The Parsi Restaurants of Bombay – A Dying Legacy
If you’re a food lover living in Bombay, you will agree that it boasts of some of the best Parsi restaurants in the country. Some well-known, some more clandestine. Some expensive while some are pocket friendly. Some serve the best dhansak while others are well known for their desserts. These are the relics of colonial Bombay. Amidst the avalanche of eating options and different types of cuisines in today’s Mumbai, the Parsi cuisine of good ol’ Bombay still holds a very special place in every food lover’s stomach.
Even though each place has its own signature style, these Iranian restaurants have a common ground – dark wood furniture, brightly colored walls, chequered tablecoths, and slightly irritable owners peering from behind the counters. It is this no-frills milieu that is both endearing and welcoming. Maybe it’s their simple ambiance unaffected by the global food revolutio – the unfazed way in which they go about their business without trying too hard to match up to the modern eating experience that sets them apart from the others. They are not looking to impress with their looks – they know that’s what their food is for.
No trip to South Bombay is complete without stopping by Cafe Churchill for a Banoffee Pie or a dhansak at Britannia. Nothing can lift up a dull day like the patrani macchi from Jimmy Boy or a raspberry cola from Excelsior. Parsi food has a special charm that is quite unlike any other. Jimmy Boy in Fort, Bombay, for example, probably has the best patrani macchi and berry pulao one could ever taste. The quaint interiors and the warm homely feel is why the crowd is drawn to this place.
Neatly tucked in one of the lanes in Fort, Colaba, Ideal Corner with its bright interiors and ever cheerful staff serves the most amazing salli boti in town. Succulent meat in an aromatic sauce with crisp salli on top makes for one hell of a meal. The place’s patrani machhi is very highly recommended by food lovers.
The taste of these Parsi dishes has not changed over the years. Most still follow the age old traditional recipes with just a few alterations (read specializations) along the way. But the overall flavour has remained intact. Parsis generally are very particular about the ingredients that go into the food. Authentic and unadulterated spices are used as far as possible and this is easily evident in each of the dishes served.
But as one strolls about enjoying the scrumptious meals at these amazing and yet nostalgic places, a slightly uncomfortable thought comes to nudge – will our children too enjoy this food that we’re enjoying today? Restaurants and fast food joints are cropping up like mushrooms all over the city – Indian, Chinese, Italian and even Japanese. But when was the last time you heard about a new Parsi eating joint in the city? Not recently we bet! They have become a dying breed of family restaurants run by a few dwindling Parsi families.
I wonder if anyone has noticed the fast disappearing Iranian/Parsi restaurants!
I had a chance to speak with Mr. Parvez, owner of Ideal Corner that has been in his family since 1985, and even before that. This was the original USD motorcycle garage that was transformed into a snack bar by an enterprising young lady – Gulcher, Mr. Parvez’s aunt. When the snack bar evolved into a restaurant, initially serving just one meal a day, eventually blosomming into a full-fledged eatery, it served both Chinese and Parsi food. Eventually they decided to make it an exclusive Parsi restaurant serving only authentic Parsi cuisine.
I asked Mr. Parvez what he thought about the fast disappearing Parsi food culture. His response lay it squarely on the present generation’s shoulders. According to him, the current breed is just not as interested in the traditional business anymore. Like the youth in many other family businesses, they have been bitten here too by the corporate bug. Sitting in a small shop serving food is not how they see themselves.
He went on to say that Parsis as a community are very serious about their food. They are committed to serving only the best unadulterated authentic food. But given the deteriorating quality of ra! materials, it was getting more difficult to do that with each passing day. This was one of the main reasons why most Parsi restaurants have either shut down or are on the verge of closing for good.
Another reason probably is the fast growing social media culture. Most new food chains spend millions on marketing, unlike the old traditional eateries that rely majorly on word of mouth. Mr. Parvez himself plans to sell off the business in a couple of years if there’s no one left to take care of it. With the fast vanishing legacy of the Parsi restaurants of Bombay, maybe it’s time to initiate the ‘Save Parsi Restaurants’ along with the ‘Save Tiger’ project.