"There is one secret that even the American security forces will not be able to decode," said Boman Kohinoor, 90, owner of Britannia and Company Restaurant at Ballard Estate. "That is the secret recipe of our signature dish, berry pulao."
A few weeks ago, when the US ambassador to India, Peter Burleigh, visited the restaurant for lunch, he tried to talk Kohinoor into sharing the recipe of the Barberry Rice delicacy that, in August, will complete 30 years of being served at the quaint restaurant. Kohinoor retorted: "I will reveal it to you only if you share the recipe of Coca Cola."
The closely-held family secret was introduced in the kitchen of the 89-year-old establishment by Kohinoor's wife, Bachan, in August 1982. Thirty years later, it continues to draw huge crowds every afternoon.
"Back then, the dish made of soft fluffy rice, tender meat or chicken and imported Irani zeereshk berries was priced at Rs 45 a plate," Kohinoor reminisced. "My wife tried out her own version of the Persian zeereshk pulao in our restaurant kitchen, which soon became the high point of our Parsi food menu," he said, adding that owing to inflation, the price of the mutton berry pulao has risen to Rs 350 a plate today. The restaurant also offers a vegetarian version of the pulao on its menu.
Seated on an imported Polish chair with a table swathed in a red checked cloth, Firoza Mistree, 50, has been frequenting the restaurant from 1982. "One of the first few Parsi dishes I tasted in Mumbai was the Berry Pulao at Britannia. Over the past three decades, though the cost of the pulao has increased, the taste has remained the same," said Mistree, who ensures all her foreign guests visit the restaurant to savour the barberry rice delicacy. "Even today, I stand for more than 20 minutes outside the restaurant, waiting for a table," she said.
For food blogger Rushina Ghildiyal, the experience of relishing the berry pulao is more appealing than actually eating it. "It has become a part of every food lover's list of dishes to be tasted in the city. The berries on the steamed rice also have medicinal properties, working as a digestive," she said.
Though the dish has become synonymous with Britannia and Company Restaurant, the 13-year-old Parsi restaurant, Jimmy Boy, at Fort, has also included it on its menu. "Berry Pulao is one of the most popular dishes on our menu. We prepare our own version of the Persian dish with imported berries from Iran," said Sherzad Irani, manager of the restaurant. "We have had customers pack and carry the dish for relatives in Delhi and Kolkata," he said.