani NEVER had rice.
“Rice was added to Beryani by the Mughals to give more volume to the dish to feed their vast armies,” explains Anaida. “The word Beryan literally translates to roasted on a fire and that’s exactly how it’s meant to be,” she adds.
Anaida’s authentic Beryani is made from fire-roasted finely minced lamb which is mildly spiced with aromatic spices and then served on a buttered naan. “For those who need it a bit more spicy, I have designed a gravy to go with it, But I honestly wouldn’t encourage you to dunk the Beryani in it,” she cautions.
True to her word, we found absolutely no need to use the accompanying gravy. The beryani is so light and flavourful that it hardly seems like you’re tucking in to meat. It’s like biting into a cloud and tasting heaven.
As you enscone the Beryani in a piece torn from the naan and pop it into your mouth, the explosion of flavours from the spices jostle to tantalise your taste buds. Each time you chew, a different flavour is released and you almost don’t want this fantastic preparation to get over. The best way to enjoy this ethereal dish is to chew it languidly so that the experience is not lost and is instead, etched in your memory.
Next on the list is a chicken stew. This is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill variety. Anaida’s chicken stew is slow-cooked in pomegranate molasses and flavoured with walnuts. We had this along with Baghali Polo – an Iranian version of Pulao where the slightly burnt rice crust from the bottom of the pan is served on top of the pulao along with fried onions and a fried green chilli (only if you absolutely need it).
This Chicken Stew took a bit of getting used to. For one, it’s on the sweet and tangy side and the consistency is not like the watery stews we are usually served. “Most people who’ve tried this have either hated it or loved it,” reveals the Chef. We however, are ambivalent and are yet to decide if we would order it again on our next visit.
The last dish which we decided to try (out of sheer gluttony because we were already bursting at the seams) was the Haleem. In Iran, Haleem is usually had for breakfast along with naan. What makes this version of the Haleem different is that the slow-cooked lamb and wheat paste is flavoured with cinnamon which immediately gives you the feeling of having comfort food. Of course, the haleem is liberally sprinkled with fried onion but because of the cinnamon flavour, you are not supposed to sprinkle a few drops of lime over it, the way we usually do.
And finally, we round off the meal with Persian Halwa. This wheat flour preparation is cooked in ghee and rose water which gives it a very fresh taste and aroma. The Halwa is further flavoured with cinnamon and chopped nuts are liberally added to it to give this unique dessert an added dimension.
Our verdict: No matter which part of Mumbai you reside in, a trip to Powai is mandatory if you are truly a connoisseur of good food and enjoy exploring new flavours. The dishes which have been curated by Anaida are wholesome, tasty, aromatic and are as authentic as what you would get if you actually visited Iran.
Address: Ground Floor, Sentinel, Hiranandani Gardens, Powai, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400076
Phone: 084509 57444