Kala Ghoda’s winding gullies, now peppered with art galleries and cutesy coffee shops, have garnered quite the weekend crowd, ready to sip on cappuccinos and check out a couple of Souzas. However, 365 days a year the old Irani cafes of the area anchor a steady crowd of regulars that drop in for a buttery brun maska, a cup of hot chai, and even hotter local gossip; and they get all of that for a fraction of the price tag it costs to kick back at a cafe that can afford to have a philosophy.
Yazdani Bakery, which has gone through as many generations as the number of fingers you’ve got on your hand, epitomizes the rare breed of Irani cafes that used to be the definitive hangouts of Town’s tortuous alleyways. It is a place in Mumbai where you feel a strange sense of comfort, despite the constant ebb and flow of Uncles squeezing their bellies into the red benches next to you, eager to chat as they munch on a square of carrot cake.
To some this over-familiar vibe may sound unappealing, however, I rather enjoyed it once I embraced it. Moreover, it is such a nice change from hip coffee joints where you feel like friendliness is almost considered a faux pas.
The atmosphere changes from “Whoops, I accidentally smiled at someone they probably think I’m a creep”, to a place of flagrant fraternization. I experienced a landlord tuck his tush right next to mine, signal over his greying friend, who then compressed his paunch into the wooden booth next to my friend. He then began an epic rant, rife with earsplitting gaalis about tenants that don’t pay on time to his stoic tea companion, each line pushing the limits of how much abuse and hilarity can be stuffed into a single sentence. The only pauses he made were to offer my friend and I a biscuit, before diving into some more poetically juicy insults, his booming voice echoing throughout the bakeries high ceilings.
You just can’t beat that kind of homestyle hospitality coupled with a dose of barefaced Uncle banter.
Moreover, instead of whitewashed walls - a typical edition to hoity-toity cafes - the joint is a rectangular ocean of blue paint-chipped walls decorated with time – yellowed biscuit ads and daily special chalkboards. Also, the open-faced restaurant allows the cacophony of the street to drift in and mingle with constant chatter that fills the bakery, further adding to the relaxed ambience.
And instead of culinary tragedies, like, quinoa and beetroot paninis, or some other artisanal abomination, you are greeted with the saintly scent of baked bread. The longer you have a bakery the better it smells, and Yazdani has over seven decades of serving up badass baked goods under their belt, which basically translates to an olfactory orgasm.
Although the Irani-style institution has pivoted from its original role as a restaurant, previously serving up Parsi specialities such as dhansak, you can gorge upon their oven-fresh delicacies.
Sipping solo on a Yazdani chai is totally enjoyable, but the full experience is best had with a partner in crime as sharing is the name of the game at Yazdani. It is almost as if you can hear a cheeky Aamir Khan from Andaz Apna Apna say, “Do dost ek hi pyale mein chai peeyenge, isse dosti badhti hai,” except in this case, a brun maska is the chai.
HG suggests that two people settle down with a brun maska, a couple of chais and ginger cookies, and a square of carrot cake; it should fill you up for an even 100 rupees. However, veterans of the cafe will most likely ask if you’ve tried the mawa cake or the rum pudding (a Christmas special), which is basically a loaded libation posing as a dessert.
With the risk of sounding like an overzealous thespian, I’d urge younger crowds to swing by for some chai and snack before the establishment is replaced with some corporate erection (please to enjoy the double entendre).
Image by Rashi Arora
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