The 90’s pop music sensation Anaida Parvaneh, known for hits like “Oova Oova” and “Oonchi Neechi”, has donned a chef’s apron at SodaBottleOpenerWala, Hyderabad. Anaida inspired by mind and body wellness and spiritual growth, learnt Tebb e Sonnati (“traditional medicine” in Persian), and cooking from her mother, who is also a naturopath. In addition to being an expert in Persian cuisine; as an artist, she also works on her collection of paintings in oil and ink and is now working on carvings on leather for her future art shows.
Tell us about your transition from famous pop singer to chef?
Have I transitioned? I look at it more like expanding and exploring different sides of my creativity. Music is still very much a part of my life. So are my paintings and carvings and my consulting work. The projects have changed, and I am doing more of what I like to do in music- for example meditation music, which I have been doing since 1996.
But I wasn’t releasing any of it as it was for myself and loved ones until last year when my first meditation album hit the iTunes charts in different countries – New Zealand, Sweden, Turkey. It went to No 17 on UK charts! I have also almost finished a Rumi-based album in Persian. It is my most expensive and best album so far and it is for my dad and I am not sure I would even want to release it to public.
I have always been passionate about cooking. It is my way of showing my affection to the ones I love. A year ago, AD Singh of Olive group asked me to do a Persian food pop up for them. It took us a year to get our dates matched! Finally, we did a pop up for the third anniversary of SBOW in Mumbai, followed by Delhi and by the time we were halfway through the Delhi pop up they asked me to partner with them in their next outlet.
The pop-ups went through the roof, way bigger than we both expected. Here, I am doing authentic Persian food, which was my only criteria, and they were on the same page. I wanted to bring Persian food, exactly as it is, to my Indian friends. Bring Iran to their doorstep so that they can try something new.
What are your top five ingredients in Persian cooking?
Saffron plays a big role. Iranians put it in nearly every dish, and Iranian Saffron is truly special due to the Iranian climate. The aroma and quality will please your senses in amazing ways. It really is the best in the world. Rice is another constant factor; Iranians love rice and its part of nearly every lunch and dinner and they take pride in the Iranian style of cooking rice (similar to what you call Dum Pokht in India but not entirely same)- it’s very precise and you need to serve the rice on time to get the best flavour.
Often you can judge someone’s cooking by how good their rice is. Apart from these two - depending on the geographical regions, ingredients can change. For example, north of Iran, around the Caspian Sea uses garlic in most dishes. However, Persian food doesn't use chilies which have now become a constant factor in Indian cooking (chilies were NOT a part of traditional Indian cooking until approximately 600 years ago!)
What do you think is the most challenging ingredient to work with?
I don’t find any ingredient challenging. The only thing I find challenging is making Indian rotis. Mine resemble maps of different continents every time, I have given up on that (laughs).
What do you cook at home that you never cook at the restaurant?
At home, I don’t cook traditional as often. At home, it is always an art creation. See what’s in season, what’s in my kitchen and then tune in the ingredients and let them tell you what to do with them. I am a very intuitive cook. Then again, everything I do is like that.
What is your favourite food memory?
Most of them revolve around friends or people who say they don’t like this ingredient or that. I love to mess with them and give them a dish using just those ingredients and see them finish the whole thing and then tell them what it was and enjoy their surprise and discovery that one is best not to be fixed on anything! Like the Veg Haleem on my menu has eggplant base and I met many who say they don’t like eggplant and then polish it off, including our own brand head Mohit Balachandran.
He told me once - don’t put eggplant on the menu as most people don’t like it. Then, when he came for the food tasting to my house, I gave him the Haleem and had only told him the Persian name Haleem Badenjan. He loved it and I put it on the menu. Then he sees the menu and goes, how come eggplant? Told you not to put it. I said it was the dish that you polished remember? He cracked up and said- then please call it super tasty eggplant! I love doing this. Now only if I could get rid of my own aversion to capsicums (laughs)!
What do you like to eat when you’re at home?
I have a major sweet tooth and depending on the season it changes. Right now, strawberries are in season, so you will find strawberries and cream in my fridge all the time.