Legendary Diners: A Foodie Time Capsule to Colonial India


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India has had a fascinating history of colonization. The Mughals, the Dutch, the French, the Portuguese, the Parsis, and the British have made their way into the country, at different times. All of them have found a home in the land, creating unique sub-cultures within. The British, who were the last colonizers in the country, have left quite an indelible impression on us. The language has stuck as the commonly used one across the country. And, so has many food habits. The influence of Colonies on India’s food legacy is rich and exciting. To this date, there are many legendary diners around the country, which are holding a torch to the past and keeping India’s famous gastronomy alive. Here is a curated list of our favorites from different parts of India:

Koshy’s, Bangalore

If you crave an ‘Angrezi’ breakfast in the Garden City, there is only one place to go – Koshy’s. From the ham sandwiches made with the softest, in-house bread, to mutton cutlets, stews, and cold coffees, the choices are endless. But, what Koshy’s means to Bangalore is much more than its menu. The sense of familiarity, the magic of nostalgia, and the charm of belonging is why Koshy’s remains Bangalore’s favorite.

It all started back in 1940, when Mr. PO Koshy Oommen gave up his job to open a bakery in the Cantonment. He was famous for serving the Army Loaf, and eventually evolved into a departmental store on erstwhile South Parade.

In 1952, when the British had left, but not so much the Colonial hangover, Koshy set up the Parade Cafe, for the troops and gentry. It was the wonderful times, of roast chicken, Jazz music, Big Brass Band from Calcutta, and dignitary patrons – from Nehru to Queen Elizabeth II.

The business has been handed over to a couple of generations since. But the Koshy family has kept the feel intact. The uniformed bearers, the vintage crockery, the unchanged menu, and the aura of many shared experiences keeps the magic of Koshy’s alive.

Flurys, Kolkata

Park Street, 1930s
Park Street, the 1930s

One cannot talk about colonial India, and not mention Calcutta, of course. The crown jewel of the British Empire in the country, Calcutta was in its regal heights in Colonial India. The beautiful city had attracted many a foreign soul at the time. The Swiss couple, Joseph and Frieda Flury, were among them. 

Pic courtesy: Flurys

In 1927, the couple started a fashionable tea room in the posh Park Street of Calcutta. Quickly, it became a place of many a high fashion rendezvous. Their rum balls became legends; their flaky patties became dinner conversations, their breakfast made every who’s who’s bucket list. Flurys changed hands from the founder couple to the Pauls in 1965, but not much changed. It became a joint that Bollywood celebrities, like Raj Kapoor, started frequenting. And, it’s fame became international!

Flurys
Pic courtesy: Flurys.com

 In 1991, when Priti Paul wanted to redecorate the place, there were tons of public opinion on what must remain the same – they let the windows and the aquarium stay. Even to this day, a Flurys experience is a Kolkata experience – creamy, sugary, delicious.

Flurys was the haunt of the babalogs of Calcutta. Today, in a city that is rapidly shedding its past to catch up with the future, Flurys remains a beautiful window to the majestic days that were.

Leopold Cafe, Mumbai

Leopold Cafe

Colonial Bombay was more than just about the British. The Parsis had arrived in India between the 8th and 10th Century. They have become an integral part of Mumbai’s legacy. When the Russians attacked Iran, the Iranians fled and were offered refuge by the Parsi community in Mumbai, fellow Zoroastrians.

These immigrants brought with them their fragrant Irani Chais, Bun Muska, and Khari Biscuits. Many Irani diners flooded Colonial Bombay – the Leopold Cafe in Colaba being one of the most legendary.

The Jahani family founded Leopold’s in 1871. Standing in a prime spot in South Bombay, the high ceiling, walls covered in murals, and elaborate pillars remind one of what the cafe has witnessed for centuries now. The cafe is famous for its beer towers, and continental food. A steak and conversation at Leopold’s are the city’s guilty pleasure. People don’t mind crowding together in the congested tables, reading, writing debating and digging into food, and the atmosphere.

Leopold Beer Tower
Pic courtesy: Shankar S via Flickr

Leopold’s has found a place of prominence in Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram. But, the cafe became a symbol of the city’s resilience when it was one of the first spots to be attacked by terrorists on the fateful 26/11. The current owners, brothers Farzadh and Farhang, have kept the bullet marks and craters from the attacks unchanged, adding even more, character to this diner of legends.

Karim’s, Delhi

Karims Seekh Kababs
Pic courtesy: Saad Akhtar via Flickr

The Muslim invasion of India changed the landscape of India’s food, forever. The Muslims brought with them rich, aromatic, flavorsome food, that excited India’s taste palate and struck a chord. But, the credit for making the nawabi cuisine accessible to the masses goes to the legendary Karim’s of Delhi.

Watching the hubbub at the quintessential Dhaba style restaurant today, it is hard to imagine its interesting past. But, the story of Karim’s began in the mid 19th century. A man named Mohd. Aziz, a royal chef, ran away when the last courts of the Mughals were broken up by the Brits in 1856. In 1911, while the Brits were celebrating the new capitalhood of Delhi, with the visit of King George V and Queen Mary, Aziz’s son, Haji Karimuddin decided to cash in on the hoopla.

Thus was born the idea of Karim’s – a shabby stall that offered only two dishes, Alu Mutton and Daal. The food caught the fantasy of the elitists and the commoners of Colonial India alike, and Karim’s grew by leaps and bounds.

Today, more than a century and 13 outlets later, Karim’s still insists on using the same spice mixture (a family secret) as devised by Karimuddin. Karim’s offers more than 40 dishes today, from kebabs to roasted baby goats! But, the ones that have been handed down from the royal court are the legends of Karim’s – the marinated burrah (goat) kebab, the slowly cooked nihari (beef) stew, and the seekh kebab!

Shaikh Brother’s Bakery, Guwahati

Pic courtesy: Piyaliszone.blogspot.in

In November 1923, the then Governor of Assam, John Henry Kerr, complained is his journal of how he missed his beloved ‘Gohati bread’ that couldn’t reach him that day, due to bad roads. Cheese straws from the same bakery were a staple at the breakfast table of Nehru when he visited Assam. The bakery in question is the 132 years old, Shaikh Brother’s Bakery in Guwahati. 

The Shaikhs had a flourishing business in Calcutta, that suffered terribly due to the plague that hit the city in 1880. Around that time, many a British officers and planters were starting to settle in Assam. Shaikh Ghulam Ibrahim saw a potential for bakery business in the region – and one of the oldest bakeries of India was born. Within a few short years, they had become the favorites of the officers of the Raj. Their biscuits were pre-ordered for Anglo households; their cakes became regular features in the British parties in the region. 

The Shaikh family were famous for their amiable disposition. They were also very conscious of the quality of their products. Their wheat and cheese were imported from Australia, a special yeast (Hoves) came from Belgium. They were one of the very few establishments in the country, that had a Santa at the shop for Christmas. Over time, they have been patronized by many imminent personalities. Even today, Guwahati’s Pan Bazaar comes alive with the satiating smell of baking bread and sweet pastries, emanating from Guwahati’s oldest bakery!

What other legendary establishments would you add to this list? Comment below or write to us at editor@blankslatechronicles.com

 

 

 

About Anumita Ghosh

Anumita believes her calling has to do with the written words. She loves to write and read, and has recently given up a(n) (almost) rocking career in the Corporate to pursue her passion. Yes, she is slightly off her rocker, but then the society has been largely accepting of her madness. She is the co-founder of Blank Slate Chronicles and a struggling domestic apprentice, not to mention a loving (yet inadequately skilled) mother to a toddler.

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Anumita Ghosh

Anumita believes her calling has to do with the written words. She loves to write and read, and has recently given up a(n) (almost) rocking career in the Corporate to pursue her passion. Yes, she is slightly off her rocker, but then the society has been largely accepting of her madness. She is the co-founder of Blank Slate Chronicles and a struggling domestic apprentice, not to mention a loving (yet inadequately skilled) mother to a toddler.

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