A Chain Of Cafés In London Is Paying Homage To The Irani Cafés Of Bombay

A Chain Of Cafés In London Is Paying Homage To The Irani Cafés Of Bombay

In Michelle Zauner’s Crying In H Mart, food takes on the metaphorical and literal representation of love, connection and understanding and coping with the grief of her’s mothers death. As a first-generation Korean-American and a person of the Asian diaspora, food becomes a way to connect with her own community, her own culture and her own identity. She writes, “Cooking my mother’s food had come to represent an absolute role reversal, a role I was meant to fill. Food was an unspoken language between us, and had come to symbolize our return to each other, our bonding, our common ground.”

If we look closely, food can tell stories; stories of people, of memories, and of places. Especially for those of the diasporic communities, food is such an integral part of identity, of what it means to have a sense of self fragmented into two cultures, and of embracing their culture and people. When I think about what sharing a meal means, I can’t help but think about its wonderful ability to bring together communities and cultures and people.

Friendships are built over mutual favourite dishes, conversations happen over meals and there are just so many dishes that evoke different memories for us. There is a nostalgic sense to food.

When taken across cultures, food has also been a great differentiator and a means of oppression. When we look at who eats what and where it’s simple to establish the caste and class hierarchy.

It is in this context, that the Irani Cafés of Bombay stood out. With sepia-toned family portraits, fans that turned slowly and bentwood chairs that were reflected in their stained mirrors, time stood still in these old Irani cafes that have faded along the course of time, almost disappearing from the by-lanes of Bombay but ever-present in the memory of their patrons.

The faded elegance of these cafes welcomed all, whether it was students having breakfast before their classes, writers who worked on their novels, the taxi-wallas of the kaali peeli, or the lawyers reading briefs or courting couples out on a date. The walls of these cafes, built by the Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran in the early part of the 20th century spoke of many stories and were a testament to how food can break down barriers. There were a total of four hundred cafés at their peak in the 1960s now just close to thirty remain in Mumbai.

Shared spaces beget shared experiences and the Irani cafés were among the first places in Bombay where people of any culture, class or religion could take cool refuge from the street with a cup of chai, a simple snack or a hearty meal. These spaces became a cultural hub where people from all walks of life shared tables, rubbed shoulders and broke bread together.

A cafe chain in London is now trying to encapsulate this feeling of Irani cafes. Dishoom pays homage to the Irani cafés and the food of all of Bombay. Spread across the UK, the cafes are located in Kensington, Shoreditch, King’s Cross, Carnaby, Covent Garden, Manchester, Edinburgh and Birmingham.

Offering classics from the Parsi cuisine like a chicken berry pulao that is a homage to Britannia’s Chicken Berry Pulao, akuri which is an egg dish that is an Irani café staple and kejriwal which is again a classic Parsi breakfast dish. They also offer Bombay classic dishes, like vada pav, khichia and chundo, chowpatty style pav bhaji, bun maska and prawn koliwada among other dishes.

Talking about Dishoom at Dialogues Of Diaspora— a Youtube talk show exploring the untold stories from the South Asian diaspora through in-depth conversations, Shamil Thakrar the co-founder of Dishoom, said, “As members of the diaspora, we are all rooted in different places, and Dishoom - at least for me - has always been a project about identity.”

Check them out here.

If you enjoyed reading this article, we also suggest:

Related Stories

No stories found.