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Legacy in Every Bite: Chronicling the History of 8 Iconic Irani Cafes in Mumbai

They’ve been standing for decades, welcoming people who just want a peaceful breakfast while reading the morning paper. Irani cafes in Mumbai exude both finesse and simplicity. Here are eight of them that should be on your list.

Legacy in Every Bite: Chronicling the History of 8 Iconic Irani Cafes in Mumbai

The aroma of hot buttered buns wafts towards you as you enter the iconic setting, a space that seems as old as time itself.

The Irani cafes of India — particularly those in Mumbai — have held a fascinating allure since their inception in the late 19th century. While the antique vintage setting and old-world charm are one of the reasons these cafes are popular, another is the fare of delicacies they put out for anyone who visits.

No one leaves an Irani cafe without pampering their taste buds with the perfectly prepared kheema pao (a dish of mutton mince slowly cooked with spices) or guzzling down bottles of the iconic raspberry soda.

Whilst guests at the local Irani cafe enjoy these treats, we take you back to the spot where our story started — the port of Bushire in Iran.

Often hailed as one of the busiest, the port was an epicentre of trade between the then Bombay and the Persian Gulf. In the 19th century, this grew, and along with an influx of goods, wealthy Persian merchants too began flocking to Mumbai, eventually settling here.

Through time, Mumbai assumed the status of being home to a small Iranian Shia merchant community — who not only introduced the city to their carpets, infrastructure, and mosques but also to their eponymous food and cultural know-how.

While the stories of how Irani cafes were born are numerous, the most popular rendition is of how the Parsis would sit and talk about their lives over cups of tea sweetened with condensed milk in the evenings. Gradually an idea to turn this into a business took shape and voila! The rise of the Irani cafes had just begun.

Here are some of them you’ve heard of, been to and loved, and some others for you to try:

1. Sassanian Boulangerie, Marine Lines

Sassanian Boulangerie has a pre Independence vibe that they have maintained throughout the interiors
Sassanian Boulangerie has a pre-Independence vibe that they have maintained throughout the interiors, Picture source: Instagram: Shashi

While reviews suggest that everything you can see through the glass-paned shelves is delicious, the mava cakes are “to die for”. While it is evident that their bakes have a fan following, even their savoury dishes are in tow.

Enjoy their chicken rolls and mutton cutlets while you recline on their bentwood chairs for an absolutely delightful breakfast or lunch. Started in 1913 by Rustom Yazdabadi, the cafe has maintained its pre-Independence style.

2. Yazdani, Fort

The Yazdani Bakery in Fort Mumbai uses a special technique to bake the bread
The Yazdani Bakery in Fort Mumbai uses a special technique to bake the bread, Picture source: Instagram: Sagar Sawant

Stories suggest that Yazdani Bakery is housed in a building that was commissioned as a Japanese bank in the 20th century. When a gentleman Zend Merwan Abadan came to the city, he set up the bakery.

Even in those days, anyone walking past the bakery would stop for a moment, drawn to the delicious aromas of the baking bread. The family would knead the dough with khamir (a type of yeast ferment) through the sourdough process, which would render it a peculiar taste. To date, the dishes at Yazdani have an ardent group of people who enjoy the taste.

3. Ideal Corner, Fort

“We serve Bombay’s favourite delicious Parsi food” reads the bio on their Instagram page. And guests who have dined here absolutely agree. The Ideal Corner Cafe at Fort is an ‘ideal’ place for office goers to lunch on a platter of Parsi fare. But it isn’t just their dishes that are famous. 

The place regularly hosts workshops wherein guests can get insights into how the Zoroastrian culture started in Mumbai. If you are planning a visit, guests recommend trying the lagan nu custard.

4. Koolar & Co, Dadar

Koolar & Co has witnessed the film shoots of many iconic movies such as Lunchbox, Gully Boy, etc
Koolar & Co has witnessed the film shoots of many iconic movies such as Lunchbox, Gully Boy, etc, Picture source: Instagram: Mujahid

There is an interesting history to the area where this Irani cafe resides. The Dadar Parsi Colony of Mumbai was founded by a gentleman Mancherji Joshi around 1899. As one of the first planned housing schemes in the city, the colony housed numerous Parsis, and has often been claimed as one of the ‘most peaceful residential areas’.

It comes as no surprise that the cafe is legendary for its food and service. In fact, you may also witness a film shoot whilst you are there. The cafe has been featured in movies like ‘Vaastav’, ‘Gully Boy’ and ‘The Lunchbox’.

5. Jimmy Boy, Fort

Jimmy Boy restaurant was started in 1925 and since then has been serving a range of Parsi fare
Jimmy Boy restaurant started in 1925 and has been serving a range of Parsi fare ever since, Picture source: Instagram: Official website

History and a family legacy are hidden in every bite at the Jimmy Boy restaurant in the Fort area of Mumbai. While the family had been serving keema pav, bun maska, Irani chai, omelette pav, mava cake, and mava samosa since 1925, a rebranding took place in 1999. The restaurant added other Parsi favourites such as wedding delicacies to the menu.

As they maintain, “The recipes have remained unchanged since the beginning. Every Parsi family has its own closely guarded secret recipes for their version of the dish, and we are true to ours!”

6. Cafe Excelsior, Fort

Cafe Excelsior serves authentic Parsi food such as keema pao, salli botti, bun maska and more
Cafe Excelsior serves authentic Parsi food such as keema pao, salli botti, bun maska and more, Picture source: Official website

There is a certain magic to Irani cafes. The panelled walls, the slow rotating fans, meeting a frequent visitor who will treat you to stories of the place’s history and more. Cafe Excelsior is one place where this magic is still alive.

The 100-year-old cafe still boasts of its clock, which came down from colonial times when the late Ardeshir Mazkoori opened Cafe Excelsior in 1919 when he came to India from Iran. Since then, the family has been crafting finesse with their patra ni macchi, mutton cutlets, and kheema salli.

7. Britannia & Co, Fort

Britannia & Co restaurant is credited with coming up with the berry pulao recipe,
Britannia & Co restaurant is credited with coming up with the berry pulao recipe, Picture source: Instagram: Britannia

Anyone fortunate to visit the restaurant — housed inside a colonial bungalow — in its early days in 1923 was always in for a treat. Rashid Kohinoor, a Zoroastrian immigrant and founder of the restaurant, would narrate tales of old Bombay while guests would gorge on his daughter-in-law’s berry pulao that she had perfected for the Indian palate.

The cafe has welcomed many iconic personalities, such as Abhishek Bachchan, Boman Irani, Vidya Balan, Ranbir Kapoor, former cricketer Azharuddin, and American ambassador Peter Berlin.

8. Kyani & Co, Marine Lines

Kyani & Co is one of the oldest Irani cafes in Mumbai
Kyani & Co is one of the oldest Irani cafes in Mumbai, Picture source: Instagram: foodiesground

A list of the Irani restaurants in Mumbai would be incomplete without mentioning the iconic Kyani & Co in Marine Lines. With its sepia-toned pictures lining the walls, and large jars carrying biscuits and goodies; piling up to the ceiling — the cafe has always been synonymous with having a personal touch.

It was built in 1904 by a gentleman Khodram Marezban and was taken over in late 1959 by Aflatoon Shokri, whose family has been managing the cafe since then. If you are planning what to order, the keema gotala, chicken cheese burji, and chicken Irani kebabs are some of the hit items.

Edited by Pranita Bhat

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