How did the idea of Cafe Spice came to you?
We were working in a much smaller restaurant down the road from Prescot Street where we are now, called ‘Namaste’ when we were invited by restaurateur cum entrepreneur, Michael Gottlieb, to go into partnership with him in the much larger Cafe Spice Namaste. Around 10 years later, we took over the ownership of the entire restaurant.
How do you remember the first steps while growing Cafe SpiceNamaste?
Cyrus and I focussed a lot on training and equipping our staff – many of whom could not speak very much English – with the tools necessary to work and live well in the UK. Most of them are still with us today. We were the first restaurant to gain a National Training Award and become an Investors in People Champion.
It is a cliché, but from the beginning our customers’ wellbeing always came first, in parallel with our staff’s wellbeing. We have always taken care of our customers and I make it a point to remember each and every one, preferably by name. When we reached our milestone 10thanniversary, we thought of a way of honouring them and so we came out with an anniversary menu with their favourite dishes renamed after them. It was a hoot.
I had to learn to steel myself and adopt a demeanour that projected authority
What was the main purpose and expectations?
We are Parsees, and our mantra is ‘good thoughts, good words and good deeds’. We try to live by this every day. We always wanted to make a difference – and first and foremost our goal was to offer the best authentic Indian food anyone has ever tasted. But underlying all of that has been our Parsee ethos of creating a legacy so everything we do is geared towards the long term and money is secondary; it is a means to an end. We always wanted to support the environment and local producers and suppliers. We are committed to staff training and training tomorrow’s chefs. We continue to do so till this day, particularly with the competition that Cyrus founded, ‘Zest Quest Asia’, which aims to stimulate interest in Asian cookery and cuisine among home grown chefs. This not only helps to spread the knowledge and skills of authentic, classical Asian cuisine but goes some way to addressing the skills shortages that the £3 billion Asian food industry – which includes 80,000 restaurants — is experiencing today.
Have your dreams come true with CafÃ© Spice?
We continue to strive, but the fact we have grown –with ‘The Park Café’ in Victoria Park East, and currently two hotel restaurants in the UK, ‘Mr Todiwals’s Kitchen’ in Hilton London Heathrow T5 and ‘Assado’ at the Hampton Waterloo – is something we are thankful for.
Who are your customers and how do you maintain long-term relationships with them?
Our customers are a good cross-section. In the beginning we used to be considered a City, ‘expense account’ restaurant but that has changed in the past few years. We still enjoy a good bulk of our business from the City – and some of our longest standing clients who have become friends such as Nick Gooding, Ipe Jacob and Tony Bond, first came to us because they worked nearby.
We owe our success to our customers…
But today our customers come from all over the UK and from many parts of the world including Japan, the Philippines, Germany, France, Sweden and the USA. We try to serve them the best we can, and Cyrus is a genius in always coming up with something new and exciting to share with them. This year we are starting year-long celebrations of our 20th anniversary. We owe our success to our customers.
Indian cuisine is very popular – has this helped you to have more success in your business?
It depends on what you mean by popular, or what Indian cuisine you consider popular. As a whole, yes, Indian cuisine has been embraced in the UK because of our unique history. That of course has been a great launching pad. But I think what has made us successful is our ability to innovate; Cyrus is a pioneering craftsman in the kitchen, but he also has a deep, almost incisive knowledge of food and food history. This allows us to deliver food that can be totally unexpected. One of our greatest personal and professional successes has been to raise the profile of Indian, Parsee and Goan food into the mainstream.
This year we are starting year-long celebrations of our 20th anniversary…
What is your favourite dish?
Mine is TANDOORI GOOSNARGH DUCK SAUSAGE and GOAN PRAWN CURRY
What are the benefits and disadvantages of a couple working together?
Benefits outweigh disadvantages – I always have to watch Cyrus’s back and that helps for the benefit of the business. The disadvantage is that we live in a man’s world and there can be only one captain of the ship.
Who takes the business decisions?
Every business decision is a collective decision, reached through collaboration with our team, who have a stake in our business too.
Who cooks at home?
How do you manage time together out of the business?
We try and do things with friends and also take holidays together, never separate.
What is your future dream?
Our dream is have a Todiwala collection with our sons, bringing together their creative aspect into the business. They would take this business into a new dimension. We have also set up a Todiwala Foundation with which we hope to support education in the Asian hospitality sector. Our elder son Jamsheed has already started his own line of products from alcohol to platters etc.
To discover more about Café Spice and the cuisine, go to http://cafespice.co.uk
Parsi cuisine is as simple as it is complex. It’s a wonderful amalgam of Persian culinary secrets which have been preserved, and passed down generations for over 1,500 years, intrinsically mingling with the flavours of Gujarat (where the Parsis landed) making the blend a truly intoxicating one. But then that did not let the tongues or the minds stop yearning for more, as the Parsis happily borrowed and assimilated tastes and flavours from the Anglo Indians, the Goans and even the Maharastrians.
The other word synonymous with a Parsi could be “foodie” as the Bawa clan is extremely fond of the “parsi-peg” and “chicken-leg!” The Parsi home is known for its penchant for good food and drink, added with the legendary hospitality that the community is famous for.
One of the most important ingredients of a Parsi kitchen is the fun and laughter that adds to the overall bonhomie and the treats that get dished out each day… Eat, drink, live, laugh and be merry.
The Parsis are one of the tiniest communities in the world, totally just 1,38,000 out of which 69,000 are in India. Even Gandhiji had some complimentary words about the Parsis. He is known to have praised the Parsi community of India as “in numbers beneath contempt, but in contribution great.”
Mumbai has the largest number of Parsis residing in one city, though through the entrepreneurship and lust for travel, you will find Parsis in almost every corner of the world and what follows is the famed Dhansak, one of the most popular Parsi dishes, closely tailed by Patra ni macchi, Sali boti and Lagan nu custard. A Parsi can’t do without eggs; it has to be a part of atleast one meal. We Parsis speak a sweeter, softer dialect of Gujarati, which includes quite a special smattering of unique swear words that add such flavour to our very own food and life!
The writer is the chef at SodaBottleOpenerWala.
A proper Bawi who looks the part, Anahita learnt cooking from her mom, who is an excellent Parsi cook and caterer. She grew up with good food and has access to some incredible family recipes — some, more than 200 years old.
PAATRA NI MACCHI
(Fish steamed with fragrant coconut chutney wrapped in banana leaves and steamed)
Silver Pomfret 1 kg
Fresh coconut 250 gm
Coriander (with stem)
Mint 50 gm
Sugar 50 gm
Garlic 50 gm (peeled)
Green chilli 10 gm
Lemon juice 60 ml
Whole cumin (jeera) 5 gm
Ice water to blend
Banana leaves 4
Grate the coconut fine, and keep all other ingredients ready.
Cut the fish into fillets, that are still attached.
Marinate with salt and lemon juice and garlic paste.
Keep for one to two hours.
Blend ingredients for the chutney. Keep aside.
Soften banana leaves on a gas flame, and then cut away the stalk and cut into squares, large enough to wrap the fish pieces.
Once everything is ready, arrange the leaf on a clean surface, apply chutney, place the fish and top with chutney.
Pack the fish parcels with the help of a toothpick or string.
Steam in a rice cooker, or an idli steamer for 15 mins till the fish is cooked.
Serve with onion rings and garnish with lemon.
This can also be served with rice, and is a main course dish.
MITHOO MONU: MAMAIJI NU RAVO
(Sweeten your mouth with my grandmother’s authentic semolina pudding!)
1 cup semolina
1 cup sugar
3-4 tbsps butter or ghee
2 tsps vanilla essence
4 cups milk
Roasted almond slivers
Fried raisins (for a low calorie option, you can use plain raisins too) lA few rose petals (optional)
Sauté the semolina in butter or ghee on a very low flame without browning it, yet it should be cooked.
Warm the milk, just slightly enough as to dissolve the sugar. Keep aside.
Add milk slowly to the semolina, stirring continuously.
Keep stirring on simmer till it starts coating the back of the spoon and becomes thick.
Take off heat and add vanilla essence.
Take out “Ravo” in a pretty glass bowl and garnish with slivered almonds, raisins as much as you like and some rose petals.
Disclaimer – This is not a review. It would not be fair to review places or things that are sentimentally close to your heart.
Being a Zoroastrian Irani, I feel proud of my community’s contribution towards evolving the cultural landscape of a city back then known as ‘Bombay’. Irani cafes or restaurants are what initiated the dining out concept in colonial Raj. Irani restaurants were among the first community spaces that threw open their doors to people of all caste, creed, religion and socio economic status alike, and served them copious amounts of chai with bun maska. You could be a British Army cadet, stock market babu, or a roadside vendor – an Irani restaurant would serve you equally and generously.
The journey of the Irani restaurant has been beautiful and colossal. What started off as a single Irani gentleman selling chai to officegoers from his ‘sigdi’, which later culminated into restaurants that served Parsi dishes and bakery products in addition to the humble chai. And then there is SodaBottleOpenerWala (SBOW) which is attempting to redefine the Irani cafe experience, without altering the sanctity of what an Irani cafe should be. Modern yet quirky, idiosyncratic, and nostalgic – dining at SBOW, which has just launched at Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), tugged at my heartstrings because it is a beautiful attempt at trying to preserve the dying legacy of Irani restaurants.
Restaurateur AD Singh took his concept of a modern Irani restaurant to Gurgaon, New Delhi, Bangalore, and Hyderabad before returning to the homeland where it all began. As I dined there on the preview night, a bit skeptical about how a Mumbai Irani themed restaurant would fare in a city where the original Mumbai Irani restaurants already exist, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the two – the old Irani restaurants ‘then’, and SBOW ‘now’. And it is within these similarities, and differences that lies the charm of Mr. SBOW.
Then: Large spacious rooms, high ceilings, and cramped within that space – glass paneled tables with red chequered table cloths. An Irani cafe was an extension of the owner’s home, and the steel Godrej cupboards and wooden showcases with curios was proof enough. The sound of the fan whirring above your head while you tucked into melt-into-your mouth mawa cakes, made up for the sweltering heat.
Now: I spent half an hour just absorbing the microscopic details that have gone into creating the Instagram worthy ambiance of SBOW by architect Clement and Sabina Singh. The basic framework of an Irani cafe exists – wooden tables and chairs, red chequered tablecloths, mismatched lamps, ‘bannis’ selling confectioneries, and vintage tiled flooring for you to click your feet against. In addition, you’ll also find a large mural of the wall from Merwan’s, a Royal Enfield gleaming proudly at the entrance, and a toy train that chugs across the perimeter of the restaurant’s ceiling. Portraits of Parsis adorning the walls, and a smattering of assorted curios give the place a far more homely vibe. And then there’s the blackboard listing out the establishment rules, a common sight at The decor perfectly encapsulates the old and the new, is a beautiful amalgamation of an Irani restaurant and a Bawaji home, and this remains the most cherished aspect of my meal at SBOW that evening.
|The Bawa OCD for cleanliness extends to the toilet too.|
|Rules for eating at my restaurant|
Then: An Irani restaurant was lot more about the feel and the food. It was about the faces that ran the place. A space ‘where everybody knew your name’. The uncle at Koolar & Co. won’t think twice before cautioning you about mosquitoes and the rise of dengue. Mr. Zend of Yazdani bakery makes for a lovely companion to chat over chai or khari, if he is in the mood that is. And then there’s the grand maestro, Mr Boman Kohinoor of Britannia who will regale you with stories of the British, lovingly spoon out food into your empty plate, and even show his letter from Queen Elizabeth to a lucky few. These grand old men are what keep the spirit of an Irani restaurant alive – you are not simply a customer, you are family.
Now: The faces behind SBOW today are a friendly lot themselves. Chef Manager, Anahita Dhondy, not only knows her food, but is doing a commendable job bringing regional Parsi cuisine to the fore front. Chef Darius Madon picks up the baton from her, as the Mumbai chef, and it will be interesting to see where he manages to take SBOW. Mohit Balachandran, brand head and cuisine director, commonly known by his moniker Chowder Singh deserves full credit for compiling and innovating the SBOW menu, that not only contains traditional Parsi dishes, but also dishes that showcase the best of Bombay!
Then: What started off as humble places serving chai-brun maska-khari, Irani cafes also gave impetus to the bakery boom in Bombay. They later became spaces you could to for a complete meal and get your fill of akuri, kheema pav, dhansak, kababs and more. Jimmy Boy introduced the Parsi wedding feast, outside of a baug, and after that there was no looking back. Most of these continue to remain the go-to places for Mumbaikars who are looking at dining on authentic Parsi fare outside of a Parsi home or wedding, with their idiosyncrasies in place. Read: closed on weekends, only open for lunch service.
Now: What I loved about the SBOW menu was that they’ve not just restricted themselves to Parsi food. Of course there are the staples – berry pulao, dhansak, salli boti, prawn paatiyo. But then there are the dishes that showcase the best of what Mumbai has to offer – Bhendi Bazaar Seekh Paratha, Goan Sausage Pav, Eggs Kejriwal, Haji Ali Fruit Cream – which in my opinion deserve just as much fan fare. Absolutely gorgeous are the Bawa inspired cocktails that not only have funny names, but also include some Parsi ingredients such as cane vinegar or Raspberry Soda.
|(Clockwise): Salli Mutton, Cocktails, Dhansak, Raspberry with Cheesy Fries|
Must try on the menu –
Tareli Macchi – the baked version of the fish we fry at home. The marinade masala tasted just like the one we make!
The Eggs Kejriwal – a stupendous version with perfectly cooked eggs slathered on a firm, buttery toast.
The traditional, piquant Prawn Paatiyo, that demands dhandar on the side.
The Bhendi Bazaat Seekh Paratha – juicy, melt in the mouth seekhs paired with a surprisingly light paratha.
The Rustom Banwatala – a delicious mango juice and vodka concoction served in a Banta bottle!
|(Clockwise): Bhendi Bazaar Seekh Parathas, Cocktails, Eggs Kejriwal,
The underlying question here remains, will Mumbai accept Mr. SBOW – a city where the original Irani cafes still remain, a city where everyone has sampled authentic Parsi food atleast once in their life? The answer if a big, resounding Yes! Sadly, with the number of authentic Irani cafes dwindling, and most of them present across the other end of the sea link, the launch of SBOW could not have come at a better time. As Finely Chopped so rightly put in his blogpost here, SBOW will work for the slightly high end target audience, who may not be able to deal with the eccentricities of Fort’s Irani restaurants (read: open only on weekdays, for lunch).
Everyone seems to be asking me ‘ How authentic or real is the food at SBOW?’ I am strictly following the board outside the restaurant that reads ‘ We know your Mumma’s Dhansak is the best, but give ours a shot’, and I would recommend you’ll to do the same. The Lagan nu Custard may lack the sugary burnt top, and nutty cinnamon flavour that most custards do, but the non Parsis on my table didn’t seem to notice.
It is a beautiful coincidence that the original Irani cafes were situated in Bombay’s original office district – Colaba and Fort. And this modern, revamped Irani settles down in Mumbai’s newest office hub – BKC. Chef Anahita told me on the opening night, ‘SBOW is the 2015 version of an Irani restaurant like Britannia’, and I’ll have to agree with her. Hoping they have a long, delicious stint ahead like their older counterparts. Jamva Chalo Ji!
P.S.: Anyone else notice the uncanny resemblance between my father and Mr Rustom SodaBottleOpenerWala? Cannot wait to take him there for some Dhansak, and a Brandied Bawi cocktail. #LoveTheName
SodaBottleOpenerWala, Ground Floor, The Capital Building, G Block, Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai.
Akuri is parsi recipe of Scrambled Eggs is very simple, a quick and easy egg recipe which is cooked in most parsi homes.
This week our food columnist Mallika Basu settles into autumn with a Parsi lamb stew also known as Jardaloo ma Gosht.
Sweet, sour and with just a hint of chilli this lamb in apricot stew is the perfect shoulder season stew. Jardaloo ma Gosht is traditionally Parsi, the community of Zoroastrians who left Persia over a thousand years ago and settled in the West of India. They brought with them a unique cuisine that combines sweet and sour, stewing meat in fruit and vinegar to a delectable end.
Employees of the 99-year-old outlet say they spent the day assuring inquisitive and worried patrons.
“I was shocked when I read the report in the newspaper,” said Louella Louis, an old patron of the blue and white shop told NDTV. “They have been running this place for 99 years and they should not shut down. They should open more outlets across Mumbai.”
“This is our livelihood, Auntie. Wouldn’t we be worried if this place was indeed closing down?” an employee was heard telling another old woman.
On Twitter too, there was outrage over the report. The sentiment was that it would be a tragedy indeed, if Parsi Dairy met the same fate as Bastani, another iconic Parsi institution nearby which shut shop a few years ago.
The reports about the sale of Parsi dairy were apparently triggered by the news of the owners selling a 300-acre plot at Talasari, an agricultural land in Warvada village on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border.
The land was bought by the family in 1968 for livestock and to support its dairy activities.
The dairy, started almost a century ago, has been a part of Mumbai’s life. It was started by Parsi entrepreneur Nariman Ardeshir in 1916. Over the years, generations of Mumbaikars have thrived on its Mawa Cake, ras malai, basundi, sweet curd and rabdi.
The Princess Street outlet will continue to sell its famous malai kulfi and sutarfeni.
Now, this vintage Mumbai institution, started by Parsi entrepreneur Nariman Ardeshir in 1916, looks set to fade into memory. As a first step, the Nariman family has decided to sell its 300-acre land at Talasari on national highway no. 8. Although the family insists it will continue to run the dairy business, it is learned that the Narimans, currently comprising eight partners, will ultimately sell the brand itself.
The agricultural land in Warvada village on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border is expected to fetch around Rs 200 crore. The family bought the plot in 1968 for livestock and to support its dairy activities.
Real estate consultant Pranay Vakil of Praron Consultancy, appointed by the Narimans to advise them on the land sale, said: “The property touches the national highway. It can be used either for an integrated township, a special economic zone, a residential colony or an amusement park.”
Over the past decade-and-a-half, the Parsi Dairy business has plummeted—from supplying 15,000 litres of milk a day to barely 2,000 litres today. The clientele is mainly in south Mumbai, from Walkeshwar to Cuffe Parade and Colaba. A labour strike in 2006 further crippled the business. Family sources claimed the annual turnover today is around Rs 10 crore.
Regular clients at the dairy farm’s popular outlet at Princess Street near Marine Lines station worry that the institution may shut down. “This is terrible news,” said V Chandra, a regular at the shop. “Its dahi (curd) is the best in the city; thick enough to cut, rich and creamy and never sour, delicious enough to eat on its own. I always get the small matka of dahi—it makes an excellent starter—but often end up buying the large matka out of sheer greed.”
According to her, the Parsi dairy milk is comparable in flavour and creaminess to some of the newer organic, farm fresh organic brands. “The paneer and sweets are also outstanding,” she said.
Parsi historian and author Marzban Giara said the dairy is renowned for the quality of its milk, lassi, kulfis, pasteurized white butter, pure ghee and Indian sweets. “For many years I used to meet Naval Nariman Hoyvoy (who ran the business till he died), a burly gentleman dressed in white clothes, at the shop at Princess Street. He was a stickler for punctuality and wanted me to visit him in the morning at 8.30am. He would buy books on Zoroastrianism and Parsi history from me. He would then offer me a glass of pure milk,” said Giara.
He added, “After the 10th World Zoroastrian Congress in Mumbai, a group of Parsi Zoroastrian youths from around the world visited Parsi Dairy Farm as one of the places under the Return to Roots program.”
Shernaaz Engineer, editor, Jam-e-Jamshed, a community newspaper said, “It’s sad to see iconic Parsi institutions fade away from the face of Mumbai. Parsi Dairy Farm has fed generations of Parsis—from its early morning milk to the malai kulfis served at our navjotes and lagans. Its pure ghee has greased our innards dollop by wholesome dollop! Its matka of mithoo dahi has forever accompanied festive sev in our homes. Its myriad mithais (sutterfeni, jalebi, penda, ladoos) have marked all the major milestones in our lives—births, anniversaries, engagements, graduations and God knows what else. You just can’t take the elemental ‘Parsi’ out of Parsi Dairy Farm—it would be tragic.”
Kainaz Contractor, 28, a B.Com graduate by education, restaurant manager by training and food writer by profession always wanted to run her own restaurant, ever since she could remember. Her dream of running a restaurant made her decide that she would “Spend her 20’s learning about all aspects of a restaurant. The idea was to learn as much as I could before I could start my own place,” tells Kainaz.
Of the three non-hotel management graduates to be selected for the management training programme at the Taj Group of Hotels, she was one. Usually trainees aim for the front desk but Kainaz’s focus was on Food and Beverage service and managing restaurants. She used her time training constructively with the Vietnamese restaurant Blue Ginger in Bangalore and finally as a restaurant manager at Pure in Land’s End, Mumbai learning the ropes. Post her training, she moved to writing about food and after a series of writing stints with TimeOut Mumbai (as an intern) and working with Burrp on a new editorial driven website, she became the Assistant Food Editor at BBC Good Food magazine. BBC Good Food opened up a lot of avenues for her, like access to a test kitchen, experimenting with relatively unknown ingredients, writing about local and sustainable food producers, creating her own recipes and interacting with and interviewing people in the food space from across the world. And this expanded her horizons. … read more on her.yourstory.com
Parsis love food. We’re always talking about it. At breakfast, we discuss what’s for lunch; at lunch, we discuss what’s for dinner; at dinner, we discuss the next day’s menu. While Mumbai’s many Parsi-Irani restaurants are testaments to our deep love for all things gastronomic, there’s no time of year that showcases our love for food better than the months of November to February. That’s how you know them. I know them as ‘lagan-navjote season’.
A ‘lagan’ is a wedding, while a ‘navjote’ is an initiation ceremony, where young Zoroastrians are formally inducted into the religion. But these milestone functions are usually less about the festivities and more about the food
These functions usually take place in a baug, which is really just a large open space conducive to the set-up of row after row of tables and chairs for al fresco dining. There’s also a stage where the bride/groom/host/whoever (no one really cares) spends most of their time sweating under bright lights with smiles frozen in place waiting to greet the well-wishers—no different from the formalities at any community’s wedding.
But, the one person who has everyone’s attention usually sits way at the back, past the rows of tables, almost shying away from everyone. Her name is Tanaz Godiwalla and she is the undisputed queen of catering as far as Parsi functions go. Before the friends are told, the guest list is made, or even the baug booked, Godiwalla is telephoned and informed of the date. As far as modern day figureheads of the dwindling community goes, few names evoke as much familiarity and flavour as hers.
Considering that, and the fact that she caters an average of 150 ‘lagans’ and ‘navjotes’ in December alone, surprisingly little is known about her. She prefers to remain low-key, to keep to herself. So I got hold of her number, told her I’m so-and-so’s son, (always works in the Parsi community, everyone knows everyone) and got an appointment to meet her.
I remember being nervous on my way up in the elevator. I’ve met her at functions many times. But nothing more than a casual, “Hi, I loved the food”, sort of conversation. This was going to be different. I wasn’t meeting her in a social setting. I had been invited to her home, to her private space to chitchat and get to know the real Tanaz Godiwalla. In our world, that’s the equivalent of meeting Nigella Lawson.
Just as I was about to ring her doorbell, staccato thoughts struck me: Oh god, please don’t let her offer me food. I just had lunch. But if she does, how can I refuse? It’ll look rude. She’s a caterer. She’s THE caterer! Refusing to eat her food, even politely, is like being invited to paint with Picasso and saying no. I pushed my thoughts aside and rang the doorbell. She came to the door, shook my hand and guided me in to a large, airy living room. I sat down on the sofa, and after a cup of tea and some light snacks—which I politely declined—we began to chat.
Tanaz’s parents Freny and Rohinton were the ones who set up Godiwalla Caterers. Her sister and brother were also involved in the business. Her sister married and moved away. After the death of her parents and her brother, Tanaz took charge.
Seated across from me in an armchair, Godiwalla says, “I love what I do and I do it with a lot of passion and happiness. Money always follows when you do something with all your heart. So in a way, I’m blessed to be able to do something that I love.”
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