Thursday, 23 October 2014

Brun Maska & Irani Chai!





Normally they occupied the corner shops of buildings, which is considered inauspicious by others; and turned them into friendly Irani cafes. The marble-topped tables, bent cane chairs with walnut polish finish giving a vintage look. Display of quirky instructions, sometimes funny, for patrons. The serious or smiling, well-built manager or the owner sitting behind the payment counter surrounded by glass biscuit jars and allied items for display. Many of the cafes doubled up as general stores too.


The present generation may not have heard about the Irani café experience in then Bombay. A nostalgia for old timers of Bombay, were part of the old charm. Snacks and tea or an omlette pav at a Irani café was most satisfying.

Mumbai, then known as Bombay were dotted with Irani Cafes and in the early seventies started to disappear and their place was taken by the Udupi hotels run by the enterprising Shetty’s from Mangalore. Earlier the Irani cafes were popular. The Irani hotels had an old-fashioned look and feel about it. A quiet atmosphere, tucked away from the noise of the city. Normally they occupied the corner shops of buildings, which is considered inauspicious by others; and turned them into friendly Irani cafes. 

The marble-topped tables, bent cane chairs with walnut polish finish giving a vintage look. Display of quirky instructions, sometimes funny, for patrons. The serious or smiling, well-built manager or the owner sitting behind the payment counter surrounded by glass biscuit jars and allied items for display. Many of the cafes doubled up as general stores too.

The menu generally had brun maska pav liberally spread with butter, sprinkled with sugar and the Irani chai, berry pulao, mava cakes, omlette pav with a smattering of Irani/Parsi dishes, Keema ghotala and Irani biscuits.

Iranis came to India in 1890s, after the great famine of Persia forced hundreds to flee their homes towards India; then known as Hindustan, as their Zorastrian ancestors had done between the eighth and tenth centuries to escape persecution by the Muslim rulers.

These newer lot of immigrants from Iran came with practically nothing except a sense of enterprise. They set up tea shops serving Irani tea and allied snacks. It slowly grew in size. The Irani cafes soon became community centres, where everyone could find cheaper and good snacks and non-vegetarian meals. 

According to a story, the old Irani café opposite Siddharth College of Commerce on D N road, which was destroyed in the early seventies when the old building collapsed, was visited by the young Shah of Iran, when on exile. Was famous for its brun maska and tea. Yours truly had tasted it many a times while attending college here on the opposite side of the road. It was the most satisfying breakfast then.

Till just a few decades ago, the Irani cafes gradually disappeared with the advent of the popular Udupi hotels which took its place by serving South Indian fare of popular snacks – idli, vada, dosa etc and thali  for lunch and dinner. These hotels run by the Shetty’s from the Bunts community, hailing from Mangalore succeeded in attracting patrons with a wide range of South Indian fare, attractive exterior and interior with a more inviting atmosphere. Now there are only a few Irani cafes in Mumbai, but they too have changed with times in look and menu, and are struggling to survive in the modern times. Soon they will be part of the city’s history.


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Picture Post:

Hindu Gods (L-R) Godess Saraswati, Laxmi & Ganesh
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