Thursday, June 13, 2013


A peek into those old parts of Mumbai that still remain!

My last trip to Mumbai brought back some delicious memories of living in South Bombay along with the ‘Irani’ cafes which were in those days’ iconic features at nearly every corner in that area that I patronized in my younger days. I was awed by the big glass jars filled with biscuits, cookies and other items which lined up at most of the Irani cafes; and equally by the cute eccentric owners with a set of rules which included ‘No Division of Beverages’, ‘No credit’, ‘No combing’, ‘No address query’ to name a few. Honest to goodness, value for money was the success key. Once ahead of their time, these cafes sadly have become a fast disappearing trend and some have been even converted to bars. Reports have it that while there were 350 in the 1950s; by 2005 the number had dwindled to just 25. Most surviving Irani cafés today are over 100 years old, time capsules of a bygone era replete with red chequered table cloths, bentwood chairs, marble or glass topped tables, chandeliers, portraits on the walls and a general air of quiet decay.
Apparently, a superstition amongst the Gujarati traders was that the corner shops were inauspicious for business. So these technically premium places, which gave access to the premises from two streets remained unoccupied. The Iranis who had come in and were setting up their restaurants lapped up many of these building corner shops. So even today, most of Mumbai’s remaining Irani cafes are found on building corners.

I talk here of the top three quaint and indispensable ones …

No flash décor here but the food more than makes up for it. You can fill yourself with a soulful Parsi meal or an afternoon snack like the Kheema Pav for mere two hundred and fifty bucks or less. Loyal customers flock to this cafe like hungry children to their school cafeteria as the food is inexpensive but delicious. Sample this, ‘Brun bread’ with ‘Maska’ tingling into the mildly sweet taste of the bun. Maska aka butter, is the Irani answer to all of life’s problems. Bruns are quite similar to French breads. Round balls, crusty outside, soft inside, taste heavenly when fresh, warm, sliced with a generous dollop of butter slathered in and dipped it in the sweet and milky tea.
Lip Smacking- Brun Maska with cheeni kam Chai, Dhanshak, Kheema Pav, Lagan nu Bhonu (a Parsi wedding sampler menu for just INR 650), Malai Kulfi and Lagan nu custard.

Address- Vikas Building, 11 Bank Street, opposite cheetah gate, Old custom house, Lane off Horniman circle, Fort, Mumbai -23
Tel: 022 22700880/22662503
Timings: 11 Am to 11pm

Located amidst picturesque stone buildings of Ballard Estate, this high-ceilinged café is more quaint than posh and serves the best berry pulao in town, so much so that the likes of Queen Elizabeth and the Bachchan family are absolute die-hard fans. With a garnish of golden-fried onions and berries imported from Iran, 92 year old owner Boman Kohinoor keeps the recipe a guarded secret and happily hops around tables and personally attends to every guest with great gusto!
Lip Smacking- Mutton berry Pulav, Sali Boti (mutton), Raspberry Soda, Fry Bombay Duck (bombil fish), Egg Masala, Fish Patra and Caramel custard. 

Address- 11 Sprott Road, Ballard Estate, opposite new custom House.
Tel: 022 22615264/30225264
Timings- Open for lunch only. Reservations advised.

The unassuming façade of the café, flanked by dilapidated shop houses does not entice at all, but as you step within, you enter a different world that gently exudes Persian old world charm and an amazing fragrance of fresh baking. There are few smells as heady as the aroma of baking in the world of food, and it totally works for me. The fare is decadent to the core and I would highly recommend a quick stop for the crisp butter kharis, layered salted biscuits, and the Irani tea, a thick overly milky, sweetened tea delicately flavoured with cardamom, it’s to die for!
Lip Smacking- Chicken Farcha, Mutton chops, Baingan Fry, Parsee Akuri (scrambled eggs Persian style), Mawa Cake, Cream puff and Khari biscuits with chai.

Address- 657, Jer Mahal Estate, Opposite Metro Theatre, J.S.S Road, Dhobi Talao, Kalbadevi.
Tel: 022 22011492
Timings: 6:30 Am to 9 pm

published in The Man