Bombay has changed much over the centuries.

Marine Drive, Bombay, in the late 1930s

Marine Drive, Bombay, in the late 1930s

Controlled by the Portuguese in the 16th, taken over by the British in the 17th, it became a major trading hub by the 18th and the commercial capital of India by the 20th. It has always been home to migrants from different communities, a lively cosmopolitan pot of traditions and cultures.

Now, of course, it’s a global megacity, leading the charge of the brave new India into the 21st century. Yet, exciting as modernity is, when we make the time to peer back over our shoulders, we notice that valuable traditions are often lost in the frantic rush of progress.

The old Bombay Cafés – or Irani Cafés – are one such tradition. They were mostly opened in the late 19th and early 20th century by immigrants from Persia, who had been coming to India for over a thousand years. These cafés were part of the fabric of urban life, functioning as an eating, meeting and drinking place for people from all communities, for rich and poor alike. They all had that distinct comfortable look of faded elegance. Britannia and Leopolds are good examples that are still around. Café Naaz is one that was much-loved but that closed in 1999.

Saloni Shukla, a Bombay filmmaker, has talked about these cafés:

“The Irani cafes have been the familiar abode of wealthy businessmen, lawyers, struggling rickshaw pullers in need of a quick refreshment to whole families for whom the local Irani could be a place for lovely lunches or dinners. For the hooker who worked the street it was a place of refuge, too…anyone, irrespective of religion, caste or creed could wander in and find comfort in the energy of the place.

An old advertisement for Café Naaz

An old advertisement for Café Naaz

A place where friends would chill, couples would court, business deals were signed and reforms were made by the great leaders of the past. A place where artists would get inspired, writers would find their characters and your old uncle could just sit back, drink a cup of chai and read the Sunday Times. A place where kids would lie to their parents and go eat and hang out with their mates. A place where stories began. Now, these places that have survived in our city for well over 100 years are close to the lines of extinction.”

Dishoom draws heavily from the heritage and tradition of the old Bombay Cafés. We’ll be welcoming people from morning until night, serving tasty breakfasts, quick lunches, early evening drinks and snacks, or a sociable dinner with friends. Our all-day café menu takes inspiration from the food of Bombay.

There were around four hundred of these cafés in Bombay at their peak. Now, sadly, less than thirty remain. We’d really like to capture some part of this disappearing tradition in Dishoom, and share it with Londoners.


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