OK. It's the first day of spring, and that means tomorrow is New Years - Parsi New Year. This morning, our series Hidden Kitchens will take us through 3,000 years of Parsi culture, from San Francisco to India to Persia. The Kitchen Sisters Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva call their story, "Sugar in the Milk."

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. NILOUFER ICHAPORIA KING: My name is Niloufer Ichaporia King. I'm a Parsi who now lives in San Francisco, born in Bombay to Parsi parents. It's the only way you can be a Parsi is by being born to a Parsi father, at least. Parsi means person from Persia. Parsi, like Afghani. We're the descendants of the followers of Zoroaster, who left Persia after it fell to the Arabs in the 7th century.

When Parsis landed on the west coast of India, the head priest asked for permission to stay. And the Hindu ruler showed him a vessel brimming full of milk to show that the lands were full and there was no room. A Parsi priest responded put some sugar into the milk, not a drop was spilt, an indication that as the sugar enriched the milk without displacing it, so would Parsis enrich without displacing.

Professor HOMI BHABHA (English, Harvard University): In my grandmother's home, on Parsi New Year we drank this absolutely delicious milkshake-like drink, falooda, made with pink rosewater and ice cream, little jelly bean-like seeds. As I sipped my drink, I often recalled the founding story of Parsis dissolving like sugar or rosewater in the milk.

I'm Homi Bhabha, professor of English at Harvard University. I am a Parsi from Bombay. Today, there are about 70 or 80,000 Parsis worldwide.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KING: Zubin Mehta, the conductor, most famous Parsi. Zubin and Freddie, the late Freddie Mercury. Parsi population appears to dwindling rather rapidly. Parsi cooking is one of the least known cuisines in the world. Coming from desert plateaus in Iran to this incredibly fertile coastal plain with fish jumping out of the water. Coconuts, mangoes, Hindu influences, the Muslims, the British and the Portuguese. It's kind of magpie cooking. We see something appealing and we fly off with it to our nests and make something of it that's our own.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KING: Well, what greens are good today? These are chile greens here. They're assertive, but they're not hot at all.

The farmer's market week starts on Saturday for me with the Alemany Market.

Unidentified Woman #1: It's good for diabetes. It's…

Ms. KING: (unintelligible) greens, (unintelligible) peanuts.

I'm interested in food plants used all over the world. I'm also an anthropologist.

Unidentified Woman #2: Are you interested in seeds from (unintelligible)?

Ms. KING: I've always seen the great drama on the plate as coming from vegetables. What we need to do is make more vegetable excitement.

(Soundbite of music)

Prof. BHABHA: Parsi New Year was always very special. My mother would bathe us with a little bit of milk in which she crushed rose petals. And the table would be laden with auspicious foods. A particularly auspicious gift would be fresh fish.

Ms. KING: Fish for fertility. The People would send a tray of fish, a pair of palm fruit.

Alice Waters came to New Year dinner at our house and suggested we might try doing New Year's at Chez Panisse, because she loves New Years, and it was yet another one.

Ms. ALICE WATERS (Chef): I'm Alice Waters, and we're celebrating Parsi New Year. This restaurant's decorated with long stalks of lemon grass and branches with tiny little dates, garlands full of marigolds, tuberoses and gardenias.

Ms. KING: We will start with some little quick pickled something with lime and salt. We'll have (unintelligible) because it's auspicious. It absolutely lies at the heart of Parsi food. The plain everyday (unintelligible), the thing that's eaten on happy days, on sad days, on days that are special, birthday or passing an exam.

Mr. GILBERT PILGRIM: Niloufer is very exotic, at the same time very accessible. My name is Gilbert Pilgrim. Her house is a mess, but in order, with the most extraordinary objects everywhere. We (unintelligible). Her food looks like something that you could eat at a street stand. There was one time my boyfriend, Richard, says, you know, Niloufer, the hors d'oeuvres are really not up to snuff. Niloufer said well, that's because you're eating the bird's food.

(Soundbite of bird squawking)

Ms. KING: The bird is Auttle, a red lord Amazon parrot. We bought him as a used bird. He named himself. One day he started saying, Hello, Auttle. Hello, Auttle, and we finally got the hint. Of course, you know, he didn't say how to spell it.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KING: Ginseng and garlic, green chilies and coriander. Parsi cooking, it's disappearing with us. UNESCO declared Parsi as an endangered cultural entity. It's a cultural artifact, really, a dish. And in tending it and being the steward of that particular thing in your lifetime, you're handing down an heirloom the way you would any other precious cultural artifact. I think we'll have the souffle-type eggs that Parsis are so fond of. It's one of the best tricks up the Parsi sleeves.

INSKEEP: Hidden Kitchens is produced by the Kitchen Sisters and mixed by Jim McKee. Niloufer Ichaporia King has a book, "My Bombay Kitchen," of Parsi stories and recipes, including falooda, which you can find at

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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