Apr 20, 2016
Mumbai is a fairly young city if you compare it with a Delhi or a Varanasi. Most of our recorded history goes back to two or three centuries at the most.
The same holds true for Mumbai’s restaurants. You call a restaurant really ‘old’ in the city if it has completed half a century or so. The existence of many of these are at threat today, and you don’t know how long they will last. With real estate becoming expensive, and with the city bursting at the seams, restaurants in the older parts are not as frequented as before.
Some legends such as Samovar and Valibhai have closed shop while B. Merwan keeps threatening to do so, and follow other Irani cafes that have shut. Some like Mahesh have franchised out, and the common refrain is its no longer the same.
So, I thought I will tell you about three restaurants in Mumbai that are still around and that pack in a bit of history.
Pancham Puriwala near Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is possibly the oldest-running restaurant in Mumbai. Its founder, the late Mr Pancham, had come here in the 1840s and set up a stall selling puris (five or ‘pancham’ a plate). This was before the CST (then called Victoria Terminus) was functional. In fact, he walked for 39 days (according to his great-great-great grandsons who run the place now) from his home in modern Uttar Pradesh to reach the city as the railways didn’t exist then. It’s a pretty simple restaurant today. A two-storeyed place. There are no air conditioners, has shared tables, lots of history and great puris (Indian fried flatbreads) and vegetarian sides called sabzis.
Taj Ice Cream in Bhendi Bazar’s Bohri Mohalla has nothing to do with the iconic and luxurious Taj Mahal Hotel in Colaba. It’s a humble non-air conditioned place with a few tables and chairs in a nondescript lane below the JJ Flyover. They only sell ice creams and many of us believe that they are the best in Mumbai. The ice creams here are creamy, and made with full-cream milk, and have fresh seasonal fruits (they have chocolate too) and are hand churned in a sancha (canister) every morning at the shop. It is run by the third generation of the family that founded it about 130 years ago, and interestingly the process of making ice creams hasn’t changed since then. The area is supposed to go in for redevelopment soon, so go and enjoy the Sancha ice creams before Taj becomes a part of history.
Jimmy Boy, the Parsi restaurant at Horniman Circle, was opened in 1999. I had my first taste of a Parsi wedding feast here while dating my now wife, also a Parsi. So, why is it on my list of heritage restaurants in Mumbai? You may say there are older Parsi-Irani restaurants such as Britannia & Co., Military Café and even Ideal Corner. Well, Jimmy Boy was earlier an Irani café called Café India, and was set up in the 1920s, close to a 100 years back. In the late 90s, one the descendants of the founders decided to convert Café India into a restaurant, and be the only one in Mumbai to offer the Parsi wedding meal. It gave those who don’t get an opportunity to attend a Parsi wedding to still savour the feast. They now have an a la carte Parsi menu too. Of the three restaurants in this article, it is the ‘poshest’. The upper floor is even air-conditioned and they have a washroom!
What I find interesting about the three restaurants here is that they have all been set up by immigrant communities, and people with different religious backgrounds. There was Panchamji (a Hindu) who came to Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh. The ice cream family of Taj Ice Creams, who are Bohris (a sect of Islam), a community that originated in Yemen and came to the city from Gujarat. Jimmy Boy was set up by Zoroastrian Iranis, who came to Mumbai from Iran again via Gujarat.
That’s the beauty of Mumbai! It’s a city that welcomes all with open arms and allows them to chase their dreams.
That’s why I feel at home here after having moved in a decade and a half back.
PS: Do you know of any other existing 100-year-old or more restaurants in Mumbai? Please write in and I would love to check them out.