“I wanted to portray iconic spots; ones that are a part of people’s lives but often lost in the cacophony,” says Aditya Raj, a self-taught fine artist from Jaipur whose Instagram sketches of heritage eateries across India are a slice of nostalgia.
Aditya says it was an exhibition during his law school days in Delhi that influenced his train of thought.
“I was intrigued by the gamut of art and decided this was what I wanted to pursue,” he notes.
How then did the idea of painting iconic eateries in India come to be?
The 31-year-old, who has now created a career in fine arts and works on corporate art projects, says the idea took shape last year during Inktober — a worldwide challenge to develop positive drawing skills.
“I initially started off with the idea of drawing places that I had a connection with. But when I put my creations out on social media, I realised that it wasn’t just me. There were so many others who shared my sentiment. So, that’s how the project began and soon took a life of its own.”
For anyone browsing through Aditya’s work, nostalgia is the thread that ties it all together. As you will see, the locations drawn by him are ones you may have heard of or even visited. Here’s a look at them:
1. Leopold Cafe, Mumbai
The Leopold Cafe in Colaba, Mumbai, has gone down in history not only for its delicious cuisine — from Arabiata prawns to chilli cheese toast — but also for being a heritage site in Mumbai. The eatery still holds the bullet wounds of the terror attacks that shook the city in 2008. Leopold has seen it all.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the cafe has been a silent witness to India’s growth through the years. Since its inception in 1871 to date, the Leopold Cafe continues to be an evening haunt for those who simply want a chilled beer and a classic vibe.
2. Bademiya, Mumbai
Bademiya’s tale is a story that deserves an entire chapter in the culinary history of India.
The story of the brand traces itself back to when a young boy of 13, Mohammad Yaseen, arrived in Mumbai from a small village in Uttar Pradesh. He would cut mutton and sell it to shops to earn a living.
One day in 1946, his guru Hazrat Fida Mohammed Adam Chisti gave him Rs 20 and asked him to use the money to set up a make-shift seekh kebab (grilled meat) counter in Colaba.
Yaseen asked: “Who will come to eat my kebabs in that deserted area?”
But the Fakir insisted, “Inshallah, you shall experience prosperity and bliss on the very same spot.”
Today, India’s most loved kebab brand still stands and witnesses flocks of people coming in to eat their delicacies.
3. Wenger’s, Delhi
From serving as a catering outlet for the British troops in 1924 and a tea room in 1926 to its current status as the oldest surviving establishment in Connaught Place, Wenger’s journey has been epic.
Started by a Swiss couple \and designed by British architect Sir Robert Tor Russell, Wenger’s was one of the first eateries to give Delhiites a taste of Swiss treats such as Swiss chocolate, Swiss roll, and pudding.
4. Britannia & Co., Mumbai
“Strolling down a beautiful lane in Fort, I arrived at Britannia & Co.,” wrote Aditya with the picture he shared on Instagram.
The menu oscillates between traditional Parsi delicacies and a few modern snacks. As Aditya recounts the day he spent at the iconic eatery, he says it was filled with stories that he will never forget anytime soon.
“The place was established in 1923 by Mr Boman Koinoor. He was known to look after each customer personally and had many stories about the restaurant, the British Raj and the Parsi culture,” says Aditya. As he thinks hard about a dish he loved, considering there were so many, he says, “Have the berry pulao and the Pallonji’s soda; you won’t regret it!”
5. Nirulas, Delhi
Nirula’s has been “creating epic moments for generations of Dilliwalas since 1977” and has touched many generations of people with its range of delights.
What started as a colloquial ice cream parlour that would often give children free sundaes on producing a report card with straight As, slowly gained a cult status as one of India’s first fast food restaurants.
Today, Nirula’s is synonymous with quick and tasty meals. If you happen to stop by one of its many branches, don’t skip the legendary grilled mutton patty burger.
6. Appu’s Hotel, Delhi
An authentic Malayali restaurant in Delhi, Appu’s is a haunt for those seeking Kerala-style food in the national capital.
“The Duck fry is to die for,” says Aditya. Along with sketching the place and creating a caricature, he also spends an entire day at the spot — eating, speaking to the staff and simply soaking in the vibe.
He adds, “Appu’s Hotel mixes really well with everything that the INA market signifies — various regional cuisines existing together.”
7. Kyani & Co., Mumbai
The fame of this heritage eatery predates Independence. The story goes that in 1904, a gentleman Mr Khodram started a small bakery in Marine Lines, Mumbai.
Known as Kyani & Co., the main draw until 1995 was the freshly baked biscuits, bread and tea cakes. It was then another gentleman, Farokh Shokri, who took over and expanded the venture into what it is today.
As you gorge on Parsi bun maska (fresh bun with cream and butter), sali boti (Parsi mutton curry), akuri (spicy scrambled egg), and kheema pao (spicy mutton mince), don’t forget to immerse yourself in the charm that lingers around. The rustic chairs, 120-year-old staircase and pictures of the British era, all lend to the old-world charm.
8. Mocambo Cafe, Mumbai
Irani cafes in Mumbai are said to lie at the intersection of Indian-Irani ties. These cafes started around 120 years ago when Zorastrian and Shia immigrants came up with the idea of establishing eateries so mill workers could get a bite.
With time they have evolved into restaurants whose legacy is as rich as the food. Mocambo Cafe in Mumbai is one of these.
As Aditya recounts, “I reached Mocambo on a sweltering afternoon after having walked many kilometres around Fort and was greeted by the kindest staff who welcomed me with a smile. Seeing how sweaty I was, they turned the AC vent right towards me. The beer I had there was the best I had on that trip.”
9. Yazdani Bakery, Mumbai
Food critics and ardent lovers of the bakery have described the bun maska (bun with cream and butter), you get here as “to die for”.
A plaque declaring Yazdani Bakery as an ‘Urban Heritage Monument’ in 2007 adorns the walls, and if you are observant enough, there is a board with the day’s specials written in chalk.
The bakery’s secrets and skills have passed down through three generations, and the pictures on the walls and their delicious apple pie are proof of it.
10. Elco’s, Bandra
For anyone debating whether the panipuri of Mumbai or the golgappas of Delhi are better, there is one place that trumps the list — the Elco panipuri centre in Bandra, Mumbai.
What is now a brand name for chaat, was a simple pushcart in 1968.
Outside the Elco market in Bandra, Mohandas Bhagnani started selling panipuri on a cart. It received so much love and adulation from the shoppers that the cart soon turned into an empire that witnesses “1000 customers on any given day”.
Edited by Pranita Bhat
Bombay’s Irani cafes by Sifra Lentin, Published on 18 July 2019.
An Ode To Nirula’s, Delhi’s First Home-Grown Fast-Food Restaurant by Sushmita Sengupta, Published on 23 February 2022.
Kyani Bakery And CO: The Oldest Cafe Of Mumbai by Saurabh.
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