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There were hardly any restaurants in Mumbai till then as eating out was not the norm. Small, shack-like khanavals, meant for travelers, were the only eating-out options in the city in those days.
Things changed with the introduction of Irani cafes. These started as bakeries and soon began to offer full meals as well. For the first time people in Mumbai began to come out to restaurants to eat. The cafes had cabins to encourage people to dine with their families. These cafes were fairly cosmopolitan and you even had people from different communities and religions eating here together, which was unusual in that day and age.
In the 1950s, there were close to 350 Irani cafes in Mumbai. Today, there are just about 25.
The famous Irani bakeries still going strong are Kayani near Metro Cinema, B. Mervan at Grant Road and Yazdani at Fort. Here you can enjoy the crusty brun bread or soft buns with maska (butter). You can try the savoury khari biscuits and sweet mava cakes typical of Parsi bakeries. These are best enjoyed with a glass of sweet and milky Irani chai (tea).
There are a number of Irani restaurants in Mumbai where you can go to try Parsi dishes. The most famous of all, and the favourite of tourists, is nonagenarian Boman Kohinoor’s Britannia. Then there are places like Parvez Irani’s Ideal Corner and Behram’s Military Café in Fort whose food many Parsis swear by. Jimmy Boy at Horniman Circle is an interesting option as it gives you a chance to try Parsi Lagan nu Bhonu or wedding feast.
So what should you order in a Parsi restaurant?
Try the keema pao, akuri (spicy scrambled eggs) pao, or cutlets pao if you have dropped in for breakfast or for brunch.
The most famous main courses would be dhansak and salli boti. If you are lucky, you might also get patrani machhi (pomfret steamed in banana leaf).
No trip to Mumbai is complete without a taste of its Parsi food.
Kalyan Karmakar authors the popular award winning blog, Finely Chopped and is an authority on the food of Mumbai. His extensive knowledge of the city's food scene has been featured in publications such as Femina, Mumbai Mirror and BCC Good Food. He was one of the founding critics of EazyDiner's Mumbai team.