Irani café: A dying cultural heritage.

With an assemblage of people coming into this city every day, what trails behind, are the chaperons of their culture. Mumbai’s charisma wouldn’t have its far reaching effects, if the city wouldn’t have been kind enough to adapt cultures from different parts of the world. One can only be intrigued as to how to cosmopolitan this city can be when rest of India is still trying to cope up with inter-caste marriages. I think the answer lies 150 years back in time. What started as offering tea to the weary soon turned into the custom of exchanging news and thoughts. And not-very soon did it became the very center of social gatherings where people of all caste, creed and race would come together to have light conversations and go back to their own lives; only with a broader perspective. The high reaching ceilings, European décor comprising of marble tables adorned with red/green checkered table cloth and Persian artifacts was all too dandy. Pioneering the concept of ‘cafes’ in India, these Iranian cafes had a lot to offer. Right from a very vast and unique menu laid including ‘pani kam chai’ – a strong Iranian tea, ‘Khari chai’ – a very strong Iranian tea, ‘brun maska pao’. Slightly deviated from a typical irani cafe Leopold cafe and cafe mondegar are famous of the bunch. Both these places are great hangouts at any day of the year. Leopold cafe is all about Mumbai in it’s truest element and cafe mondegar will enchant you with it’s comic figure interiors. Cafe mondegar also has jukebox that lets you play 3 songs for just 50 bucks. While at Leopold you may more often than not bump into Gregory David Robert author of the famous novel ‘Shantaram’. These Irani cafes aren’t just about great food and classic chairs and vintage ambience. At Britannia & Co. Restaurant you will see it is the owner. He is always available for you. He will happily help you out in suggesting food orders, will make you laugh with his stories and ensure you have a good time. This place is one of the oldest and is open only from 12 p.m to 4 p.m. On Sundays it’s a day off. Berry pulao is a classic and order that without a shadow of doubt. Do try ‘Bombay duck fry’ and thank me later.
Another heritage pride of these Irani cafes is Kyani & Co. situated at Marine Lines. It’s 104 year old. Not to tell you a folklore but I have actually bought a cake for 40 bucks. A whole baked cake not just a slice. Keema pulao, Chicken farucha, Raspberry soda and Burji pao for Sunday brunch are a must try.  . The huge mirrors placed inside the cafes giving you a very spacious illusion of the place was a very smart interior décor trick to master. Glass jars that allowed the customers to see all the food items item that these cafes had to offer them, had its own novelty to it. If one alternate business that needs to be grateful to these Iranian cafes, it is the Radio business.  However, in a rapid fire round if you would ask anyone “What’s the most memorable thing you would remember of the Iranian cafes?” Chances are you’ll get none of the above answer. The answer would most likely be – Notice boards.

Only in an Iranian café would you read these signs and not find it weird:

–       No talking to cashier.

–       No fighting.

–       No sitting long.

–       No discussing gambling.

–       No address inquiry.

If only the good food, whiff of baking and hassle-free service was enough to keep the Irani cafes going. From a chain of 350 cafes to a mere 25 now, what threw them out of business are the young and ambitious Iranians who found it wiser to invest their future in better profit-earning businesses.  Nothing is wrong to it, from an individual perspective. But, maybe, just maybe it isn’t a vey correct choice to make when you are carrying forward a legacy. A culture dated 15 decades ago. With a hopeful and honest attitude that the Iranians possess they seem to have been fighting a battle to wake the dying culture. And from all my research I can certainly say it’s not a losing battle that is fought for. Be it 104 year old Kyani Café at Dhobi Talao or B. Merwans at Grant Road or Britannia Restaurant at Bellard Estate; all are joining hands with a lot other Iranians and coming with new alliances before they get perished somewhere in between Bombay and Mumbai.


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