This is the week of the Parsi new year (18th August this year) and I thought that I will celebrate it by paying tribute to Mumbai’s unique culture of Irani cafes.
The dining out scene of Mumbai owes a lot to the Irani cafes and bakeries after all.
There wasn’t much of a restaurant scene once upon a time in Mumbai as eating out was not a part of Hindu customs in those days.
Then the Iranis came into Mumbai in the mid 1800s. Looking for employment they decided to set us cafes and restaurants and bakeries, thus introducing Bombayites to the concept of restaurants.
Iranis are technically not Parsis. They both are Zoroastrians and came to India from Iran. However, unlike the Parsis, the Iranis came to Mumbai more recently. Just about 200 years back.
Almost all the restaurants offering Parsi food in Mumbai are run by Iranis. The caterers, Godiwala, Katy’s Kitchen, Bawi Bride, though are Parsi.
The 60-year old Yazdani Bakery in Fort is run by an Irani family. It represents a world before modern day coffee shops came into vogue.
Much to the angst of third generation owner of Yazdani, Tirandaz Irani, who says that his aspirations are held in check by his elders, there is no air-conditioning, toilets or wi-fi here.
What you do get is the aroma of freshly-baked bread, crusty brun maska (bun and butter) to dip into steaming cups of Irani chai which can be followed up with mawa cakes and khari biscuits and the raisin specked apple pie.
And a surge of encouragement by seeing the will and spirit of Mr Zend Irani, Tirandaz’s uncle, who is at the counter every day despite his ailments. He steadfastly refuses to increase the prices of the products here. He is the driving force behind Yazdani, as Tirandaz wryly admits.
With rising real estate prices and the hard work involved, the future of gems like Yazdani Bakery is uncertain. You never know if they will last beyond the current generations.
What you can do is go there and enjoy a slice of a fast disappearing city formerly known as Bombay while you still can.
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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.