I remember first going to Jimmy Boy in the early 2000s.
We walked in nervously as the place seemed fairly posh that evening more than a decade back.
We used to eat out every night then and looked out for places that wouldn’t completely denude one’s fast depleting savings. The joy of beginning to earn soon getting lost in the reality of paying for rent and buying ones own toothpaste.
A waiter came to our table that evening, looked at us kindly and suggested that we could share a laganu bhonu (Parsi wedding meal) combination with a serving of extra rotis between the two of us.
Suddenly the world seemed a lot rosier and a weight was off our backs.
We had many meals at Jimmy Boy after that. Such a good deal for a couple of hungry souls with the metabolism of an age where you don’t really think twice about blood tests and weight gains. Parsi new year happened at Jimmy Boy. Introduction to others in the family to Parsi food happened there too. And for office mates.
And then our visits to Jimmy Boy stopped.
In fact I don't know of anyone who went there of late except the odd out of towner.
Jimmy Boy doesn’t really feature today amongst Britannia, Ideal Corner, Paradise, Excelsior, Mocambo or Cafe Military…the last of the remaining few Irani cafes in town. In fact barring Britannia, you would only hear of people who have their ears to the ground, and love Parsi food speak, of any of the others in the list.
Recently I did hear people speak of Jimmy Boy’s a bit and I thought that I must head back there once again…if nothing else to rekindle old memories.
So that’s we did this Sunday evening. Drove down to Jimmy Boy. For Jimmy Boy’s is one of the few Irani Cafes that are open both at night and on Sundays too.
We reached Jimmy Boy and got off on the rain soaked dark lanes on a rare wet evening in Mumbai’s rather dry monsoon so far.
We stepped into Jimmy Boy and something looked different. It was the same place with high ceilings.
Looked a bit Spartan and bare though and not as intimidating as it did a decade or so back.
Was it memory playing a trick on us? Or years of collecting new experiences which made the then marvellous seem mundane now?
Well the walls looked bare and bright and they definitely looked warmer and grander then. Then we realised that to start with, Jimmy Boy’s was no longer air-conditioned. They had sealed the upper section with glass windows and made that air conditioned while the section downstairs was non air-conditioned and lit with bright white lights. Our memories of Jimmy Boy were lit by mellower and classier yellow lights…the passage of time…can’t say for sure.
We decided to head for the aircon section upstairs, largely empty but for two tables. Seemed to be a bit more alive downstairs and there were 2 or 3 Parsi families too eating there. Upstairs was cooler, pricier and a tad musty.
We sat down and on cue 'strangers in the night' began to play on cue and the usual suspect in a Parsi wedding playlist followed...Madonna, Bryan Adams, Spice Girls, Wham
The manager came and took our order. We went for a laganu bhonu or the wedding set meal. Some items fixed and the others you can choose for. Gives you a good idea of Parsi festival dishes.
If familiar with the bhonu, you could skip these and go for the dhansak. Never a part of festive occasions given its funeral associations. Or dishes such as dhun daar patio (daal and prawn pickle) or the various eedu (egg) dishes. The Parsis add eggs to everything, even eggs.
We tried the bharoochi akoori which I saw Kunal have on The Foodie. The waiters kept referring to it as ‘burji’ or the Indian masala scrambled egg. The akoori or the Parsi version of scrambled eggs had a lovely soft texture at Jimmy Boy’s. The garam masala gave it a slight curried flavour. Odd bites of green chillies, onions and tomatoes…combined well with rotli …Parsi for roti with some ghee on them. The ones at Jimmy Boy smaller than usual and less ghee soaked. A dish that settled happily in one’s tummy and I packed the rest for breakfast.
Here’s what our laganu bhonu consisted of.
The traditional saariya (sago papad) and sweet carrot (unfortunately sans dry fruits and raisins here) laganu achar. Used to love these in the pre cholesterol worry days.
It was served in traditional Parsi wedding style on a banana leaf on a plate. The person sharing gets just a plate.
Next came the saas ni machhi which I chose over the more popular and common patrani (banana steamed coriander chutney fish) machhi. Rockstar Parsi wedding caterer, Tanaz Godiwala, does a wonderful rendition of this and Jimmy Boy’s didn’t disappoint either.
Saas stands for sauce and the dish consists of the Parsi favourite fish of pomfret served in a flour thickened sauce. The one at Jimmy Boy’s an alluring mixture of sweet and tart…you’d get occasional rivulets of the flavour of curry leaves and the odd enticing bite of fried finely chopped green chillies cutting the sweet. The fish, in the best tradition of restaurants in Mumbai, completely devoid of taste and flavour but on the positive side had a reasonably juicy texture.
The Parsis eat fish with rotis. Something Bengalis, Goans or Keralites can’t think of.
We need our rice.
Next was sali chicken which I chose over chicken farcha, Parsi for Kentucky Fried Chicken.
The gravy of the sali chicken was spicy, had an intriguing smoky flavour with a slight twinge of sweetness. A much better balance than the excessively sweet jardaloo (fig) sali chicken curries. To this one combined the sali (potato straws).
The solitary piece of chicken breast tighter than a giggly Parsi granny after she has made a number of trips to the bar in a Parsi wedding.
I missed the succulent bits of chicken that the folks at Dalal Enterprises put in their sali chicken.
Next on was the mutton pulao daal. Lovely long grained rice in the pulao with just the right balance of masala. The pieces of mutton succulent and one fried potato and one kebab bringing up the numbers. You married this with the nice and spicy dhansak daal that came with it. And of course some kachumbar or salad on the side with a twist of lime added to the daal.
The difference with dhansak is that that the meat comes in the daal there and the rice is plain caramelised rice. In the pulao daal, the meat is put in the biryani like rice while the daal is sans meat.
For desserts one could choose a laganu custard or a culfi. I remembered that we weren’t too fond of the custard at JB so I went for the culfi which was a nice happy ending to the meal
Not before the waiter came with a jug of water and liquid soap for you to wash your hands on the table in true Parsi wedding style. A gentleman who served us with the same stoic expressure through the dinner. Even when he had to pose for a while for a DSLR'd photograph.
The price of the bhonu Rs 680 today versus about 250ish those days if memory serves one right. The quality and standards fine if you don’t have access to Parsi weddings, and military medium, to use a cricketing idiom, otherwise. The food overall looks fairly expensive if you ask me. Britannia levels perhaps.
Jimmy Boy, I learnt was set up as Cafe India in the 1920s. It became Jimmy Boy’s in 1999 just before I first went there. It’s owned by the same family that founded it. Jimmy Boy was possibly an attempt to contemporarise with time.
Not an easy task given that very few Parsi options remain today.
Remember that when you eat at a place like Jimmy Boy, you are lucky enough to savour a bite of Mumbai’s history.
The best way to understand the city.
Try going there at night. Chances are that the lanes would be empty as the crowds would have left Bombay and headed to Mumbai. Wander around after dinner. Past the grand buildings near Horniman Circle. The rim of buidlings by it. Listen to the stories that play out on the canvas of empty streets under the lights of the stone mansions around.
If you are the sort who loves listening to stories when you eat then the expereince of a dinner at Jimmy Boy followed by a walk in the lanes around it is nonpareil.
The picture below from Jimmy Boy is of the story of the Parsis who arrived in India and promised the king of Gujarat that they would blend in like sugar in a bowl of milk. Luckily the king wasn't a diabetes patient.
This is a picture of the Parsi prophets which most Parsi homes and business establishments would have.
This is Jimmy Boy on Google Maps. It’s on Horniman Circle near Fort