Bygone ‘Bombay’ survives in Irani cafes of Mumbai

Mumbai: With street-food like 'vada pav', sandwich and pani-puri coming to dominate the culinary landscape of the city, Irani cafes, which lent a charm to Mumbai in the old days, are fast fading out.
 
There was a time when there were about 400 Irani cafes in Mumbai. Now only about 30 survive, some of them more than a hundred years old, offering a glimpse into Mumbai, or 'Bombay' as it was earlier known as.
 
Owners say the reason behind the decline of Irani cafes is due to various factors, including shortage of workforce, inflation, high taxes and reluctance of the young generation to continue in the business.
 
Most Irani cafes are, or were, situated around Dhobi Talao in south Mumbai, like `Bastani', `Burban', `Merwan', `Light of Asia'.
 
It was a place where people could sit for hours and chat or read newspapers while music played in the background.
 
"The place was Barrista of those times," says Rafiq Bagdadi, an expert on Mumbai heritage.
 
Kyani & Co, opposite Metro cinema in south Mumbai, is one of the most popular Irani cafes and a heritage landmark. But the third generation is not too keen to take over, says Farooq Shokri, owner. "Majority of them have migrated abroad," he said.
 
Some cafes have switched over to permit rooms and beer bars. "The government is also insensitive to problems faced by the Irani cafes. We have been a part of Mumbai's heritage for over a century," Shokri said.
 
Though the Udipi hotels became ubiquitous post-Independence, Irani cafes have their own niche and style, he said. But changes were inevitable: "We cannot survive on bun-maska and chai alone, so had to add new items on our menu," he said.