Hi There, My name is Anahita Irani, I am the author at Sweetannu.com. A pre school teacher, social media influencer, lifestyle & food blogger. Added hobbies are travel, movies and fashion, going for events, socializing, networking and making new friends. Check out her interesting blog at https://sweetannu.com
I can proudly proclaim to be married into a bhakra loving family as l clearly remember my mother-in-law making bhakras in her Dahanu home every Sunday, cooling them and packing them in a big stainless steel box for her son. It was a ritual every Sunday evening, once all the other household work was done it was time to make Bhakras. A big thali was taken and all the ingredients were mixed with a heavy hand. My mother-in-law would instruct the maid to knead with a heavy hand and add according to the recipe in her head. She never used measured proportions yet the bhakras turned out delicious every time.
Just opposite the Netarwalla Sanitorium and Agyari compound is the Dr.K.N. Bahadurji Memorial Sanatorium. The Sanatorium was inaugurated on 15th August 1902 and is specifically for Parsi/Irani community. It is spread over 12.5 acres of land, such a picturesque and sprawling property, once I enter I feel like Alice in Wonderland.
It was love at first bite. It was at the hallowed, hundred-year-old Parsi members-only Ripon Club that I got my first taste of Parsi food. This was almost four decades ago when I had just moved from dreary Delhi and fell wildly in love with Mumbai and with Parsi food. Sadly there are only a handful of Parsi restaurants and so I wait for lagan nu bhonus at weddings. However, when a Parsi restaurant does open, I do a joyous whoop and go cartwheeling to lunch there. Like I did at the three-month-old Cheron.
Please ignore all those social media comments – Cheron does not have a sea view. Sure it is daylight bathed, is charming, cheery and no frills. It’s seriously small. Glassed in counters with shelves of food complete the decor.
All the food is served in takeaway plates and containers. Snacky (wraps, rolls, sandwiches) as well as one-dish-meals. My awesome foodie friend Kunal Vijayakar swears by the Patra ni Machi here. Snuggly wrapped in banana leaf and vibrant with chutney and gently steamed, the “Pamplet” is a must try. As is the plump pao with boldly spiced succulent kheema and the somewhat greasy but tasty mutton lacy cutlet. Moist and tangy Berry Pulao, lustily spiced Mutton Salli Jardaloo. `Flaky puffs baked with a filling of chicken (vegetarian options too). Velvety firm Lagan Nu Custard delights
No table bookings. No alcohol. No ice. Some of the dishes miss the mark and could do with more punch like the Dhansak and the Mutton Mince Potato. Oversweet desserts (Kit Kat, German chocolate).
I love the fact that this small, cheery, open through the day cafe is the result of four decades of a family’s passion. Baker and poultry pioneer Khoram Zorabian founded Bandra’s Gondola and Perizaad, his lovable actress daughter is equally passionate about it. His son Sohrab’s Cheron has been catering Parsi food. Casual and value for money has always been the guiding ethos. No frills, straightforward preparations and food served in takeaway containers. It encourages a basic kind of gluttony. Happily!
Mumbai’s beloved Parsi restaurants are struggling to survive.
IT ALL BEGAN WITH A milkshake.
After the Arab conquest of Persia in the mid seventh century, adherents to Zoroastrianism, which may be the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, fled their ancestral home. Piling into boats and carrying their sacred fire with them, they landed on India’s west coast, in the state of Gujarat.
According to lore, the local king eyed the newcomers with suspicion. Not speaking their language, he presented the Zoroastrians with a jug of milk, filled to the brim, in an effort to communicate that there was no room for them in his kingdom. In response, the Zoroastrian high priests dissolved sugar in the milk without spilling a drop from the jug, demonstrating how they would enrich the local community without displacing anyone.
The sweetened milk won over the king—and eventually the rest of India. Thousands more Zoroastrians came to India, crossing present day Iran, Pakistan, and India on foot, on camel, and by boat.
Known as “Parsis,” or “Iranis” for later waves of Zoroastrian migrants, this small and tight-knit community has since built impressive businesses and charitable institutions in India. But their most well-known legacy remains culinary.
“People are crazy about Irani food,” says Sarosh Irani, the co-owner of B. Merwan & Co, a Parsi-style bakery and cafe in Mumbai. Waking up every night at midnight, he takes the train into work and arrives by 3 a.m. to carry on his grandfather’s tradition of baking his breads and pastries in a wood-fired oven. By 7 a.m., the cafe’s famous mawa cakes are warm and fragrant, and the doors are opened.
Eager to build lives for themselves in their new home, hundreds of Zoroastrians opened restaurants and cafes like Irani’s between 1890 and 1940, with more established Parsis often supporting newer Irani arrivals with small loans. Serving cheap, tasty food in simple but stately decor, they became the Greek diners of India. Frequented by diplomats, day laborers, and everyone in between, they helped shape India’s largest city by bringing people of all classes, genders, religions, and ethnicities together over cups of chai.
Indians cherish the timeless quality of Parsi restaurants. But this adherence to tradition—a type of authenticity celebrated by modern food culture—may lead to their extinction. In a rapidly modernizing Mumbai, these beloved eateries are disappearing, replaced by hip, Parsi-inspired ventures run by outsiders.
Parsi cuisine reflects the migratory roots of its people, with blends of Iranian and Gujarati flavors. In a country full of vegetarians, Parsi food is hearty and meaty. Local favorites include half-fry eggs, minced lamb in rich tomato sauce, and thick mutton stew with caramelized rice. Simple bun maska—bread and butter—with chai is another staple.
B. Merwan & Co has been serving its bun maska in the same location, behind the bustling Grant Road train station, since Sarosh’s grandfather, Boman Merwan, opened it in 1914. Housed in the first floor of one of south Bombay’s many beautifully dilapidated old buildings, nothing much has changed about the cafe in the past century. (Mumbai is still often called by its former name, Bombay.) With a full breakfast of coffee, bread, and an omelet costing less than two dollars, even the prices barely seem to have changed.
“Whatever you see here is 103 years old,” Sarosh says from his perch behind a large wooden cashier’s desk at the front of the cafe. He looks up from his receipt book and smiles. “It’s only we that are not that old.”
But some Parsi proprietors are nearly that old. Ninety-four-year-old Boman Kohinoor greets visitors at Britannia & Co, established by his father in 1923, every day. Patrons flock to the high-ceilinged, checker-table-clothed institution for the signature berry pulao, a spiced biryani-rice dish with Iranian barberries.
Forty years ago, there were hundreds such restaurants scattered around Bombay—Kohinoor says he counted over 400 in the 1950s—all with signature Parsi dishes, a no-fuss culture, and low prices. Now, there are only a handful—30 according to estimates by Kohinoor, four according to another cafe owner.
But Mumbai has changed a lot in half a century, growing into a bustling, urban metropolis. And the families that run these heritage eateries have changed too.
“The pioneers who came here weren’t highly qualified,” says Farooq Shokri, owner of Kyani & Co, a bakery and restaurant he inherited from his father. The success of his and other Parsi cafes allowed more recent generations to go to college and excel as doctors, lawyers, and professionals abroad. Few children want to inherit the family business. “They prefer to have a less strenuous life than what they have seen their forefathers going through,” says Shokri.
For many of these families, bringing in a non-relative to run these restaurants is tantamount to closing shop. “The other Irani restaurants that have closed down, it’s because they have partners,” says Sarosh Irani. “When it’s in the family, if we have any problem, we sit and talk together and sort it out.”
But keeping it in the family is becoming harder and harder. And in a city of over 18 million, many Parsi restaurants have been pushed out of their now valuable real estate and replaced by multinational chains such as McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Shokri’s kids are still young, and he isn’t confident that they will want to take over as the third generation of restaurateurs. This uncertainty clearly nags him. “It is a legacy which my father has left for me that I will continue,” he says. “I don’t know how long I will continue, that is a question mark.”
Much of the distinctiveness of Parsi restaurants reflects the community’s exclusivity. Zoroastrians don’t allow converts into their religion, don’t recognize the children of intermarriages, and don’t allow outsiders inside the doors of their sacred fire temples. But this exclusivity is making the community smaller and smaller. The number of Zoroastrians in India has halved since the 1940s, with only 57,000 counted in India’s 2011 census. India so values the business and cultural contributions of the Zoroastrian community that the government has launched a public campaign and is funding fertility clinics to convince this dwindling community to have more children.
But while the real-deal Parsi cafes struggle, non-Parsi’s are repackaging the Parsi “brand” for a younger, wealthier clientele. London has its own version of a Parsi restaurant, a popular chain called Dishoom, that plays on a vintage Bombay aesthetic. A new, sprawling office park and commercial development in Mumbai’s hip Bandra neighborhood is home to SodaBottleOpenerWala—a “concept restaurant” owned by a restaurant and catering company with branches across the country.
Danesh Vakshoor is the 29-year-old chef at Mumbai’s SodaBottleOpenerWala. His grandfather once ran an Irani cafe of his own, and he says he wanted to spread Parsi culture to others. “The Parsi cafes are dying day by day,” he says. “So I said, what do I do?”
SodaBottleOpenerWala promises to recreate the “dying legacy” of Bombay’s Parsi cafes, while serving exotic cocktails and hosting karaoke nights. Sepia-toned photos and antique knick knacks line the walls, and the menu is full of traditional Parsi dishes with modern updates. One branch even has a blown up photo of B. Merwan & Co papering a wall. It’s a common phenomenon in the food industry: new, hip ventures emphasizing tradition even as the progenitors of that tradition disappear.
Vakshoor sees SodaBottleOpener as a way to adjust a traditional favorite to the modern world. “People need a change after a particular point of time,” he says. “You improve on it, make some little changes.”
Shokri hasn’t been to SodaBottleOpenerWala, and he’s skeptical. “It’s just trying to copy the typical Irani type of restaurant,” he says. “From what I hear, the prices are very high. That wouldn’t fit into our culture of low-priced shops. We serve the common man. We cater to all sectors of society.”
The new iterations of cafes might serve variations of Dhansak stew and bun maska, but Sarosh, Shokri, and others are clinging to something more than menu items. At B. Merwan & Co, a man with long grey hair comes in, greets Sarosh, and sits in the same seat he’s been sitting in since 1971. Sarosh says he isn’t sure what will happen when he finally decides to stop making his midnight trek into the cafe. “We are all thinking, how long can we keep going?”
It’s early in the afternoon, definitely past the unusual office rush-hour, but no one seems to have informed people on East Street. There is serious traffic jam here. Apart from the vehicles, there seems to be a jam of people as well. The parking slots are full, but somehow, that has not discouraged the people swarming in. At first glance, the traffic jam and crowd are difficult to explain.
One might think that the stately single-storey structure — home to the Cantonment’s first Western-style restaurant and ballroom — has attracted all the visitors. Though a pale shadow of its past glory, the building does house a Cantonment Board dispensary, a telecom firm service centre and a restaurant. But none of these three establishments justifies the crowds.
While the dispensary and the service centre do not have too many visitors anyway, the restaurant too is currently closed for renovation purposes.
For an answer, look a little ahead, and perhaps at your wristwatch. The Kayani Bakery is to shut for the afternoon in 20 minutes, and this crowd must rush to get its hands on the biscuits, cakes and other baked goodies before the bakery downs its shutters.
The bakery, started by a Zoroastrian family, opened its doors on this premises in 1955. Since then, business has been roaring. Incidentally, the items on sale — the different of cakes, the very-popular Shrewsbury biscuits, patties, orange-flavoured biscuits and the quintessential khari — have not changed much over the years. The evidence lies in the antiquated menu board on one of the walls. The prices, however, have changed, though the goodies here are not as expensive as some other big-name bakeries in town.
Henry Gomes comes to Pune from Mumbai almost every weekend to meet his parents. And every visit is also marked by a trip to the Kayani Bakery, to stock up on mawa and Madeira cakes, which Gomes takes back with him.
“The mawa cake here gets sold out fast. Hope it is still there,” said Gomes. “This place is part of my childhood memories. I used to come here almost every weekend with my parents. Of course, I now come here every time I visit Pune,” he adds.
And he is just one among the many, many loyal customers the bakery has. Though Kayani Bakery accepts only cash, even last year’s demonetisation did not adversely affect the business. “There was bound to be some effect. But we did not suffer much. Our customers kept coming. Most of them are very old and they all want their mawa cake and khari with tea,” said a shop attendant.
By the time the bakery was ready to shut for the afternoon, most of the items were already sold out. “Please come back after a couple of hours… when we reopen,” was the polite request of the security guard to some of the disappointed customers who could not make it on time.
They will have to wait a bit longer for their “sugar rush.”
The Famous Butter Loaded Biscuit from the Parsi Bakeries
Image Credits: Instagram/mellownspicy
Everybody knows about the British and Portuguese influence on Indian food, but not a lot know about Dutch fingerprints on Indian food. Way back in the 17th century, plenty of Dutch colonies were flung all over the Gujarati city of Surat in order to facilitate trade with India. Anxious for a taste of home, they set up a bakery, employing five Parsis to run it. This happy monopoly soon came to an end though, when the British eventually wrested control of Surat. The bakery, largely untainted by the colonial forces at play, happily stayed open. One of the bakers, Faramjee Pestonji Dotivala, continued bakingbread but demand for it sank. Perhaps it was too expensive? In any case, the older, harder bread which was sold for cheaper, became popular and eventually it morphed into the rusk-dry Irani biscuit. In its wake came the sweet, rich nankhataibiscuit, which the Dotivalas claim to have also invented. “In those days,” the Dotivala website reads, “the locals used to make a sweet called ‘dal’. Our ancestors baked the ‘dal’ and the now famous nankhatai was invented.”
Elsewhere, in ‘Eat, Live, Pray’, a publication of the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America, Farishta Murzban Dinshaw writes, “Parsi bakers were inspired by the eggless Scottish shortbread, favoured by sailors because it kept well on long voyages, to create nankhatai, one of Surat’s famous confections. The Surti bakers realised the recipe was suitable for Gujarati vegetarians who did not eat eggs, so they adapted it to local taste by adding cardamom, cashews, almonds and pistachios.”
Today, the nankhatai we know is a light golden circle made with a cloud of ghee (or butter) and pocked with nutmeg and cardamom. Served warm and fresh from the oven, it has a dense, brittle, buttery texture that pairs excellently with a hot cup of tea. The nankhatai‘s marriage of starch and sugar is an immensely satisfying way to perk up a drowsy afternoon.
Where to Get Nankhatai
I’ve read of nankhatai street vendors who hawk their wares in narrow, old Delhi lanes. Someone once gave me a packet of crumbly almond-studded ones from Frontier Biscuits; apparently Frontier makes khatais in various flavours, including chocolate and mango. But I am a nankhatai purist, so I won’t comment on the bastardisation of this biscuit. Some of the best nankhatais I have tasted though are from Mumbai‘s Paris Bakery, well-known for their heavy-handed use of butter. Consequently, their biscuits are absolutely delicious and their batasas are the best in the world, or so I always maintain. Recently, I tried the nankhatai in Udvada and we, as a family, were united in our disappointment. “Paris Bakery has spoiled us,” said my dad, sadly.
To be fair, I have not yet tried the nankhatai from Surat’s Dotivala or any from Pune’s Parsi bakeries, a lacuna that I am desperate to fill. Perhaps it will be even better than Paris.
How to Make Nankhatai
The Parsis especially have taken the nankhatai to their heart and it is to my favourite Parsi cookbook writer that I turned for the recipe. This is of course, my well-thumbed copy of Bhicoo Manekshaw’s Parsi Food and Customs in which she writes, “Parsis have no boundaries when it comes to good food and will accept any dish that their palates fancy. Their tea-time snacks are a delightful mixture of Gujarati, Maharashtrian and European dishes, as well their own typical ones.” And so it is with the hybrid nankhatai. Here is her recipe, slightly astonishing because of her use of yoghurt.
Bhicoo Manekshaw’s Nankhatai
5 cups maida
A pinch of salt
1 tsp crushed green cardamom seeds
2 tsp soda bicarbonate
2 ½ cups castor sugar
50 gm ghee or butter
6-8 Tbsp curd, beaten till smooth
Cashew nut halves, for decoration (or almond or pistachio or chironji)
1. Set oven to 175 degrees C (or 350 degrees F).
2. Sift flour with salt, crushed cardamom and bicarb of soda.
3. Beat ghee or butter with sugar till light and fluffy. Add curd and mix well. Add flour and mix to a stiff dough. Rest dough for half an hour.
4. Place one teaspoon mixture on a greased baking tray for each biscuit, leaving a space of 2 inches between each. Place a cashew nut on top of each biscuit.
5. Place in oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes.
The introduction of yoghurt into the recipe is intriguing. From my forays into Internet blogs and books, I noticed that the issue of yoghurt is split evenly down the middle. For instance, the other Parsi cookery writer that I respect, Bapsi Nariman, doesn’t use any. Nariman, in her Traditional Parsi Dishes, uses semolina and whole wheat flour (not maida), doused in 110g of desi ghee, which she kneads. But Niloufer Icchaporia King, writing in My Bombay Kitchen: Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking, does use yoghurt (and much, much less sugar than is required for Ms Manekshaw’s nankhatai. Now that makes it healthier but does it necessarily make it tastier?).
My own taste test was conducted on (who else?) Ms Manekshaw’s recipe, which I more or less followed to the letter. The nankhatai turned out delicious, perfect little half-spheres, crumbling and spluttering in the mouth. However, I did find the cardamom a little overwhelming, because I am not a massive fan of the spice.
A few other notes:
1. The flour will not turn brown after baking, but stay white or pale brown, which is how it should be.
2. The khatais may take less than 20 minutes to bake; mine were done in about 15.
3. After baking, make sure to let the biscuits stand on a wire rack or sheet to cool – they will harden into the perfect nankhatai texture.
4. Oh and don’t skimp on the butter (or ghee). Its speciality is its decadence.
About the author: Meher Mirza is an independent writer and editor, with a focus on food and travel. Formerly with BBC Good Food India, she loves anime, animals and artsy things but also comics, technology and death metal.
Time Out Dubai checks out the new modern Parsi café at The H Dubai
There’s a brand-new Indian restaurant in town – and Time Out Dubai got an exclusive look ahead of its opening.
Moombai & Co. is due to throw open its doors this Friday (September 15) in The H Dubai on Sheikh Zayed Road.
It’s billed as a “modern Parsi café, featuring all of Auntie’s favourite Indian dishes”.
The quirky eatery blends 1950s Mumbai with modern-day Dubai and aims to maintain the legacy of Parsi cafés.
Parsi cafés are well-known in Mumbai and were established by Persian settlers in the 19th century, who would gather in the evenings and chat over chai and bun maksa (bread and butter).
The décor is reminiscent of this, too, featuring ceiling fans, exposed brick, mahogany furniture, Italian marble tabletops, bent cane chairs and pendulum wall clocks.
There are also vibrant old Bollywood posters, memorabilia and more that have been sourced directly from Mumbai.
“Moombai & Co. revives and relives a rich part of Mumbai’s cultural narrative and rewrites it, right here in Dubai,” says the team behind it. “It’s like visiting your auntie’s house back home where everyone is welcome and no one leaves hungry.”
The kitchen is headed up by chef Ashish Kumar who has rolled out an interesting and delicious-sounding menu.
The extensive list has some exciting-sounding dishes including keema pao, a traditional café delicacy of minced meat with buttered pao bread and patra ni macchi, white pomfret marinated with green chutney and wrapped in banana leaf before being steamed.
There are also lamb shanks cooked in a traditional copper tiffin and the signature chicken berry biryani, made with mixed berries and cooked in authentic earthenware.
And as a nod to “Auntie” that the restaurant refers to throughout, there’s Auntie’s bhuna gosht, a slow-cooked goat curry.
A separate bar called the Permit Bar also features, so if you’re after a chilled-out drink a daily happy hour with various offers will run from 5pm to 8pm.
That’s not all the exciting news, either. There’s also a brunch in the pipeline, aimed to reflect an all-day breakfast theme on a Saturday, though timings and prices are yet to be confirmed. And there’s an outdoor terrace to come, too.
Head down there from FridaySeptember 15 to see it for yourself.
Open daily 11am-midnight. The H Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road,
When I told my father that I wanted to write a story on Parsi vegetarian dishes, he screwed up his eyes, and then said, “That’s tough! You will have a lot of combing through recipes to do.” Then I told my friend, who looked blankly at me and asked, “But why? Where’s the fun in that?” Last of all (and I should have done this first), I told my mother, who laughed and gave me a whole bunch of recipes that she regularly makes at home. So here they are, a few Parsi dishes that just happen to be vegetarian.Tarela
Kera or Fried Bananas
This one is so simple that it is a crying shame more people don’t make it at home. This was also a favourite recipe of my great aunt; Bombay’s Bhaji Gully was a mere hop from her house, and it is where she always bought the bananas from.
How to Make:
Peel and cut 6 very ripe, yellow-skinned bananas into 4to 5 pieces. Heat the ghee, either in your regular saucepan or a kadhai, and when it heats up, add the bananas, but just a few at a time, and spacing them out, so they don’t become one sticky mass. When the bottom crust fries to a red, turn them over carefully. When both sides are red, remove and drain on a paper napkin.
Image credit: Istock
Papeta nu Salan
This is our version of Aloo Poori, and is meant to be eaten with pooris. You can always add or subtract chillies, as per your taste.
Potatoes, big 5
Green chillies 4, split and de seeded
Curry leaves 6 to 7 sprigs
Salt to taste
Mustard seeds 1 tsp
Red chilli powder 1 tsp
Red chillies, small 2
4-5 tbsp peanut oil
Wash and clean the potatoes, then boil them with the skin. Once boiled, peel and cut into pieces.
Make a tadka with the mustard seeds, curry leaves, and green chillies. Then add in the potatoes and salt, and chilli powder. Cook on a slow flame and let the potatoes soften slightly, by sprinkling a palmful of water. Then add in the whole red chillies. Let this cook for seven minutes or until cooked properly.
Clean and wash the vaal, and chop up the coriander.
Grate the coconut, and split into two separate containers. From one half, extract thick coconut milk. Into the other half, add the ginger, garlic, jeera, and the chillies, and grind into a fine paste.
Next, extract the paste from the tamarind. Make sure it is thick. Then add the jaggery in the paste, and keep aside.
Finely dice the onions, and fry until they start sputtering. Then add in the coconut masala, the turmeric, the Parsi dhana jeera, and salt to taste.
When the masala is well-roasted, but not burnt, add two cups pf water. Bring to a boil, then add in the vaal. Cover, and let it cook. Once it is nearly cooked, add the coconut milk, and let the vaal soften further. Finally, add the jaggery and tamarind. Once it all thickens to a thick gravy add the coriander as a garnish.
Parsi Vegetable Stew
This is often known as Lagan Sara Stew, as it used to be served at celebratory wedding meals (‘lagan’ means wedding). It is a sweet and sour stew, made mostly with root vegetables. (Other recipes call for the addition of bananas, green peas, even capsicum or papdi, but we are purists, and don’t add any of that.)
Wash and dice the potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and carrots. Fry each ingredient separately, and then set aside.
Chop five tomatoes, leaving the sixth one intact.
Next, finely chop the onions, and fry them until they turn light brown. Drop in the chopped tomatoes, the turmeric, the chilli powder, and stir. Add all the fried vegetables, and the whole tomato. Next, pour in one cup of water, and cook for ten minutes. Make sure everything is well mixed, before you toss in the sugar and vinegar, then simmer for a couple of minutes. Serve hot, with the chillies as a garnish.
Bharath -This is our version of a baingan bharta.
Brinjals 750g, seedless
Green onions 6, medium
Green garlic 6
Coriander 1 bundle
Ginger garlic paste 1/2 tsp
Oil to taste
Green chillies 8, deseeded (or as per plate)
Jeera 1 tsp
Turmeric 1/2 tsp
Salt 1 1/2 tsp
Thick, tangy-sour curd 450g
Finely chop the green onions, onions, green garlic, coriamder, and chillies.
Pound the jeera, but not too finely
Image credit: Istock
Peel the brinjal, and cut into half, diagonally. Then, along with 2 cups pf water, and 1 tsp salt, put it to boil. After the water dries up, the brinjal should be more or less cooked. Remove it from the flame, and mash it up.
In a kadhai, add oil, then the onions, and then the white part of the green onion. Fry until golden, then tip in the green part of the green onions. Stir in the ginger garlic, turmeric, green garlic, jeera, coriander and chillies, and fry.
Add the brinjal into the masala, and cook for ten minutes. Then reduce the flame, and cook until the masalas have seeped into the brinjal.
Meanwhile, beat the dahi, then, keeping the flame low, mix it into the brinjal. Serve!
About the Author:
Meher Mirza is an independent writer and editor, with a focus on food and travel. Formerly with BBC Good Food India, she loves anime, animals and artsy things but also comics, technology and death metal.
Meher Mirza | Smart Cooky, NDTV, August 26, 2017 15:25IST
K Rustom opened its doors to the public in Churchgate in 1953. Since then it has been a favourite amongst ice-cream lovers partly, because of a spectrum of delicate flavours and partly because it is one of the last places in Mumbai that serves the ice-cream sandwich. Run by the same family for the last 63 years, K Rustom is an institution, serving blackcurrant, rum and raisin, walnut praline and even paan flavoured ice-cream sandwiches.
I’m devastated. I’ve just heard the three words I dread the most: “There’s no blackcurrant.”
The lady at the counter gives me a smile, part apologetic, part pitiful. She waits expectantly for exactly seven seconds and then turns to attend to a boisterous bunch of college students. First timers, I think as they scan the colour-blocked poster menu, dithering between roasted almond crunch and walnut crunch.
I don’t recall my first visit to K Rustom, but the iconic ice cream sandwich has been a constant companion. Everything worth celebrating – or forgetting – demands the presence of a blackcurrant ice cream sandwich. From birthdays and first dates to exam results and heartbreaks, K Rustom’s chunky slab of melting goodness flanked by crispy, fluorescent wafer biscuits makes it all sweeter. And I’m not the only one with a sentimental attachment.
The ice cream parlour occupies one corner in a row of shuttered shops, looked over by a dilapidated signboard in black and red. When I see that board and black collapsible grill, I think back to the time when K Rustom was a provision store. I picture a group of cousins huddled together in front – the teenage boys in their striped shirts and bellbottoms, the girls in pigtails – licking the ice cream dripping from their fingers, trickling right down to their elbows. My father is the one with an unruly mop of hair, eating his pineapple ice cream sandwich in a manner that’s methodical yet urgent. It’s day two of a cricket test match at Brabourne Stadium, and the cousins are sweating in the April sun, waiting for their uncle to pick them up from outside Gate 10.
K RUSTOM IS SINGLE-HANDEDLY KEEPING THE ICE CREAM SANDWICH ALIVE AT A TIME WHEN EVEN KULFIS AND FALOODASSEEM TO HAVE GONE OUT OF FASHION.
Not much has changed since then. The dexterity and speed with which my father polishes off his ice cream without leaving a single stain on his crisp white linen shirt is unparalleled. It’s a skill he has passed on to me, along with his unwavering love for all forms of ice cream, but especially the sandwich, which is a dying breed in Bombay.
K Rustom is single-handedly keeping the ice cream sandwich alive at a time when even kulfis and faloodas seem to have gone out of fashion. It refuses to adapt to the times and is adamant about sticking to what it knows best, undeterred by the competition cropping up at every corner. The unassuming parlour on one of Mumbai’s busiest streets sits just as discreetly as it has since 1953. The walls inside look like they’ve worn the same coat of paint for 60-odd years, and the water cooler has been around since I can remember. Cold, industrial freezers store stacks and stacks of evenly cut slabs, the flavours listed out on handwritten signs and multi-coloured posters. There are no sturdy tables and plush seats for the customers often forming a serpentine queue in the summer months. The row of flimsy plastic chairs against the wall, flanked by a dustbin on one end and the water cooler on the other, is where you’ll hear about clandestine affairs, college crushes, train troubles and weather woes as the cold treats loosen the tongue of many a Bombaywalla.
I’ve never seen an advertisement for K Rustom, print, radio, television or otherwise. It’s one of those open secrets that’s passed on from one generation to the next, much like the institution in question. One bite of the soft, creamy blackcurrant ice cream laden with crunchy purple pellets is all it takes to turn one into an addict.
“What’s your favourite? The one that isn’t available?”
I’m snapped out of my fruity reverie by a kind-looking, bespectacled gentleman leaning over the metal freezer. He’s placed his order and has the appropriate number of notes ready in his right hand. A regular, I think as I watch the lady at the counter deftly pack a rum and raisin slab between two wafers and wrap it with butter paper and a thin tissue.
“Blackcurrant,” I answer.
“Try the rum and raisin. It’s my favourite. And bitter chocolate.”
I don’t look too convinced. He takes his ice cream sandwich with one hand and pays lady with the other. “The good news is, whatever you choose, you won’t be disappointed. And you can always have blackcurrant next time. Bye. Have a good day.”
I did have a good day, made even better by bitter chocolate and a healthy dose of eavesdropping. Another day, another flavour, another K Rustom memory.