There are many Irani Bakeries in Mumbai, India. You must have heard of the Kayani Bakery, but have you heard of the Yazdani Bakery?
Yazdani Bakery is an Irani cafe or Persian style bakery in Mumbai, India.
The bakery was opened in 1953 by Meherwan Zend, an Irani baker. All products in the bakery are handmade, and baked in diesel ovens. The bakery draws a lot of visitors, particularly international visitors especially Germans. The building, built in the early 20th century, was originally a Japanese bank, which was later sold off. On 11 December 2007, the bakery was felicitated by Maharashtra governor SM Krishna the Urban Heritage & Citizens Award.
Old-school bakery/cafe offering Persian breads, baked treats & chai in simple, colorful surrounds.
Address: 11, 11A, Cawasji Patel Rd, Kala Ghoda, Fort, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400001, India
The Story Behind One Of Mumbai’s Oldest Standing Eatery That Belongs To A Yazidi Family: Yazdani Restaurant & Bakery.
Parvez Irani could be any old man sitting on the counter of a restaurant collecting cash. He’s so much trained in his trade that the best of corporate employees could be put to shame with his no-nonsense demeanour and a poker face determined to get work done well. He can be quite intimidating at first, but it’s his eyes that say a different story. Literally, a different story, because his eyes have a sharp hint of grey in them, a trait of the Yazidi community from the West Asia.
Someone once told me that Parsi and Irani bakeries are different, and asked Parvez the same to clear my doubt. Parvez immediately rubbished it and said, “The only difference between us is that the Parsis came 1200 years ago and we came about a hundred. But we’re the same people and every ritual and practice we follow is exactly the same,” he shares with us.
Travelling through the time
Entering Yazdani bakery is like stepping into a time warp. You’re immediately transported into what would look like the 1950s, exactly when the bakery was established. The narrow lane near the Horniman Circle, Fort was really busy on the Tuesday afternoon we visited.
The lane itself mirrors the good ol’ Bombay, but swanky Mercs and posh BMWs passing through the lane are major old-world-charm killers. The bakery, on the other hand, has a wall full of posters and advertisements from the yesteryears, with grandfather clocks hung on two walls. Even the menus displayed outside and inside are written with a chalk on a wooden blackboard.
Parvez tells us that when Babri Masjid was demolished, leading to riots in 1992 in Mumbai, Parvez recalls that Yazdani was the only open bakery in that area, providing food to those stranded and homeless.
“No police or politician made any attempt to come and shut us down. And this support from the people still stands with us,” he tells us proudly.
This is evident when we look around the place that is so sturdy and teeming with regulars and the frequent knells of ‘Bun-Maska-Chai” booming through the room.
Something old, Something new
The first Starbucks café in Mumbai had opened in Horniman circle’s fancy Elphinstone building in 2012, and lives up to the hype of its name – a comfortable, classy café with a perpetual coffee aroma for the company. It’s air conditioned, unlike Yazdani bakery which is barely fifty meters away from the international franchise outlet.
And yet, Yazdani has a large and loyal fan following. May be it’s the feeling of having time travelled into a classic Irani restaurant in Mumbai, or simply the dollops of maska in the bun-maska they offer, Yazdani is full of character – just like your favourite old book lying rugged on your shelf.
Parvez’s father had set up Yazdani Bakery & Restaurant in 1950, which Parvez joined in 1959. “People used to be so large hearted back then. My father used to give away food to the poor just like that,” Parvez gestures ‘giving away’ with his skinny, wrinkled hands. “Sometimes, people would not have enough money and even then my father would let it go. The Nehru government had hiked the rates of maida and there was not much of a scope for profit. But still, my father said that the difference of one naya paisa should go into the stomach of the customer and not our pockets. Since then it became a norm to give the leftovers to the poor. This, was until we could afford a new fridge,” Parvez laughs and points at one standing at the corner of the restaurant.
Parvez’s family has been into baking for a long time. He tells us that his ancestors were bakers in Iran and were bakers after they came to India. His grandfather had opened a bakery somewhere in Mumbai, where his grandmother used to make bread while his grandfather sold it. Yazdani was later set up in 1950 after his father decided to let go of a partnership business and set up his own.
British architecture under the blue sky
The structure of this bakery with its sky blue exterior and red painted roof stands alone among the elegantly carved British architecture on one side and neat commercial buildings on the other. And it’s surprisingly bigger on the inside – huge table to knead dough and large ovens to bake, and still, so much of room left that one could get their dance rehearsals done while the bread baked in the ovens. Yazdani bakery still uses an old style bread cutter, which is quite fascinating but efficient nonetheless. Stacks of hot dog buns are perhaps the only embellishment in the otherwise faded blue interiors and high vaulted ceiling above.
It looks like the Irani bakeries of Mumbai are living on borrowed time from three different generations. They serve the same dishes they did back then, and have people loving it, but are slowly being swamped by a different generation who loves polished wooden floors and a crowd that loves imitating an accent.
The speciality of the bakery – bread pudding usually gets only hours after it is made. So we sort of made ends meet with an egg puff, bun maska and chai. There’s a lot more they offer – the apple pie, carrot cake, fiery ginger biscuits and muffins – all of which almost get over by the end of the day. Parvez’s son Tirandaz may be slightly less perky than his father, but still, has an interesting perspective regarding the death of the Irani café culture in the city. “The new cafés that are taking over the city are very fancy and have more facilities, but I wish that old places like these are retained and managed well. Our coming generations are so much in awe of the westernised world that they will voluntarily not take over the family business or manage the bakery. I would still wish that this bakery went on forever,” he tells us.
Is the change good?
Places like the Yazdani bakery are rare. When nobody provided livelihoods to people, the bakeries and restaurants did. Less than a dozen people work in Yazdani, and have been for almost all their lives.
Irani bakeries and cafes may look ordinary from the outside and may seem mundane to those who are ignorant to the beauty of the antiquated, but always have something fun to tell. Right from the exteriors to the people who visit it, Yazdani takes you on a trip to a less polished, raw and ragged Mumbai – the one that told tales of its initiation, survival and how it still stands undeterred and moves on but still retains its glamour.
Hope you enjoyed this, please feel free to share.
Rita Jamshed Kapadia has authored "Parsi Cuisine The Manna of the 21st Century" and individual "Parsi Cuisine" series cookbooks with matched digital e-cookbooks.
Rita teaches and demos Indian Parsi Cuisine at Libraries, Museums in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Rita's books are listed here on the website for ordering a signed copy directly within USA OR purchase from Amazon. Please go to the tab for "Cookbooks". http://www.ParsiCuisine.com/cookbooks