The first new Iranian cafe in Mumbai, in over 50 years, Café Irani Chaii, is set to open its doors to customers on Independence Day (August 15). Situated in Mahim, the café is owned by Mansoor Showghi Yezdi, a Mumbai-based film-maker, who has been planning the restaurant for over a decade.
With this 370 sq. ft space, Yezdi is hoping to strengthen the Indo-Iranian ties that gave his family a home in Mumbai many years ago. “The Iranian culture has found a very hospitable home in Hindustan (India),” he says, adding, “But the culture of Iranian cafés is dying. With our café, I want to revive it.” In fact, this spirit of Indo-Iranian bonhomie is reflected in the name, he says. “We have spelt it as ‘Chaii’ because of India and Iran being symbolically linked together,” he says. Yezdi also hopes to open similar cafés in Pune and Hyderabad.
The café will serve the classics that Mumbaiites already love — Bun Maska, Akura, Berry Pulao, and hot cups of tea. They will also offer some new items. “Seenee kebabs are a type of slow-cooked kebabs that are an Iranian staple, and they are not served anywhere in the city,” says Yezdi’s son, Mohammed Hussain, 31, who is working on the café full-time. “We’ll also serve the Somag spice, a flavouring used in Persian cooking, which, again, is not available in the city.”
Yezdi is making sure the café retains that classic look as well. The furniture, such as the bentwood chairs, has been sourced from friends, family and Chor Bazaar. Other items such as ornate tea kettles, have been sourced from Iran. “Every Sunday morning, I will wear my grandfather’s clothes, and enact the old ways in which an Iranian café used to function,” he says. Besides this, the café will offer a 10% discount to anyone ‘in uniform’, including school children, and police, army and navy personnel.
The 58-year-old film-maker reveals that the idea for this café, or the concept of selling chai, dates back to 1890. “That was the year that my grandfather came to Mumbai from the Yazd province in Iran. He was a 10-year-old boy then,” he says, adding, “The family only had a few rupees to their name. My grandfather fashioned a type of sigdi that could be used as a tea kettle. He would walk the length of the road, from Radio Club to the Gateway of India, selling tea. Then he would sleep on the pavement at night.”