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FAROKH TALATI: ON IRANI CAFÉS
In the 1950s, there were 350 Irani cafés in Mumbai. Today, only 25 remain. Paani kam chai, a strong Iranian tea, is the customary drink order, perhaps with a kheema pav: mince in a bread roll. Sweet and salted biscuits were a taste of home for the Iranian immigrants who opened these cafés when they came to the city in the 19th century. Diners sit on dark wood chairs, and tablecloths have protective glass laid carefully over the top; above, ceiling fans push lazily through the warm air. Not much has changed over the past few decades, apart from more and more Irani cafés shutting up shop for good.
The sign outside the Britannia Café reads ‘exotic Parsi and Iranian cuisine’. Inside, Mr Kohinoor, the owner, serves the same dishes that he has brought out to hungry customers for years. For Farokh Talati, the head chef at St. JOHN Bread & Wine who also takes over a Soho patisserie once a month to cook the food of his Parsi heritage, it’s his first stop whenever he visits Mumbai to see his family. The order is always chicken berry pulau, a dish of tender chicken and rice. It is the invention of Mr Kohinoor’s Parsi wife, and it is a masterpiece.
“What makes this dish stand out are the tiny deep red barberries that are generously sprinkled on top of the rice, bringing a tart fruitiness to the already fragrant pulau,” says Farokh. “My version is a homage to the Britannia classic, lovingly re-created from the mind's eye.”