typical Bombay language, a male Parsi is referred to a ‘Bawa’ and a female one
a ‘Bawi’, which literally translate into an ‘old man’. (Clearly the
stereotypical picture of an old parsi uncle, sipping Irani chai and puffs and
biscuits influenced the slang). The Parsis have been extremely important to the
social fabric of Bombay since the 17th century since they first
moved to Bombay along with the East Indian Company. From establishing
themselves as musicians, artists, businessman etc. the biggest contribution of
the Parsis is their absolute love for food and their love for feeding people.
Legend has it the when the Parsis immigrated from Iran to India during the Arab
raids in Iran, they landed in Gujarat. The then king of Gujarat, Raja Jadi Rana
said that his kingdom could not accommodate new immigrants and gave the example
of a vessel of milk and said that if more milk is poured into it, the milk will
flow out of the vessel. A Persian priest, then took a handful of sugar and put
it in the vessel and said, that there’s a different way of looking at it. A
‘Bawa’ is to Bombay what milk is to sugar, it only makes it sweeter.
remember moving to Mumbai as an 18 year old to study at St.Xavier’s college. It
was situated in that part of the city where the Britishers settled, in th south
of Bombay and it’s also where most of the Parsis settled too. Everyday I would
walk past the famous Kyani bakery in the morning and smell freshly baked breads
and coffee on the footpath outside the café. Kyani bakey is a Parsi café and an
iconic place that’s been standing there since 113 years now. St. Xavier’s
college itself stood 70metres away from Kyani bakery since 113 years, which led
me to really think about what that place symbolizes and means to Mumbai and
students of St. Xaviers. I started noticing the influence that the Parsi
culture as a whole had on Bombay. You will find small Irani cafes sprinkled
across that part of the city and every café will have a signature dish that
would blow your mind.
Yazdani Bakery in Fort is a tiny little room
place for about 10-15 people to sit and a bakery in the same room. You enter to
the smell of freshly baked breads and homemade butter. The mawa cake that they
make is of Legendary standards. A few turns away is Britannia, which is famous
for it’s Berry pulao and Mutton Dhansak, which is the owner’s late wife’s
Merwans, another iconic Parsi café that stood through 114 years in Grant Road,
shut down in 2014 due to lack of business in a high maintenance area, only to
be re-opened sometime later because of the demand. The Irani cafes all over the
city have been giving way to fast food chains and Merwan was just one example.
Although, a lot of people would prefer stainless steel table tops of a Subway
or KFC, the Irani cafes rely on loyalty of the customers and have stood the
test of time. These cafes have been a revolutionary for Mumbai and nostalgia
alone can’t save them. Hopefully these cafes will stand through many more years
to come, for the sake of a quick bun maska chai if nothing else!