Fiona Fernandez: Why Mumbai needs its Bun-Maska and Bhonu

Irani cafes are integral culinary landmarks that need our constant support in today’s times

“There’s no need to rush with the kheema-pav, beta, but eat the caramel custard quickly; or this Bombay heat will melt it in minutes,” advised the affable, silver-haired waiter, attending to my table. I had just wrapped up a story in the neighbourhood on a balmy Saturday, and was re-looking at my notes.

The Irani cafe around the corner seemed like the best bet for a quick working lunch and respite from the rising mercury levels. Around me, I spotted checkered tablecloths atop wooden tables, framed remnants of treasured vintage, decadent walls, varying decibel levels of chatter, including orders routed into the kitchen, honking of cars in the distance, and a general sense of non-stop activity.

And yet, it didn’t seem intrusive. By now, it was early evening. Left to my corner, I continued with work, downing cups of chai. Once done, I picked a few mawa cakes for the office junta from the portly owner manning a marble-top counter, gave him a friendly nod and left, sated and grateful for these gems of our city.

Many like yours truly, would have had similar accounts of their time at Mumbai’s Irani cafes. Last weekend, as part of mid-day’s Navroze special, we revisited many such landmarks in the city. Cafe and restaurant owners shared about their favourite eats in rival bawa eateries. But somewhere, in course of conversation, the community’s strong bond and love for Mumbai/Bombay stood out.

This is no surprise. On each of our countless visits, we’ve always felt this vibe. It’s a live lesson about all things Mumbai — from gossip at the gymkhanas to sky-high rentals, Busybee’s columns, vintage cars and aapro Zubin (Mehta, for the uninitiated) with food, of course, being at the centre of it all. Call us succors for nostalgia, but each time we tuck into Britannia’s Berry Pulao or dunk Bun Maska into sweetened chai, it’s soaked with a little bit of Mumbai. In fact, a better refection of this would be to ask any out-of-towner who’s visited an Irani cafe for their post-mortem. Nine times out of ten, they’d be thankful for suggesting the visit because it’s a ‘Mumbai’ experience like none other.

every day, as they roll up their shutters, these culinary ambassadors of the community,indirectly, offer a slice of the city. And, more often than not, we fail to realise their intangible contribution to our multi-hued, cosmopolitan city. As in common knowledge, their numbers are on the slide, what with a reluctant Gen-next, spiraling costs, real estate sharks and a bunch of other urban concerns. The best thing what we, Mumbaikars could do is to ensure these surviving treasures thrive, so they can continue to raise a toast to Mumbai. Jamva Chaloji!

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. Send your feedback to mailbag

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