Gutli pao : YAZDANI Restaurant and Bakery, Fort

In the old days Irani bakers used to slice the loaf by hand - now that’s an art!; to cut parallel slices in a uniform size.
Zend Merwan Zend

Is there anything as delicious as a fresh, hard crusted gutlipao, perhaps, soaked in the gravy of a spicy curry? Gutlis, pao and a variety of other breads are made in large batches daily by the many bakeries scattered around Mumbai. These oven baked European breads made their appearance in Indian cuisine about three centuries ago. The very word pao, in fact, comes to us from the Portuguese, though there is a mistaken belief that the word derives from the feet (pao) that knead the dough!

To learn more, we sniffed the delectable aroma of fresh-baked bread that permeates Flora Fountain area and followed our noses till we reached Yazdani Bakery on Cowasji Patel Marg. We spent an enjoyable hour with the incredibly jovial Zend Merwan Zend, chatting about the history and traditions of bread in the city.

We learned that Zend’s grandfather, Zend Merwan Abadan, came to Bombay at the turn of the century and set up a bakery near the Alexander cinema. “My grandmother Jerbanoo would get up at 3 o’clock in the morning to knead the dough with the khamir”, recounts Zend. “Khamir is the basic yeast ferment and the technique was brought from Iran where bread was made by the sour dough process and not with readymade yeast as is done today; a lump of the dough would be kept for fermenting the next day’s dough. The Iranis and Parsees knew how to leaven dough but they learned the technique of pan bread from the Portuguese who also taught us the use of hops in baking”.

“They probably used hops in bread because it prevents unwanted bacteria from impregnating the dough and spoiling it”, Zend surmises. “Nowhere in Europe do they use hops for bread making, so I don’t know 
when and how they were introduced here. We had to boil two spoons of hops in water and we added it to the ferment when cool. When the bread was taken out of the oven, the whole area was filled with the sweet-sour smell of that bread which remained for days together without getting spoilt - it dried up but it was still edible.”

After his own father’s death, Zend’s father joined one of the oldest city bakeries at the age of eleven. This was the Rising Sun bakery at Golpitha presently owned by Shah Behram Sheriyar Irani. “They were famous”, says Zend. “Anton Pereira was their old Goan baker and they used to make seven-tiered cakes which were sent by P&O liners to Singapore and the Far East.”

“The bakery used to supply cakes and pastries from Colaba Military camp to Chembur Naka in a bullock cart. The bullock knew the journey so well that even if father fell asleep, the cart carried on and the bullock would stop near the shops where deliveries were to be made. My father knew each and every lane and all the bakers in Bombay. If the bullock collapsed, my father would pull the cart himself for some distance with the tired animal tied at the back!”

Today, at the bakery established by his father almost 50 years ago, Zend produces a wide variety of breads to cater to changing demands. The kneading process begins at 3 o’clock in the morning and the baking starts at 6 a.m. We sample some of his fresh, delicious and nutritious seven-grain bread, made from whole-wheat,barley maize, jowar,bajra, rye, andnachli or kang. He also bakes an array of cheese and garlic buns, chocolate bread, Swiss rolls, brown bread, whole-grain bread, pizza bread, sesame buns, hot dogs and of course, sliced sandwich bread and the ever-popular gutli and pao.

“The so-called ‘American’ bread that some people like these days contains at least five to seven different types of chemicals to make it soft and white and have a longer shelf life. How can you expect that bio-chemical mass to be digested by your system?”, he asks with disdain. “Bread must have a bite to it. In India we need bread which will maintain its structure when you dip it into gravies and sauces. Soft bread dipped in daal or tea would simply flop or disintegrate.”

We speak of flavour and aroma: “Because of the high demand for bread, modern bakeries do not ferment the dough by a bio-chemical process; the gluten matures with intense machinisation of the dough, whereas in our process of hand-kneading and slow machine kneading, the gluten takes at least 3 hours to mature and gets a chance of evolving alcohol and carbon dioxide, so the bread develops that typical sweet-sour flavour. Also, the skin of our bread is harder because we bake it for a longer time.”

Unsold bread at the end of the day is baked into toast. “The only people who appreciate this toast are Zoroastrian Iranis” says Zend with a smile. “During the days of persecution in Iran, they couldn’t afford to throw away anything and they broke up this dry noon (naan) or dry toast into small pieces, put them in a large bowl with salted curd, chopped onions and mint and pepper and it made a delicious breakfast. Today the toast is crumbled into papeta-ma-gosht and of course it’s excellent with tea.”

Sandwich bread: “In the old days Irani bakers used to slice the loaf by hand - that’s an art, to cut parallel slices in a uniform size.” Zend tells us about Kaikhushroo Irani of the Old Parisian Restaurant in Bruce Street who at the age of 65 can still expertly slice a loaf thinner than any machine. “He learned his trade at the age of 11 from Gustasp Irani of Naaz who introduced free-style wrestling to Bombay”.“Most people today want sandwich bread”, says Zend, “but they don’t realise that you can make excellent sandwiches out of pao; cut it along the equator, spread it with butter, a bit of cheese or ham, close it up and bake it again, and have it with a cold beer. It’s simply heaven on earth!”

Sharada Dwivedi

This is an abridged version of an article originally published by Times of India, reproduced here courtesy of Sharada Dwivedi. With thanks, Sharada!

IMAGES, top to bottom:

Yazdani Restaurant and Bakery, Fort, 2007
Cup and bun, image courtesy Sandeep Paradkar
Bun Maska image courtesy Abodh Aras


Anil P said...

Felt good reading your blog, I wrote a piece on my blog sometime ago of a visit to Piccadily, formerly an Irani Restaurant.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to know.

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