Thursday, February 5, 2015

Brittania & Co. Puts Mumbai on a Plate

Considering how long it's taken Charlie and I to come to terms with our feelings about India after spending three months there this past summer, I find myself wishing I had another chance to explore Mumbai surprisingly often. We had about three days in the city and it was just enough time to get an idea how the city works (with immense amounts of calculated disorder), but certainly not enough time to see everything I would have wanted to. Every street was a street I could spend an hour taking photos of and every person had a fascinating story.
I also didn't spend any time reading about Mumbai before we got there (rookie mistake), so when our wonderful mother and daughter AirBnb hostesses were happy to share suggestions and even take us on a tour, I was definitely grateful to have a local point of view. The city is huge! And so full of different communities and cultures. We went from the pitch-black alleyways of a sprawling slum to the top of the Four Seasons Hotel in just a few hours, and similar striking disparities were on display in every corner of the city. We ate street food and watched while rich Mumbaikers trusted their kids to reckless pony handlers at a nightly makeshift parking lot carnival where safety was not a concern. Mumbai is really a remarkable place. It's one of my favorite places in India.
One place that I'm fairly certain that Charlie and I would have ended up at even if we didn't have local advice is guidebook favorite Brittania & Co. The cafe sits in the grandiose, peaceful and green Ballard Estate area of south Mumbai, and was opened in 1923 by an Iranian Zoroastrian immigrant as a place for fellow Persian-transplants to meet and get a taste of home. Iranian cafes once had a larger presence in Mumbai, but today, Brittania & Co. is part of a dying breed. It's run by the original founder's son – the 90-something-year-old Boman Kohinoor – who, despite being born in the same year the cafe opened, can still be found scrawling down orders and making small talk with the business-y lunch crowd on a daily basis. Eating lunch in this once-grand, now dilapidated dining room is like stepping back in time. It's an experience. 
The most popular order here is the mutton berry pulao, and it's a thing of well-deserved legend. The classic Iranian dish is lent an Indian biryani form at Brittania – a plate arrives quickly with a mound of colored rice concealing tender, saucy goat (mutton is almost always goat in India) and topped by plenty of dried berries, onions that seem candied and two meatballs. When mixed together, the combination is sweet, savory, fragrant and ridiculously filling. Get a raspberry soda to match, and settle in for some serious people watching. The bow-tie-wearing waiters are friendly, the room fascinating and the food delicious – the restaurant serves as a great example of the diversity that defines the city that's known as the "gateway of India". Brittania & Co. is one of Mumbai's sole surviving Parsi cafes for good reason.

Brittania & Co.: Wakefield House 11 Sprott Road, Ballard Estate, Mumbai


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