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Chronicling A Culture - Cookbooks, Music and Photography


It was the occasion of King's mother, Shireen Ichaporia's, 90th birthday that made Niloufer sit down and begin to really collect and organize her recipes and stories into a book. The book is riveting; the glossary alone reads like a travelogue of India and the subtropical world. Her recipes open a whole new world for cooks. And with these dishes, one is creating a meal while also taking part in a small act of preservation. Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food in Italy, said that preserving a traditional cheese is as important as preserving a 16th-century building. So it is with King, a kind of Parsi Sheherazade, who never really cooked until she left India and came to America, and then felt compelled to cook, chronicle and preserve the food of her home.

Niloufer's collection of recipe books and notebooks. On the left, her school cooking class notebook, 1957
and in the middle her notebook with recipes and notes from near and far.
  Niloufer writes, " We had cookery lessons in school and at home, I did a lot of recreational cooking (cakes, soufflés, salads, etc) when allowed. So I was not a total innocent when I entered the phase of cooking every day in a new country. I taught myself Parsi and other Indian food from the first edition of the Time and Talents cookbook in combination with recipes from my mother’s cook, Andrew de Souza. My interests in the food of everywhere else were served by devouring what was available at the library and by subscribing to Gourmet which was the only magazine of its type in the early sixties."  
(left) Time and Talents Club Recipe book, 1959. (rt) The ZSM Cookbook - a collection of recipes from the good ladies
of the Zoroastrian Street Mandal in Hyderabad and Secunderabad.'

We discovered photographer Sue Darlow and her collection of books and photographs chronicling Parsi culture and cooking at ANOTHER SUBCONTINENT, an online forum, who's mission is to foster understanding of South Asian society and culture. Visit her work online. These cookbooks are from Sue Darlow's collection. "Most, if not all the contributions are by Parsis, but the recipes include all kinds of Indian dishes, Parsi ones, and 'Continental' ones beloved of Bombay's Parsi hostesses. There is even a chapter on Prize Winning, Subsidiary and Antiwaste Dishes which includes Egg on Banana Skin and Dehydrated Cabbage Salan with dry fish or prawns." writes Sue Darlow.


Sooni Taraporevala, best known as a scriptwriter ("Salaam Bombay" and "Mississippi Masala")
is also a photographer and has published a book of her portraits with essays and interviews to give a modern view of Zoroastrianism, chronicling the religious road of this community in her book, PARSIS: The Zoroastrians of India: A Photographic Journey.


As with all the Hidden Kitchens stories, we started searching for the right music. The first thing we discovered is that the conductor Zubin Mehta and the late Freddie Mercury of Queen are both Parsi, but there is no "Parsi" music. There is music from Persia, from Gujarat, from Bombay, from India. None of these were the soundtrack of King's childhood. King loves music. Food and music are central to her world.

"I studied Western music," she says. "Classical music. Haydn, Mozart, Schumann, Chopin. I started piano at the age of 6. That was Parsi music for me. I did not grow up listening to Indian music. We never heard it in school except for right on the edges. If a village band went by, the nuns used to say 'Oh, that dreadful racket.'" King began listening to Indian music once she moved to the U.S., just as she began cooking Parsi food once she was here.


Our music search led us to Harmonia Mundi and their World Village collections of Persian and Indian music, including Shujaat Husain Khan and Aruna Sairam and the compilation, Without You, Masters of Persian Music. World Music freak Joe Boyd and Brian Cullman led us to the haunting singer Reza Shajarian and the kamanche playing (a kind of spiked violin) of Ghazal.




The music heard in the story came from several of the soundtracks of Indian film legend Satyajit Ray, and also from a collaboration of Ry Cooder with V.M. Bhatt, from their album A Meeting by the River.

"For me food and music are just completely interrelated and I see planning a menu in musical terms," King says. "When I make birthday cakes for people, what do they want? Mozart, Schubert, or Brahms? Mozart may be a hazelnut meringue. Brahms, chocolate, deep and dark and orange."



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