Café Bom­bay

Re­cently two of the city’s pop­u­lar Irani land­mark eater­ies clocked a cen­tury. It’s time to raise a toast but to also pon­der their fu­ture, and the need to pre­serve such culi­nary in­sti­tu­tions

Mid Day - - City - Fiona Fer­nan­dez Send your feed­back to [email protected]

CAFé Ex­cel­sior and Café Royal. Un­less you’ve been liv­ing un­der a rock, you would have spot­ted, or even bet­ter, eaten at these two iconic spa­ces. For us, the for­mer was al­ways a stop be­fore catch­ing a film in our col­lege go­ing days where sin­gle-screen shows meant paisa va­sool view­ing. The rolls, the brun and the hawa of Bom­bay that flowed in­side (never mind the in­ces­sant honk­ing right out­side) added up to cre­at­ing an im­pres­sion of the city, quite lit­er­ally brewed in a teacup — no-non­sense, charm­ing and bindaas.

Café Royal was quite the op­po­site. Way too ‘hip’ for us as a for­ever-broke col­lege stu­dent, we were in­tro­duced to its legacy and by de­fault, its food dur­ing our early days as a jour­nal­ist. Ah, com­ing to think of it, it was the venue to treat some of our pals af­ter that trea­sured cheque was in hand at the end of the month. The siz­zlers won our hearts. So did the nos­tal­gic vibe, which, de­spite the air-con­di­tioned in­te­ri­ors, didn’t take away too much of the vibe. There was a spe­cial some­thing about the place. There was a re­newed buzz when it was cho­sen as the venue where for­mer US Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton de­cided to chat with the city’s movers and shak­ers. In an area that’s choc-a-bloc with plenty of com­pe­ti­tion, they’ve man­aged to hold their own.

Both re­main bea­cons of hope in a city that’s fight­ing hard to hold on to its true char­ac­ter — from its her­itage struc­tures to its culi­nary land­marks and neigh­bour­hood foot­notes, each car­ry­ing a lit­tle trib­ute or a chron­i­cle. In a pre­vi­ous men­tion within the tem­plate of this col­umn, we had writ­ten about the slow fade­out of the orig­i­nal Udipi across the city and its sub­urbs. The Irani café/restau­rant is also fac­ing a sim­i­lar chal­lenge, and pos­si­bly a big­ger hur­dle due to the wan­ing in­ter­est among the next gen­er­a­tion to carry on the legacy, and of course, all the woes that come with a man­ag­ing an in­sti­tu­tion, es­pe­cially in some of the cov­eted parts of the city. The few that re­main are hold­ing out, one brun maska-chai or­der at a time. Last year, Par­adise’s tragic clo­sure had many a Bom­bay­wal­lah shed a tear, and rightly so.

While some of these eater­ies have man­aged to fight the tide by rein­vent­ing their menus, oth­ers con­tinue to stay firm with the orig­i­nal core. Then, there are the clones float­ing around, while oth­ers who have pig­gy­back rid­den on its fare, are us­ing it as in­spi­ra­tion to draw in the crowds.

With the city in the grip of culi­nary in­va­sions of all kinds; look around, there’s ev­ery­thing from Le­van­tine to Ja­panese and Sri Lankan, it’s nec­es­sary to en­sure the orig­i­nal folk aren’t left high and dry. The city can­not af­ford to, re­ally, be­cause the brick-and-mor­tar space and its charm is what adds to the melt­ing pot that is Bom­bay

With the city in the grip of culi­nary in­va­sions of all kinds; look around, there’s ev­ery­thing from Le­van­tine to Ja­panese and Sri Lankan, it’s nec­es­sary to en­sure the orig­i­nal folk aren’t left high and dry. The city can­not af­ford to, re­ally, be­cause the brick-and-mor­tar space and its charm is what adds to the melt­ing pot that is Bom­bay.

How do we en­sure we keep them alive? Sim­ple. The next time you spot an Irani café around a corner (where else!) in SoBo, drop by, soak in life in slow-mo, or­der a chicken roll or a puff, sip on the Irani chai and biskoot, and do your bit. It’s a start.

mid-day’s Fea­tures Ed­i­tor Fiona Fer­nan­dez rel­ishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones...wher­ever the ink and the in­cli­na­tion takes her. She tweets @bom­bayana

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