A few years ago, I had the pleasure of writing a FOB (front of the book) “feature” on the legendary Parsi eatery Britannia & Co. for Saveur magazine. At the time, I was living in Bombay, India, and had frequented Britannia enough to know that it deserved to be written about – if not by me, then by someone. Well, lucky for me, Saveur agreed.
And actually, this is kind of a meta moment, because I practically started this very blog when I moved there.
At any rate, I wrote the piece. It was published. Yadda yadda yadda…I didn’t really think too much about the piece again, though I did keep a PDF of the tearsheets. Fast forward to a few months ago, when I “overheard” @wildjunket on Twitter talking about Britannia’s chicken berry pulao – Britannia’s signature dish. I replied to Nellie saying that I once wrote a piece about the place and she said, “Uncle just showed me the article!” I was floored.
Well, that prompted me to do some more digging, to see if other people had commented on Britannia & Co. and/or my article. Lo and behold, Mumbaikar Aarti Badamikar of the blog Aarti & Design wrote her own review of Britannia, which included an entire verbatim excerpt of my article. Normally I wouldn’t take a shine to such things, but I was happy to find a Bombay-ite had liked my article enough to reprint it. And, well, I am using one of Aarti’s photos from Britannia in exchange. Okay, Aarti? 🙂
So, without further ado, here is a reprint of my Saveur article. Hope you enjoy it and hope it inspires you to travel to Mumbai to sample all of its wonderful culture and food.
Rule Britannia! Iran Meets India in the heart of Mumbai by Melanie Mize Renzulli Saveur June/July 2006
Office workers enter Mumbai’s Britannia and Co. in packs as if they were tigers converging on a fresh kill. Plates of food arrive in heaps within “ten minutes”- a span of time that is both part of a mission statement and a feat of efficiency matched only by the efforts of the city’s roadside snack vendors. One of a dying breed of eateries called Irani cafes- for the homeland from which the Zoroastrians of India fled- Britannia has been a fixture in Mumbai’s Ballard Estate district since 1923, when, after signing a 99 year old lease, Rashid Kohinoor opened his doors to British officers who were stationed in what was then called Bombay.
It is doubtful that the décor has changed much since. Open only for lunch, Britannia is lit mostly by the tree-filtered afternoon sun and cooled by a battalion of fans mounted high above the customers, who sit in imported Polish chairs and dine at tables swathed in red-checkered cloths. Kohinoor’s son and the current Boman, is the place’s most prominent fixture, usually stationed near the entrance manning the diner’s hulking, old cash counter or eating with his brother or son at one of the back tables.
The junior Kohinoor admits that, in colonial times, Britannia served “bland food” in order to appeal to unadventurous taste buds. During World War II, the Brits even occupied the restaurant, turning it into a military headquarters before returning it to the elder Kohinoor’s brother in 1947. When the Kohinoor family decided to return to Iran in 1970s, they sublet the space to another restaurateur, but they came back to India after the fall of Shah in 1979. They reopened the establishment in 1982, and since then the Britannia menu has been a showcase of such Parsi fare as dhansak, a mutton and dal stew; sali boti (mutton) or sali chicken cooked in sweet gravy and topped with crisp sticks of potatoes; and the beloved berry pulav, Britannia’s signature dish. Introduced to the restaurant by Boman Kohinoor’s late wife, Bachan (Boman and Bachan’s son Romin now mans the stove), after they returned from Iran, it is an adaptation of the Persian zereshk polow; her version consists of rice pilaf piled on saucy stewed chicken, mutton or vegetables and garnished with fried cashews, crisp onions and zereshk, a dried currantlike berry, which the Kohinoor’s still import from Iran. The exact recipe for the pulav remains a highly guarded family secret.
Britannia’s slogan, printed on all the menus and napkins, is THERE IS NO LOVE GREATER THAN THE LOVE OF EATING. One can only hope that when the restaurant’s lease expires in 2022, the next generations of Kohinoors will keep that in mind and continue to give Mumbai a taste of Parsi goodness.
I’ve been tagged by Robin Locker at My Mélange to provide my three best travel secrets. She actually tagged me on my Italofile.com site. But I had so many good secrets beyond Italy that I wanted to share my top three non-Italy secrets here. To see the Italy list, head over to Italofile. Have a look at both of them!
Of course, it’s not fair to really call these “secrets,” as there are plenty of other people who have gone before me and recommended the same places. So, just consider these as my current favorites among a bucket-load of tips.
Three Best Travel Secrets
Lycian Coast, Turkey The Lycian Coast of Turkey is awash in tourists, especially from Europe and particularly from the U.K. But Turkey, in general, has yet to take off as a destination for Americans, which is why I’m including it on my list. This ancient coast is the Mediterranean of my dreams, with dramatic cliff-framed beaches (the beach above is Kaputa? Beach) and ruins from ancient Greeks, Romans, and Lycians (an ancient tribe particular to this region) strewn about. In the off-season, from about October to April when it’s not blazing hot, you can hike the Lycian Way, a 500km trail from Fethiye to Antalya. For a beach holiday, consider staying in Ka? which has a lively, walkable downtown with bars, fish and meze restaurants, and organic textile boutiques.
Kerala, India One of the most memorable trips I’ve ever taken was aboard a houseboat, adrift in the backwaters of Kerala, one of India’s most southernmost states. I wrote about my backwater trip at length way back in 2004 and, re-reading my posts from that time still give me blissful memories. If you are fortunate to go to India and have time to make it to the south, do not miss the opportunity to ride aboard a kettuvalam (rice boat). I’m sure that with 3G networks these days, you can take this trip without unplugging from your phone and internet. But here is a chance to disconnect completely, with only books and scheduled meals to interrupt your quiet contemplation.
Apalachicola, Florida When I started writing this list, I didn’t intend to have all beachy destinations. But so be it. Apalachicola is yet another place I have written about on this blog in a two-parter titled Long Weekend in Apalachicola Part 1 and Part 2. If you read those posts, you’ll see that this lazy beach town gets me back to my southern roots. Apalachicola is also part of what’s called Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” because it’s largely undeveloped, in that it is lacking in the over-the-top, on-the-beach high-rise resorts that characterize much of Florida’s shoreline. Apalachicola is also the Oyster Capital of the United States, so you can get the fattest, freshest oysters here, either on the half-shell or fried up for a po-boy.
So there’s my non-Italy list. I’m not going to tag a whole bunch of people like I did for my Italy list, but I will give props to Katie at Tripbase, who started this whole meme. It’s been fun!
If you’ve enjoyed reading my tips and decide you want to dream up your own list, tag me. I’d love to read what others have to say.