Soul food for Bombay

Aug 13, 2018, 07:50 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Stumbling upon a food guide of the 1980s threw open a disturbing question about the longevity of its iconic culinary establishments

Soul food for Bombay
A Mario Miranda cartoon on one of the inside pages of the book

Fiona FernandezRecently, during one of our Sunday cleaning sprees, the hallowed bookshelf came in for a special consideration. It was high time, in any case. And dusty jackets don't make for pleasant viewing in a bibliophile's home. So we went about it, giving giant fact books, hardbounds, paperbacks, pocket books and booklets a nice shake-up. It felt therapeutic. But we'll save the feel-good prose for another day.

Most of the time, these dusting trails throw up that one book that is a re-discovery to us; it becomes the 'wow' moment of the morning that makes the effort worth it. This time, it was a tiny, nondescript 64-pager called Flavours (1988, The Perennial Press) that caught the eye. Written by Diana C Proeschel, an American diplomat, and Saroj Merani, and English teacher at Elphinstone College, it offers a fabulous rewind of the F&B scene in the city from the 1980s. With a photograph of the now-shut Tanjore restaurant gracing the cover, and dotted with cartoons by the legendary Mario Miranda, it piqued our interest in a flash. We ended up the reading the book for the next 30 minutes. The dusting operation, naturally, had to be discontinued for this unplanned break, much to the surprise of our domestic help, our co-helper in this exercise. "Aap chhota break le lo," we requested.

As we moved on from one section to the next [each area was broken down with well-drafted maps], it became evident that these two women had created a gem. From Colaba to Bandra, the passionate duo had scoured the roads and bylanes of the city, tasting and teasing regional and global cuisines with balance and discretion; their common love for taking centrestage throughout; the personalised, humour-tinted copy made for culinary joyride — one that we rarely read in today's blogger-lined F&B universe. Their meticulous research translates across their two indexes — geographically and a cuisine-wise, besides a detailed introduction explaining the cuisines available in the city.

Our main intent was to check for names of eateries and cafes that had survived in 21st century Bombay. The first name we went hunting for was Paradise — the recently shut Colaba landmark. We read their summary with studious dedication. To quote from the book: 'Situated on Colaba Causeway, Paradise Snack Bar is an intimate little restaurant that's been run since 1956 by a lovely Iranian family. Three pictures on the wall done by cartoonist Mario give a cartoonist twist to the Garden of Eden story...' It went on to salute their weekly menus, and specials like mince pie, the kid fillet roll and chicken roll as well as the Scotch broth. It was the last sentence that left a lump in the throat — 'You might have to wait 5-10 minutes for a table on a Friday or Saturday night.'

Half-way through the book, we realised that not even 30 percent of the inclusions were still around. This is a matter of huge concern for any foodie or historian in the city, considering that the book was written barely 30 years ago. These days, we've seen, even three and five-year anniversaries are hailed as milestones, let alone 10. With Flora shuttering by August-end (as first reported in yesterday's edition of mid-day) and so many others meeting with the same fate for reasons ranging from sky-high rentals to redevelopment and lack of intent by the next generation to continue the family business, it's an unsavoury scenario.

The past few years have seen icons like Strand, Samovar and Rhythm House bid us adieu, and this year hasn't been kind too. "The soul of the city gets chipped away each time such a landmark shuts down," a food historian told us recently citing Paradise's closure, adding, "Our heritage extends beyond its buildings and brick-and-mortar structures to its community and culinary landmarks." We could only nod in agreement, and strike off another name off our list of must-visit eateries to revisit.

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@mid-day.com

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