Monday, March 21, 2011

Irani Mumbai and Navroze Mubarak....

Berry Pulao

Before I start my Melbourne posts, I wanted to take a day out to post on Irani food and Culture, seeing as today is Navroze. And Navroze for me means a time to gorge on Iranian Baklava and stock up on Iranian exotica at the Iranian Sweets Palace. Everyone has heard of the Irani cafes of Mumbai, those iconic establishments that were so intrinsic to the growth of Mumbai, that have now been forgotten. It is also sad but true that these iconic pieces of history are dwindling in number and there are only a handful left.  

But in all of this sadness, one bastion of Iranian heritage still holds strong to the ravages of time and commerce, opening annually to shine a beacon of light on a charming culture and cuisine. The Iranian Sweets palace is a 102 year-old family run confectionary on Dongri’s Imamwada Road that is a captivating reminder of a bygone era of Mumbai and the many stories of enterprise that are to be found on its street corners…
I have gone back there every year since I found out about it and last year I was privileged to have Mr. Hajati actually spend time talking to me about his the history of the shop and his family. Here are a few highlights (for the rest you will have to wait for the book!

Haji Ghulam Ali and his partner Haji Khalifa arrived in Mumbai from Yazd in Iran around 1909, to start the Iranian Sweets Palace, a Halviyat (sweetmeat shop), Gulab (rose) and Dry Fruits business. He bought the shop located right in the middle of Bhendi Bazar - which was then the centre of business in Mumbai – for a mere Rs 30 at the time. Aware of the importance of quality, he served up the best quality sweetmeats in Mumbai at the time and soo routed his competition. It is this legacy of enterprise and tradition that his grandson Hassan carries forward every year. A full-time stock trader, Hassan takes an annual month-long sabbatical as Navroz approaches to engage in his annual sweet-making ritual.

Activity at Iranian Sweets Palace begins in late February when all the ingredients; nuts (pistachios, almonds, walnuts, cashew nuts and groundnuts) and dry fruit begin arriving from Iran. These are ground by hand in Hassan's kitchen over a period of 10 days after which they are cooked in copper utensils he has inherited from his grandfather. Once made the sweets are displayed in a sini, a giant, circular serving tray and cut into diamond shapes for display. Besides the famous Baklava, Louse Pista, Louse Zaffran (Saffron) and Louse Badam (almonds), the shop is also a treasure trove of Irani exotica rich for picking (although Hassan can be very particular and only sell limited amounts per person! Zaresht berries, Nokul (groundnuts), Shirini Pashmak, Gulab Jal (rose water), Gulab Sherbet, Khashk, Limoo Omani, Shervin Gaz (sweets made of sugar, glucose, rose water, pista and egg white), Saffron, Walnut and Mountain cactus honey all exported from Esfahan in Iran. 

We are lucky to have people like Mr. Hajati in Mumbai. “I feel it is important to keep the family tradition alive. I've taught my son about the business and he will take over, eventually." He says and he is open again this year, until today or till stocks last.

Here is a virtual tour of a few of my favourite places that serve Irani food in Mumbai, one I often indulge in when I feel nostalgic. If you are doing it in the next few days, start with a trip to Mr Hajati to stock up on goodies, refresh yourself with a lunch of berry Pulao at Britania, washed down with Raspberry and than walk across to Yezdani via the majestic boulevards and fabulous old structures of Bellard estate and Fort. You can also stock up on fresh ground coffee at Phillips and Co on the way. Lose yourself in the bustle of Yezdani, settle at one of the tables and dung a still warm chunk of brun pao slathered with butter into a steaming cup of Irani chai and connect with a piece of living history in Mumbai! And then when you are home and feeling nostalgic use some of those berries you bought to cook up a batch of Irani Berry Pulao and Chicken….

Navroze Mubarak!

143, Imamwada Road, Haroon Manzil, B Block, Bhendi Bazar. Open daily in March from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Britania and Co.
The Menu, with the famous rooster and Berry Pulav!
Berry Pulao and Raspberry!
sweeping staircases of old Mumbai
I have on good authority that Indian coffee is one of the best in the world. Here is where u can get some!
Mr Hajati of the Iranian Sweets palace
Yezdani bakery
Apple Pies!
The inside of Yezdani
Brun paav!
Mava Cake!
Making Berry Pulav at home

Irani Berry Pulao and Chicken
1 Chicken
1/2 kg Basmati Rice
1 Onion, chopped
1 tsp Ginger Garlic Paste
Whole garam masala in a small potli - 2 " cinnamon, 5 cloves, 5 small cardamoms.
3 tbsp Zaresht Berries
2 Onions, thinly sliced and fried till golden

Saute chicken in oil.  Heat ghee in a pan, fry chopped onions, ginger garlic paste, salt and pepper till brown and keep aside.  Cook rice with the potli of whole garam masala and salt. Keep aside. In a big vessel, add some ghee and make a layer of rice, then add chicken pieces and top it with the rest of the rice and ghee. Cover seal and ‘Dum’ cook for 20 minutes. In a sauce pan add 2 tbsp ghee, add berries and sugar and stir fry. The berries should become plump. Transfer the rice & chicken in a dish and pour the berries over and garnish with golden fried onion slices. Serve!


Sassy Fork said...

Wonderful!!A perfect Navroz post!
Rushina,the first picture and the other of the Berry Pulao and Raspberry Drink are superb!

Nimish said...

Parsi / Irani culture is one that i am completely fascinated with. The whole dwindling of Irani cafe's is sad, but i do make it a point to savour the goodies offered by the exisiting ones. I did not know about the Iranian Sweets Palace, but will surely check it out now:) Berry pulao at Britannia is second to no other pulav i have ever had. I've heard that the berries used in the Pulao are imported from Iran daily. Is it really true?
thanks for the wonderful photographic tour of the Irani joints in the city. fortunately, i have been to most of those featured:)
Happy Navroze:)
take care

karishma said...

The pictures made me so very hungry :D the recipes for berry pulao seems quite doable... you sure it's this simple :). Acha, I am really keen on giving this a shot but where do I get the berries from? coz without them, it would be just another pulao

Nikhil Merchant said...

Goodness ! I can smell the bread outta my screen ! love it... why dont they have such nice bakeries in Andheri (E) .. let alone an Iranian Cafe ! :(

DeeMital said...

You make me want to jump on the nearest train and just find these places...I have had the Berry Pulao at Brittania thank just HAVE to find the others!!

Chai & Qahwa said...

Love this post. I've visited Mumbai so many times, but one never gets to see these special places. Thanks for sharing and will definitely check these out next time I'm there!

Chai & Qahwa said...

Lovely Post. I visit Mumbai a lot but a visitor never easily finds such treasures, so thanks for sharing and will definitely give it a visit!