Irani Cafés in Bombay (Mumbai)

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During the trip to Bombay (Mumbai) in 2016 we explored (and consumed) an abundance of food – and India (specifically Bombay (Mumbai)) provides the best food i’ve ever tasted (feel free to suggest any other great places).

Irani Cafés / restaurants  emerged in Bombay following the great famine of Persia (modern day Iran). Millions died of starvation and many fled their homeland, walking across the Hindukush mountain range in the 1890s to India – a journey which could take eight months. Surviving appears the sole purpose of the mass migration, due – as some speculate – to the culmination of the longer term problem of Iranian agriculture, notably the failure to invest in the expansion and maintenance of irrigation works combined with the switch from food into cash crop production. 

Haji Mohammed Showghi Yezdi, a young man from the Yezd province in present-day Iran, was one of those who made the journey. Following the route from Kerman province down to Nav kondi on the Hindostan part of the border, then Quetta and Karachi, he reached the shores of a city then known as Bombay after a treacherous eight-month journey. With no work, money, home or family, Mr. Haji followed in the footsteps of his countrymen who had made the same journey before him. Carrying a large sigdi– a tumbler with flaming coals at the bottom to maintain heat- Mr. Haji’s descendants say he would sit at Apollo Bunder, the port area of Bombay by the Gateway of India and sell Irani chai (tea) to workers and passers-by.

Source: For an extended account of Irani cafés in Bombay (Mumbai), see Shweta Desai’s The Tale of Mumbai’s Irani Cafes in the Wall Street Journal.

 writing in the Guardian in 2013 captures the inclusive nature of the Parsi cafés:

Opened in the 19th-century by Parsi settlers – Zoroastrians from Iran – these cafes, with their magnificently faded, time-capsule dining rooms and speciality dishes, are a gloriously eccentric part of the fabric of Mumbai. They are also democratic and inclusive places, where people of all backgrounds, classes and sexes meet, so you may find a Sikh next to a Hindu or Zoroastrian or a group of young female students dining alone.

Source: Rosie Birkett

And the sad decline in their contemporary presence:

They are also a dying breed. In 1950 there were about 550 of them, many of which grew from humble tea stalls; now only 15 to 20 are still open. 

Source: Rosie Birkett

Back in Bombay (Mumbai) 2016, we headed to Britannia and Co. Parsi (Persian/Iranian) café for a late lunch. Famous for its berry pulao, it didn’t disappoint. The pictures below are of the paneer berry pulao (left) and keema berry pulao (right). Delicious, huge portions and cheap (₹600 each – approx. £6.00 each) – which was a steal (not, perhaps in the contemporary Bombay (Mumbai) context).

As we tucked into the delicious berry pulao, we were introduced to the 95-year-old proprietor Boman Kohinoor. He introduced himself and extended the gratitude of ‘our ancestors’ who have lived here [Bombay] for many years (very true for myself). Within moments, he disappeared, then reemerged with a handful of laminated pictures and news articles. Among the collection were letters from Queen Elizabeth II and Hilary Clinton. One of his proudest selection of photographs, were those of Kohinoor with the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge, William and Kate. 

The visit of Will and Kate followed a video by Condé Nast Traveller India of Kohinoor asking to meet the royal couple during their India visit – watch the video here. This went viral and Kohinoor was given an audience with Will and Kate at Hotel Taj Mahal Palace. A ‘dream come true’ for Kohinoor.

Trip Advisor ranks Britannia and Co. (at the time of writing) as #50 out of 13,574 restaurants in Bombay (Mumbai). Britannia and Co. is worth a visit (in fact, several visits) if you find yourself in Bombay (Mumbai). The restaurant is situated in the Fort district in South Bombay (Mumbai) – which seemed a peaceful and calm area (this may have been due to the Ganesha celebrations) – the streets either side of Britannia and Co. were filled with people playing cricket.

There are many other Irani café’s in Bombay (Mumbai) – see below for a documentary on the Irani café’s in Bombay (Mumbai), including Britannia and Co. and of course, Boman Kohinoor.

Among others, we also visited Yazdani bakery and café in Bombay (Mumbai) (see below). Famous for its brun maska – a bread bun spread with butter – usually eaten dipped in strong Irani chai. Yazdani was opened in 1953 and is known for its baked goods. Another delicious food experience in Bombay (Mumbai) and allegedly the inspiration for London-based Dishoom.


Picture source: Wiki

Britannia and Co. address: 16 Wakefield House Sprott Road, Wakefield House, Opposite New Custom House, Fort, Mumbai (Bombay) 400001, India

Yazdani bakery and café address: Patel Street | Between PM Road and Veer Nariman Road. Fort Area, Mumbai (Bombay), India

Some other sources:

Cover picture credit: iranichaimumbai

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11 thoughts on “Irani Cafés in Bombay (Mumbai)

  1. Interest packed post Dan. Having visited the Dishoom restaurant in London I can imagine the food you experienced in Bombay was awesome.

    1. Thanks, Dave. Dishoom is a great place, but doesn’t compare to the authentic street foods and Irani Cafes in Bombay – I haven’t done them full justice with this post, but plenty more to come.

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