1924 - the Irani in Bombay : Indispensible!

From the Times of India, August 7, 1924 - click to enlarge. .

Times of India Archives, with thanks to Mr Deepak Rao.


BOMBAY TO SONAPUR HAI* 2: Britannia & Co, Ballard Estate

Many cafes have closed; in the 40s, 50s and 60s we had about three to four hundred Irani restaurants, bakeries, stores in Bombay.

Britannia Café was established by my father Rashid in the year 1923 and it happened to be the birth year, the year, I was born in this year, now nearly 84 years. The Zoroastrians who remained in Iran were under attack, so they had to carry on their life in villages, and most of them became farmers, and, uh, slowly there came to be short supply of water, actually they came from Yazd, my family. And Yazd was…water was very hard to get. Slowly there was no rainfall, and the water they were getting from the mountains also was drying up. So, they abandoned the villages and go for greener pastures. So, the Parsis of India, they told the Zoroastrians of Iran if they would come to Mumbai, to Bombay, they would support them and that is why they came to India.

Not being educated my father could not do any other
work except the Parsis told him to start with some tea business, to prepare and serve tea, and uh, the Parsis helped them in the business and slowly they prospered.Actually, they gave them help to set up their stalls, and slowly the stalls gave way to small cafes, and then to restaurants and bakeries.

The Parsis had come 1 075 years ago, and they had adopted the Indian culture, and they were very loyal to the British when they were here during the time of Raj. The Parsis of India, they mixed with the Indians and during British time they attended schools, got educated, they became engineers, lawyers, but the Iranis coming later did not get themselves educated, but they adopted this Parsi culture because our religion is same. Parsis, originally, they themselves being very cultured, they mixed with the British people, very well, the British also gave them support and help. Well, the British did that maybe for a political purpose, they did so because they themselves were foreigners here, they could mix better with the Parsis than with some of the Indians.

Many cafes have closed; in the 40s, 50s and 60s we had about three to four hundred Irani restaurants, bakeries, stores in Bombay, but slowly they are diminishing, and now they a
re on the verge of vanishing. I think only about twenty, thirty Irani restaurants are left today. Eating habits have changed, in the sense that formerly in the British time our restaurant was serving continental type food, bland food, and the Europeans and high society type of people were not eating spicy food, but now, after independence, we had to change, we had to cook food according to Indian tastes – with spices, and masala and all those things. So, biriyani has become popular, pilau has become popular, and mutton, and gravy, gravy cutlets have become more popular than during the past. We used to have beef steak, what they call chops, fish and chips, all those things, but now they are not a part of our menu at all.

Gandhiji came in power and he became a political father figure of India, then they brought about independence, he said all of us are children of God, why should there be this difference? All restaurants to be open for all castes and communities. That forced us to put up a board, saying there was no restriction for any caste or colour.

When Iranis started coming to India, especially to Mumbai, there were a lot of vacant premises, and most of the corner premises were vacant, this may be superstitious, but the Hindus would not take the corner, saying that it was very unlucky for them, so the Iranis were coming, and they would find the corners better for business, and so they started renting them. My grandfather started Kohinoor Restaurant, just near Bombay GPO. It was one of the first Irani restaurants in the city, about 1890,'95, around that time.

From an interview with Boman Kohinoor,
Ballard Estate, Mumbai, April 2007

*Bombay to sonapur hai - Bombay is the city of gold.

IMAGES top to bottom:

-a portrait of Boman's father RASHID hangs above, 2007
BRITANNIA & Co., Ballard Estate, 2007


BOMBAY TO SONAPUR HAI* 1: Sasanian, Dhobi Talao

As I take care of my wife, I take care of my place also. I love this place, this place is just like a temple to me.

My father was from a village called Arestan. In Iran. My mother was also from Arestan. My fathers father was an agriculturist…he used to grow fruits and other things – pomegranate, apples. My father arrived in Bombay in 1920. After the death of his mother, uh, he was sent to Bombay by father and then he started working in a restaurant. First he worked in Goodman Restaurant which was an original Persian bakery which later on closed down and now there is a footwear shop over there. After that my father worked at Kyani, he started over there as a waiter, then he became a cashier over there, he has worked as a baker also over there; until 1945 he was working over there.

In 1947 he took up Sasanian which was started in 1913 by the Yazdabadi family, Mr Rustom K. Yazdabadi. He was the one who started Sasanian and I think so, but not sure, ahhh, in the end of the 1800s, Kyani had come up and that was started by his elder brother, Yazdabadi’s elder brother. And at first there was Kyani restaurant at the corner, then there was Brabourne Restaurant, which is still there, and in this lane, Second Marine Street, there was a Café Wellington which was an Irani restaurant in the late 1800s. This was, I think, the first Irani in Mumbai. It is not an Irani restaurant now.

They used to say “Bombay to sonapur hai”– many people used to come from Iran for prosperity. They used to come on donkey’s back from Iran, half the way they used to come on donkey’s back*.

The high time of the Irani cafes were I think during the British rule. There were a lot of Irani cafes and at that time, even after that, still Udipi restaurants didn’t come (yet) to Mumbai. Irani restaurants were there, and the main reason Irani restaurants were on the corner of every street, and why the Irani restaurants were prosperous I can say, you see, an Irani restaurant, once it opened at 5 in the morning, it had the newspapers, people could read, papers used to come at that time, by 430, quarter to 5, and you could feel the warmness of the paper, that it had come directly from the press.

Another thing is, each and every Irani restaurant, though it gave tea, bun maska, omelette and some also had food a little bit, they had other necessities of life which people wanted - toothpaste, soap, hair oil, all the necessities, needs, even envelopes were kept. Even cigarettes were kept. Just like a small convenience store.

In the beginning, there was no food here, only bun maska, chai and omelette. Eating habits have changed in the city because, see, people are … every people has a want to change, they do not want to eat bread and butter every day , they want idli sambar, and to try other things, Chinese and all that. So after Irani cafes then (came) Udipi places, ahhh in 1990s Chinese food became popular, all these different foods started coming and all have stayed. But still people love Irani tea. And they love to come and eat bun maska, chai, some of the modern generation they love to come over here. In 2000 we changed the menu, and started serving Parsi and continental dishes. Our dhansak is probably the most dish popular on the menu.

See basically the principle of me and my dad is whatever you serve should be good, and should be value for money. Because in an Irani restaurant a poor person comes, a rich person comes, a middle class person comes. As I take care of my wife, I take care of my place also. I love this place, this place is just like a temple to me, where I serve people, and I would like to see my each and every customer happy with what they have eaten.

And one more thing. The fire in the bakery here has never stopped since 1913. Though the bakery was once repaired, still we kept the fire, as we Zoroastrians worship with fire, I think my success is due to that also. Because we believe (in fire) and that has helped us to prosper.

From an interview with Meheraban Khodadad Kola
Dhobi Talao, Mumbai, April 2007

*Bombay to sonapur hai - Bombay is the city of gold.

IMAGES top to bottom:
CAFE WELLINGTON, Dhobi Talao, 2007
Advertisement, K.R. SASANIAN, 1939