Irani Cafes in India

My childhood memories abounds with the time we used to spend in these quaint little cafes – once was just downstairs in the building I grew up in Pune, India and ironically was called ‘New York’. The other popular ones that I used to visit were ‘Naaz’ and ‘Maha-Naaz’ on Main Street in Pune Camp that was  popular for its unique version of a Veg Samosa. And Cafe Good Luck near my alma mater Fergusson College was so popular that the chowk was known by its name.

Invariably the most popular combinations served are ‘Bun-Maska & Chai’  and Brun bread. The number of cafes has come down significantly over the years for a variety of reasons including competition from modern cafes, rising costs and most importantly the lack of interest of the younger generation to continue the tradition of running the restaurant.

The Irani cafe always had a distinct look – marble top tables, quaint wooden chairs, pillars backed with full length mirrors, several creaky fans and wafting smell of freshly baked buns. Quite often we would get to hear the lovely hindi numbers from old movies that would be played on the All India Radio programs.The sweet milky Tea that is so popularly available as ‘chai cutting’ on the streets too was best served in these cafes. The cafes had their regular patrons and seemed to represent the unhurried world of the past where people had time to take a break and engage in a conversation.

For me, I mostly used to frequent the ‘Naaz’ and ‘Maha-Naaz’ cafe as they were close to my school. Our small little treats would be celebrated in these joints that were well-known to serve Veg Samosas having a unique vegetable filling instead of the traditional potatoes. They would be accompanied by an in-house version of ‘Tomato ketchup’ that was to be liberally used to dunk the Samosas. The cafe was located on the bustling ‘Main Street’ in Pune Camp. We would spend our weekends meeting up friends, doing shopping and watching movies at the West End theatre. Invariably we would spend some time at the Cafe as well.

During college days, we would meet at the nearby Iranian cafe to discuss our projects and spend some time with our friends. We would spend hours ordering multiple rounds of Tea and Bun-Maska. Occasionally there would be a loud burst of laughter that would carry across the  tables to the Owner manning the Cash desk. He would not mind it much putting it down to our youthful exuberance. Sometimes it would be raining and spending time at the cafe would have its own appeal.

There were many other such cafe sprinkled across the city and one could be reasonably sure of getting the standard combination of ‘Bun Maska & Tea’. The ambience would rarely change and one would think of it as an unconscious effort at Branding that is so keenly reinforced by Franchisee chains nowadays.

Things have changed over the years though – quite a few of them have disappeared as multiple factors impact their profitability and viability. But the most important reason is possibly the reluctance of the younger generation who often don’t want to continue the legacy of running the restaurant. Often they cash out to chase some other dreams and interests as the old era charm of these joint gently fades away.

 Photo By :AFP PHOTO/INDRANIL MUKHERJEE Courtesy : Getty Images

Photo By :AFP PHOTO/INDRANIL MUKHERJEE
Courtesy : Getty Images

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