Catch a memory, bake it on a plate

Catch a memory

From the moment we arrive, we accumulate our own layers of stories and experiences, remembered events and remembered emotions. Together, they become our own personal narratives.

But for something so integral, so basic to who we are, memory feels so fleetingly ethereal. The fragrance of a little sponge cake (perhaps Madeleine, perhaps Mawa), the rich salty taste of butter melting on a bun dipped in hot chai, the sounds of a particular street, the soft touch of a companion’s hand, the wistful sweetness of a moment. The utterly unique moment is here, and then it’s gone. And the only trace left behind of its existence is an imperfect imprint on our minds.

How can we preserve this memory? How can we capture a feeling or a sensation, a poignant moment, before it fades like the morning mist?

Bombay’s beautiful Irani Cafés have been fading into memory for years. They once numbered a few hundred. Now only twenty-five or so remain and more seem to close with each year. These cafés which were once part of the fabric of Bombay life are fading away steadily from the collective memory of the city.

All who know the Irani cafés nurture treasured stories of them. They were places for bunking off school, for bashful teenage trysts, for debating politics and cinema with the idealistic bravery of youth, for escaping – deeply – into a book, accompanied by endless chai. The Irani Cafés were lovely places for growing up – and for growing old.

And they were important places too. In a city all too busy making harsh social judgments, the Irani Cafés were truly shared spaces. Anyone could find refuge here for the few paise it took to buy a cup of chai – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Parsi. The poor student, the famous artist, the tired taxi-wallah, even the hooker, shunned elsewhere. Differences leveled, tolerance a given. A city without these shared social spaces collapses into prejudice, dystopia and even violence.

But sooner or later, for all the love that people have for them, the Irani Cafés may all be gone. Faded away, unnoticed, in the rush.

In our own small way, we thought we could contribute to the capture of memory. We already pay homage to the Irani Cafés through design and food, but we thought we could go further and document and preserve actual recollections.

We gathered stories from those who know and love the Irani Cafés – guests at Dishoom, the owners of the remaining cafés, others in Bombay and London.

We then literally baked these stories onto eighty of our plates (at 850C).

Now – if you come to Dishoom in Shoreditch, you’ll notice stories on the plates. You can read about marriage proposals, about cantankerous owners, about rotis so good they had to be flown across continents, about double omelets and sweet chai. If you pause briefly, you may even feel a sense of how those moments – now passed forever – actually felt.

It’s truly our honour and privilege to be doing the important work of preserving the memory and telling the stories of the Irani Cafés of 20th century Bombay.

Read the café stories

Suggested Reading

See the journal

Dishoom's most-loved summer side suggestions

Even the most orderly of hosts can fray under the demands of preparing a successful barbecue. To prevent this, we have provided some crowd pleasing side dish ideas that will both pair optimally with our Barbecue Box and provide popularity with friends and family. If you act with promptitude (preparing the Coriander-mint Chutney in advance and boiling the potatoes before your guests arrive), all dishes can be ready in 30 minutes or less. leaving you time to do something rather spontaneous and cooling with your long summer days – whatsoever that may be.

Father's Day Gift Guide

A sudden wide smile. Grateful eyes. Thoughtfully selected gifts adored. For those seeking the smug satisfaction of gifting the very-best Father’s Day gift – peruse below. Socks and slippers (though essential) do not feature. Instead, the Dishoom Store stocks a range of rather charming gifts that will guarantee you continue to be the best-loved child.

An Unexpected History Lesson

We’re delighted to have taken part in Dialogues of Diaspora’s new series. Especially as it meant spending time and chatting with our dear friend, the brilliant and effervescent, Shalina Patel. She’s also kindly taken a quick moment to share more on ‘unexpected’ moments in South Asian and British history below. Read on here.

Introducing Dialogues of Diaspora

Our wonderful friends at Dialogues of Diaspora have done something awesome. Get ready to sit-down and listen-in to eye-opening conversations in their brand-new three-part series which sheds a unique light on the South Asian Diaspora. They unpack interesting views on identity, history, music, fashion – share untold stories and ask thought-provoking questions. We’re so excited to be involved and extremely humbled to be in such talented and wonderful company. Watch Episode One here.