Apr 18, 2018
Only forts and palaces might make it to the UNESCO’s classification of ‘heritage sites’ but as far as we are concerned, restaurants are no less monumental. Some of these shrines of good food, drinks and conversations date back to a time when India wasn’t even independent. And a few are even older than the British Raj.
On the occasion of World Heritage Day (18 April), we decided to round up the oldest and most legendary historical restaurants and eateries in the country.
1. Karim’s, Delhi
Haji Karimuddin began his restaurant in 1913, bringing to life the regal culinary knowledge of his ancestors. They had worked in the royal kitchen of the Red Fort no less. It’s located in atmospheric Old Delhi and its ties to the times of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar make a meal here a veritable journey back into time.
2. Leopold Cafe, Mumbai
One among Mumbai’s many iconic Irani cafes, this one dates back to 1871. It was immortalised in ‘Shantaram’, the stirring novel by Gregory David Roberts. The cafe’s long history also includes the tragic 2008 terror attacks and bullet holes still remain, like a haunting but necessary reminder. The desserts and beer towers here draw crowds like bees to honey. The neighbouring Cafe Mondegar is also a history unto itself.
3. Tunday Kababi, Delhi
The patronage of numerous celebrities, actors and politicians has turned Tunday Kababi into something of a legend. The galouti kebabs, biryanis and kormas here are unforgettable, believed to have been crafted by Haji Murad Ali, a one-armed cook who served the Nawab of Lucknow. It has been around since 1905.
4. Britania & Co, Mumbai
Established by Boman Kohinoor, a Zoroastrian immigrant from Iran in 1923, this is one of the best known eateries of South Bombay. Thousands flock to have the berry pulav, caramel custard and raspberry soda in a regal Rennaisance-style setting. Scottish architect George Wittet, the man behind the Gateway of India, has designed this building.
5. Flurys Bakery, Kolkata
Imagine starting your day in poetic Kolkata with a quintessential English breakfast and fragrant apple pie at the 88-year old Flurys Bakery. This iconic bakery and restaurant was established by a Swiss couple in 1927 and counted award-winning filmmaker Satyajit Ray, among its faithful patrons.
6. Indian Coffee House, Kolkata
This is one of the 400 Indian Coffee Houses spread across India. All of them were established by The Indian Coffee Board with the first one opening its doors in Mumbai in 1936. However, over the years, many of them shut down due to dwindling customers. The Kolkata outpost is still going strong and is a favourite among students and intellectuals.
7. Buhari Hotels, Chennai
Dating back to 1951, some say these are Chennai’s oldest restaurants (there are many). The restaurant chain first tasted success with their irresistible Chicken 65. Today, they are also well-known for the chicken fried rice, chicken biryani, wheat parota and aatukal paaya. The place is a must-visit for meat lovers.
8. MTR, Bangalore
Mavalli Tiffin Room, better known as MTR, has been delighting foodies with its idlis and dosas since 1924. Today, all of India can taste their magic with the packaged idli and dosa mixes. The restaurant claims that they are the inventors of rava idli, developed during World War II as a way of coping with the lack of availability of rice.
9. Ratna Cafe, Chennai
Chennai is full of timeless idli-dosa joints but Ratna Cafe is a favourite for many, even though it wasn’t started by a local. It was established by the Gupta family from Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, in 1948, immediately after India attained freedom from the British. The cafe is famous for its delicious, unlimited sambhar.
10. Glenary’s Darjeeling
Glenary’s bakery and restaurant is over a 100 years old and a cult destination in Darjeeling. It was set up an Italian called Vado but was eventually purchased by the family of one of the employees, a local. The bakery’s apple pies, cinnamon buns, meat pies and Darjeeling tea are known to be the best that Darjeeling can offer.
Of course, this list is definitely not exhaustive. There are many other timeless gems lurking around the corners of our chaotic cities – Bademiya’s and Pancham Puriwala in Mumbai, Kesar da Dhaba in Amritsar and The Embassy in Delhi to name a few.
And they continue to delight the taste-buds of loyalists and adventurers alike, even as new entrants struggle to find a foothold in India’s restaurant industry. Sometimes, old indeed is gold.