Nissim Ezekiel, the famous Indian poet wrote a lovely little tribute to Irani cafes in Mumbai, with the lines going “Please/Do not spit/Do not sit more/Pay promptly, time is valuable/Do not write letter /Without order refreshment.
Indeed, that sums up the ambience of most Irani cafes in Mumbai; they’re small, rustic spaces which are almost a hundred years old. They’re an important past of Mumbai’s food and cultural landscape and are beloved by many locals. Today, we took a closer look at how the legend of the Irani cafes came to be.
In the late 1800s,Persians began migrating to India to escape famine and conflict. They arrived in India at the beginning of the 20th century and began settling across South Mumbai . To make a living they began setting up small tea shops or cafes which served traditional Irani chai, biscuits and puaos.
They quickly became popular and thriving as Mumbai began to embrace a new cuisine. Over time, the dishes were adapted to suit local palates.
Irani Cafes Today
Today, Irani cafes remain popular. They have the same interiors they did a century ago; high ceilings, ornate tables and blackboards with scrawled instructions and dishes made using age old recipes. Popular dishes remain the Irani berry pulao – made with special sour berries flown in from Iran, brun maska, samosas, shrewsberry biscuits kheema, dhansak and bread pudding.
Some Irani cafes in the city which are still going strong are Kyani and Co, Cafe Military, Yazdani Bakery, Ideal Corner and Jimmy Boy; head here to read more about them.