Cuisine: Zoroastrian Food

by Teenaz Javat

Zoroastrian food is a cross between Iranian and South Asian food. There are over 5,000 Zoroastrians living in the Greater Toronto Area, the majority of them came to Canada as immigrants from Iran, Pakistan, India and East Africa, over the last 40 years.

"Whether it is a lavish feast or a simple home-cooked meal, our food is rice-based, as rice forms a staple part of our diet. This is mainly because rice is plentiful in Iran, Pakistan and India," says Kay Nargolwalla, an amateur gourmet cook, herself an immigrant to Canada from Pakistan.

Zoroastrians, originally from ancient Persia (now called Iran), immigrated to the Indian subcontinent about 1,300 years ago. Hence their palate evolved accordingly, as did their customs and traditions. Persian staples— like meat and fruits such as apricots, lemons, oranges and pomegranates, and rice— gave way to foods abundant in India such as coconuts, legumes, bananas, vegetables, cinnamon, cloves, black peppers, saffron and cardamom.

As most Zoroastrians live in the GTA and around southern Ontario, they have adapted their diet to what is grown here.

Chicken replaces goat meat, which is not easily available in Canada, and eggs, which are abundantly available, are served atop most vegetables like onion, tomatoes, okra, potatoes, cilantro and peppers.

At the Zoroastrian feast —that takes place three times a year in March, July and August— you can taste chicken, goat meat, eggs with fried vegetables, shrimp, and fish (usually salmon). These items are served with rice and rotlis (flatbread made of wheat). For desert there is the custard made from eggs, milk, sugar, cream and nuts again all abundantly available where they live.

CNM