I woke up to sad news and a heavy heart yesterday. The front page of the Times of India covered the news that the iconic Parsi Dairy Farm may shutter soon. I narrated my memories with this Parsi dairy establishment over lunch with the colleagues. I tweeted vociferously over the probable closure of the place that provided one of my favorite childhood treats. I enraged over the closure of many such heritage spaces in the city, because we ourselves don’t have the time or inclination to visit them anymore. I ended the day with a phone conversation with Bee, moaning over how my children would never understand the joy of eating a Mawa Ni Boi from Parsi Dairy farm on Navroze.
And then I thought, when was the last time I visited Parsi Dairy Farm? When was the last time I gifted a box of pendas, or suttarfani to my friends, instead of chocolates or cake? When was the last time I drove over to town and decided to have a kulfi at Parsi Dairy Farm instead of a fancy ice cream sundae, or macaron from a top notch patisserie? The answer is not in the recent past.
With an establishment like the Parsi Dairy Farm, that has been in existence since 99 years, you begin to take it’s presence for granted. “Ohh, it’s been there for so many years, it’s not going anywhere. Let me go have dessert at this new patisserie/ pop up first. Parsi Dairy, I can always do later”. Unfortunately, you need more that just a trustworthy name for an organization to work. You need clientele, and backing. As a fellow Zoroastrian, the majority clientele of Parsi Dairy Farm, I can embarrassingly say that we have moved on to other pastures.
Personally for me and my family, it became tougher to go all the way to Princess Street to get sweets and mithais for occasions. We found a sweet vendor on Hill Road in Bandra who would deliver sutterfani to our doorstep. Convenience and comfort won over culture and memories. It seems to be the same with a lot of Parsi-Irani families, as the TOI report states a shocking reduction in their sales. They barely supply 2000 liters of milk today, from the 15000 liters a decade ago.
I have such beautiful memories with the sweets at Parsi Dairy Farm. I remember unwrapping a blue box, with the cow logo of Parsi Dairy Farm on the wrapping paper, every Navroze. A beautiful, large fish made out of sweet mawa covered with silver varq, and a ruby red eye stared back at me. And then there are those creamy, caramel toffees called Milk Drops, that guarantees a visit to your dentist on account of how sticky they are. I’d give anything to bite into one right now, and feel like a chubby ten year old again.
And then there is the kulfi. Seeing a Parsi Dairy Farm kulfi at a Parsi wedding, was akin to a status symbol. It meant the hosts had spent a lot on the per plate/ paatra cost. And that an extra hundred rupees had to be put in the ‘peraamni’ envelope. That kulfi tasted just as creamy, natural, and beautiful every time I have eaten it. And my mother loves the Bhel they have. You’d be surprised at how delicious and hearty their underrated Bhel is. Though I haven’t eaten there recently, so we hope the quality has remained consistent.
I resorted to Twitter today morning, to ask people their memories and favorites from this heritage space. I expected Bawas on my time line to reply, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how many non-Parsis had food memories attached to the place. Natasha Vakil, spoke about the fragrance of milk that would emanate from the place. Reading that tweet brought back such a strong olfactory memory for me. It’s beautiful, the power of food, and the memories it evokes.
Sucheta Thakur, blogger at The Vegetarian Bhukkad, spoke to me about her childhood memories visiting the original Parsi Dairy Farm in Gujarat, and how she still reminisces about those milk toffees, and kulfis. As we text, her grandmother goes into her kitchen and removes the dabbas where she stocks her grains; Parsi Dairy Farm ghee dabbas from the 1950s and 1960s.
With the Parsi population dwindling (I’ll save my comments for another blogpost), there is a chance that my future generations may lose out on the culture, rituals, and food that we are so proud of. It’ll hurt me if my children cannot enjoy a Mawa Ni Boi on Navroze, or Sev with Mitthu Dahi from Parsi Dairy on their birthdays, irrespective of who I chose to marry. I’d love to keep Parsi Dairy Farm alive, and there is a chance it may not shutter down. *fingers crossed*
Let this be an eye opener for all of us, me included. There is no point crying over the loss of someone, if you did not value him while he was there. The same thing applies to heritage, iconic eateries. Reduced clientele which makes these places unable to sustain business in today’s age of inflation, and exorbitant rent may be a major contributing factor. Here is where we come into the picture. Go visit your favorite childhood jaunt from school. Go take a train eat at that 100 year old South Mumbai Cafe, even if it’s too far for you. These are the places that have sustained for decades without marketing or social media presence. But now, they need our help in sustaining further.
What can we do to save Parsi Dairy Farm? Nothing. If the decision for it’s closure has been made, there is absolutely nothing we can do. Except try and go there in the last few weeks, and relive memories. Or make new ones. And if you cannot personally make it there I discovered Nature’s Basket retailing some of their products such as dahi, white butter, and kulfi online. (Not a promotion for Nature’s Basket. Simply an observation.)
As I finish typing this post out, there is an intense discussion on the Family Whatsapp group (we all have one of those) that has begun on this topic. My grand aunt Dolly Kaki spoke about how she would feed her daughter only Parsi Dairy milk. There are so many such stories out there. I would love to hear your views, memories, and thoughts on Parsi Dairy Farm in the comments below.