Mumbai's iconic Iranian restaurant Sassanian turns 100
Dhobi Talao's 100-yr-old Irani Cafe Sassanian Boulangerie still stands strong. They may not sell packets of Polson butter any more, but the brun pav, bread pudding, and the latest additions to their menu dhansak and sizzlers continue to attract loyal fans. Moeena Halim and Suresh KK take a trip down memory lane with owners Merwan Kola and Adi Yazdabadi, who decided to commemorate the momentous occasion on Navroze with friends and family who are here from across the world
Like father like son
Every day when the shutters go up at 7 am until he shuts shop at 10 pm, Meheraban sits behind the counter, where he keeps a framed photographed of his much-adored partner Sharookh Yezdabadi who passed away last year. (Above) An old photograph of his father Khodadad Kola, who began working at the bakery in 1947, behind the very same counter.
Partners in crime
It was Adi Yazdabadi’s (left) grandfather Rustam K Yazdabadi who first set up the bakery, then known as KR Sasanian Restaurant and Bakery in 1913. “I was not interested in spending seven days a week at the restaurant and I told my mother to let my younger brother Sharookh handle the restaurant,” recalls Adi, who now lives in the UK. So when Khodadad Kola, Meheraban’s father and co-owner of the bakery, was ready to step down from the counter in 1977, it was Sharookh and Meheraban who took over the reins. “Everyone loved Sharookh’s sense of humour,” says Meheraban, who now gets help from his younger sister Dilnaz off and on.
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This is the advertisement that publicised the opening of the bakery in 1913. A hundred years later, the plaque has found its place on the bakery’s walls among several other posters that depict monuments of Persia.
Grab a chair, buy a chai
The tables at the bakery are always occupied by the young and old alike. Loyalists come to savour the bakery’s famous bread pudding, eat brun maska and drink Irani chai or make a meal of the ‘value-for-money’ chicken dhansak and rice.
“The atmosphere hasn’t changed a bit,” says Deepak Rao, who has been coming since 1954 when he was just a child. “Back then, though, the bakery was more like a provision store. They even sold stuff like Polson butter and Lifebuoy soap. Meheraban’s father used to dole out free chocolates and peppermints to kids. If you asked nicely, he even sold you some imported Kraft cheese and chocolates!”
The century-old chairs
The furniture is as old as the bakery itself, says city historian Deepak Rao. The Polish brentwood chairs are in impeccable shape because they are polished once every two years. “Once every month or so, Meheraban puts these chairs out to sun,” laughs Rao. “That is how he makes sure they don’t get infected by bugs!”
Ushering in change
“Until 1963, the Marine Lines station exit was right next to our bakery. We would open at 5 am each morning, but people used to start queuing up for brun pav and Irani chai even before that. When the exit shifted northwards, my father had to start serving food like masoor dal, kheema and other bakery products,” explains Meheraban Kola. In 1997, Kola realised he had to overhaul the menu if he wanted to survive. “My wife Ruhangeez helped me a lot.
Together we made renovations to the bakery (extreme right) and we began serving chicken rolls, puffs, fresh cream cakes and so on,” he adds. Most recently, in 2000, the flooring of the restaurant was changed. “That’s also when the restaurant began serving dhansak (pictured below), sizzlers and other items,” says Zeenia Kola, Meheraban’s daughter, who remembers queuing up at Kobe’s before sizzlers were introduced at Sassanian. Zeenia, who lives in Canada, is currently in the city to celebrate the bakery’s 100 years.