Irani Chai Mumbai
Remembering the Irani cafes of Mumbai/Bombay
Irani Chai, Mumbai exists to remember and document, through words and visuals, the Irani cafes of Mumbai. What sits behind the nostalgia for these unmistakably Mumbai social spaces? What are the stories of the families who started them, and what are your recollections of time spent at your favourite Irani? Beyond the fading allure of bentwood chairs and marble tabletops lay a multitude of memories. Irani Chai, Mumbai invites you to share yours. Click here for a great walk into the past lane……….
My first visit to an Irani Restaurant 1940IDEAL RESTAURANT ….a gastronomic heaven
(The IRANI Restaurant… quintessentially Zarathushti Restaurant of old.)
It was an old building standing guard –resolute and proud – on Hornby Road, a street that was and still is the main artery of Bombay. It used to have a typically Victorian façade, elaborately decorated in stone and brick, an edifice that was not only a symbol of times gone by, but a fine Irani Restaurant I first set foot in, before fire reduced it to a shell. They called it the IDEAL RESTAURANT Building thought it had another name.
It stood at the corner of Hornby Road and Ghoga St, next to the Dady Seth Agiary, at Flora Fountain. Just a hundred yards down the road lived my uncle Ardershir Sorabji, on the top floor of the Kalfati Mansion and this is where we spent most of our vacations during the 1930 /40’s.
Often after visiting the Agiary, the aroma of the freshly baked wine cakes, cheese cakes, chicken patties lured us into the restaurant with our parents in tow. For these little perpetually hungry Parsis coming from North India, the Irani restaurant with its Faloodah, Ice cream, Irani Daram-Nu-Juice, Fresh Khari Biscuits, Batashas, mouth drooling chicken or mutton puffs, Kheema-na-pattice, wine “kake”, warm cheese “Kakes” with a crispy cheese crust, luggan –nu-custard, Bun/Muskha, etc., was like being in a gastronomic heaven.
What I found peculiarly interesting if not amusing was that the waiters and the staff were all Iranis or Bawa’s very much like us, dressed in traditional black velvet “bhun-va-ni-topees, white Bundis (jackets), long white shirts on top of wide flowing white “lay-gas” (pajamas) with the long ends of their Kustis trailing behind. Only the Manager or the boss man, the man at the counter near the entrance /exit, to whom you paid your bill, was dressed in a coat type “Duglo” and wore thick horned rimmed spectacles . And when waiter came to take your order they spoke grammatically incorrect Guajarati. We had a tough time trying to choke our laughter.
Another peculiarity I noticed was that at the end of the meal no bill or cash-memo was presented. But no sooner you got up to go, from the corner of the huge sprawling hall, some one would shout in a sing song voice, giving details of what you ordered and the total amount you had to pay. We never could figure out how they did it. It is said no one ever escaped the shouter’s watchful eye or got off without paying. If one happened to walk into the restaurant and walk out without buying or eating, all could hear the loud sing-song chorus as the person passed by the cashier’s counter, “ this one did not eat or drink”.
Another thing we found amusing was, we kids were addressed as, “BOO-CHAS” & “DICK-RAS” no body referred to us or called us so in the Delhi restaurants.
This may interest some of the readers who in Jan 2007 paid RTI, Rs.15 for a mutton Puff or a pastry, or cutlets, or Rs 35 for packet of wafers or Khari biscuits, In the 1940’s at the Ideal Restaurant we paid:-
Large glass of Faloodah with ice cream or Pomegranate Juice Annas 2= (Rs 0.125)
A large portion of Custard or ‘Kheema na pattice’ Annas 2.5 = (Rs 0.16)
A full breakfast with 2 eggs, bun, mushka & tea, also cost the same.
Cheese Cake as big as a standard muffin was 5 Paisa or Annas 1.25 = (< Rs 0.08)
Pastry same size as today, chicken/muttom/vege puffs, packets of 8 khari butter biscuits, Nan khatais, packet of batasas or wine cakes, were just Anna one each, that was the price also for a large 5 inch fresh bun with a liberal helping of muskah (butter) with a hot cup of tea.
Many a times as we were leaving after a spicy meal, the good natured man sporting the black horned rimmed thick glasses would politely enquire in his grammatically incorrect and broken Guajarati ; “Khaaddah? Gum-yaah”? meaning “khaadu? Gum-you” i.e. Did you like what you ate? And then hands out small packs of 4 English toffees or caramels. On other days it would be cubes of Gaaz from Iran. In response to our shy ‘thank yous’ he’d say, “God Bless you my child”.
We, it seems lived in a World then full of Zarathushtis who derived joy from simple & natural things.
While selecting a table in the Ideal Restaurant we would choose the Hornby Rd side sitting so we could watch the double decker trams & busses pass by and also to walk down to the vendors on the side-walk to pick up British comics,war books and penny dreadful s. In later years and until the 70’s these sidewalk were my happy ‘hunting grounds’ for things foreign like watches, calculators, electronic gadgets, imported fabrics etc. Here sometimes you found good bargains and often got cheated.
Other of the now disappearing Irani Restaurant we frequented during the World war II days in Bombay was the Badsha’s opposite Crawford Market. This used to be one of the best place for Faloodah and Mango Juice.
There was another, Irani Restaurant that we frequented for lunch, was called Standard or something, it also was on Hornby Road, opposite Evens Frazer, (Handloom House, in later years).
Dear Mr. Sorabji,
Reading your piece above was a truly nostalgic journey for me. I had frequented Ideal restaurant in the late ’60s & 70s as a teenager till it burnt literally in front of my eyes in 1972.
Today it will pain u to know that there is a BEST power sub-station in its place.
Your vivid description of the waiters dresses and the owners horned rimmed spectacles alongwith the mouth drooling goodies and above all the unbelievable prices really
takes one into another world another time.
If u have written any more pieces on Bombay please mail
them to me i would truly love to read them
I agree with MR Vispi Mistry,the article is like a memory play back of the yesteryears,of the fifties and sixties,I was residing in the Fort area (Flora Fountain )and vividly remember Ideal restaurant with huge convex and concave mirrors on one side of the wall.We, used to stand in front of the mirror and enjoy making funny faces, yes those were the days my friend.
Thx , once again,
people, pelase contribute to my humble website! these are the memories we want to hear about!
Really enjoyed reading the piece on Ideal Restaurant and the recreation of those halcyon days when you had the time to relax over bun maska chai, while watching the world pass by outside.