The ‘bawa’ food brands that have survived a hundred years!

These iconic Parsi food labels have survived our colonial past and hipster present

Navroz, the Parsi New Year coming up on 16 August, is not just about good thoughts, good words and good deeds—but also a bellyful of good food. And while dhansak, farcha and lagan nu custard might be reason enough to say jamva chalo ji (let’s go for lunch/dinner), the whole meal is a symphony brought together by a clutch of iconic products.

The distinct flavours of Parsi cuisine have been spurred on by the community’s entrepreneurial spirit and love for the trio of sweet, spicy and sour flavours. From creamy kulfi to a sweet and fizzy raspberry soda; from an iconic grocery store to a special sugarcane vinegar from Gujarat, these are the food brands that have garnered a fan following beyond Parsi households. Here is a look at these century-old Parsi food brands that have endured the test of time:

The vinegar brewers: Kolah’s Vinegar

Jiyo Parsi the bawa food brands that have survived a hundred years

Mind you, this is no everyday souring agent or a synthetically produced vinegar. The specific balance of sweet, sour and umami is what makes Kolah vinegar that coveted “secret” ingredient in Parsi kitchens. From patra ni macchi to signature masalas, Kolah vinegar brings that je ne sais quoi that makes Parsis travel far and wide in search of their monthly supplies. The brand which started off making sugarcane vinegar in Navsari, Gujarat in 1885 by Edalji Kolah, has since grown and now manufactures masalas, pickles and ice cream. The products still make their way to cities like Mumbai and Pune from Navsari and even though the mandate is a 48-hour advance order, Kolah vinegar continues to hold its sway.

The doodh wallas: Parsi Dairy Farm

The soda wallas: Pallonji’s and Duke’s

It is a truth universally acknowledged (at least in Parsi homes) that no sunny afternoon picnic, festive spread or berry pulao meal is complete without a bottle of chilled fizzy raspberry soda. The Parsi affinity to soda dates back to the late 19th century in India. As early adopters of the British ways, soda soon became a fixture among Parsi homes. Most of the early soda-water businesses in Bombay were run by the community and surnames like Sodawaterwalla, Sodabottlewalla attest to the same. Pallonji’s started off in 1865 in Nagpur and remains a local favourite in Mumbai thanks to the patronage by Irani cafes and the Parsi community. Duke and Sons Pvt Ltd was set up in 1889 in Bombay by Dinshwaji Cooverji Pandole.

Their greatest hits were drinks like Mangola, ice cream soda and lemonade, apart from the raspberry soda and they continued to have a strong presence across western India well into the 1990s. Pepsico took over the brand in 1994, but continued producing its greatest hits and retained the name. The lack of any real fruit, lots of sugar and fizz does little to detract from raspberry soda’s almost inexplicable appeal and its worth as a true homegrown classic is the stuff of nostalgia that keeps the fan base growing.

The cake wallas: B. Merwan and Co.

The tradition of Irani bakeries is one that carries the history of the community which was a later migrant group to India vis a vis the Parsis. And the quintessential cup of Irani chai and cake remained a constant even while they were settling into their new homelands. This naturally expanded into establishments that were bakeries, neighbourhood cafes and provision stores rolled into one. Wherever the Iranis went, their bakeries followed suit and by the early 20th century, bun-maska, mawa cake and Irani chai were well known in cities like Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad. B Merwan and Co. on Mumbai’s Grant Road is believed to be one of the oldest such establishments established in 1914. Known for its mawa cakes and khari biscuits that sell out on a daily basis, this is a teatime staple for all Bombaywallas with a sweet tooth.

B Merwan  Co. the 100yearold Irani restaurant and provision store at Grant Road Mumbai. Photo by Abhijit BhatlekarMint...
B Merwan & Co., the 100-year-old Irani restaurant and provision store at Grant Road, Mumbai. Photo by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint via Getty ImagesMint

The dukan wallas: Dorabjee’s

Pune’s favourite grocery and supermarket began its life as a tin roof shop in the city’s Camp area in 1911. Set up by Dorabjee Patell, this was the shop that introduced western flavours to the city by stocking imported ingredients from across the world—think cheese, cold cuts, mustards, sauces and seasonings apart from distinct Parsi snacks, bakery items and desserts like caramel custard. As the colonial influence and flavours spread across Pune, so did Dorabjee’s fame. Till date, the brand continues to hold its own against modern chain stores and gourmet supermarkets. With only three stores across Pune, it remains staunchly old-world and yet, whether you want Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parma ham, dhansak masala or Maharashtrian Goda Masala—Dorabjee’s is likely to have it all. A wine store, a customized online delivery service and an ever-growing loyal customer base keeps this century-old neighbourhood shop on top of its game.


  • Eat Drink & Be Merry the Motto of the Zoroastrian Community? as other things can wait or ” Who Cares!
    Happy Navroz to all. May we all unite, shed our differences & leave this world a peaceful better place for the future generations

  • Maybe somebody should contact Cyril Varnea (?) on CNN.
    He presents a series of programs on 100 year old companies. To date they are mostly western companies

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