It was one terrific trip back in time, as the features team put their heads together to nominate Mumbai’s iconic restaurants, eating places and watering holes, as part of mid-day’s bumper, week-long 35th anniversary editions. Needless to say, short-listing it to 35 wasn’t the easiest part of the process.
Without doubt, the Irani cafe and the Udipi bagged most space in this tribute, and rightly so. For decades, both kinds of eateries have provided great, value-for-money fare, cheer and warmth to lakhs of citizens and out-of-towners.
The whiff of a crisp dosa being prepared in an open kitchen, the aroma of instant kaapi being poured into steel tumblers, the brun-maska and kadak chai served at marble-top tables – these frames are indelible, and integral to the city, as are its film stars and Marine Drive. Step into either of these places, and it’s almost as if Mumbai slides back to sepia-tinted Bombay – a classless and seemingly bindaas world. Ask any diehard city buff.
But sadly, both these pillars of Mumbai’s culinary landscape have, and continue to face the brunt of change. Not for the good. Labour issues, real estate sharks, the lack of the next generation willing to take over…the perils and problems appear endless.
As part of the city’s food heritage, this surely demands for intervention from authorities, to find solutions and save these treasures of our times, lest entire chapters of our history get wiped out. Then again, when we’d rather light up our monuments by spending crores of rupees on it, as part of beautification processes, one isn’t too hopeful if such worries catch the eye, let alone step in.
Interestingly, another observation that emerged as we drew up our list was that thirty and forty-year-old restaurants are now being hailed as “old”. The writing is on the wall – it’s tough to be a restaurateur in these times. More reason why the Irani cafe and the Udipi need to be protected from being phased out entirely.
We need solutions, and soon, because the clock (ironically, a trademark in most of these establishments) is ticking fast for these delightful gems. Surely, these can’t go the way we watch as the last of single-screen cinema hall hold on to survival, or countless other long-gone sights and sounds that once graced this great, truly unique city. Until then, don’t let that kaapi turn cold.
The writer is Features editor of mid-day