The Dadar Parsi Trail. The tale of a friendly neighbourhood Irani cafe & local home chefs...Cafe Colony, Zinobia Schroff

The mixed marriage menu

It is a complete coincidence that my last couple of posts, including this one, have focused on Parsi food

I was in the middle of writing this post, when the Nowroz Baug event came up, and after coming home I felt that I HAD to write about that first. Goes to show how much the Parsi way of life has become a part of mine too thanks to my marrying a Bawi. 

At least from a food point of view!

The three pictures below sum up our relation in a way. Let me explain how, through the captions below them.

This is in memory of the omelette I had years back
at Cafe Colony in Dadar while dating a Parsi girl who lived nearby
Today her mother is my mother in law & makes me similar omelettes or poro at home

This is 'chalk' which Parsis put outside their house as a sign of auspiciousness
On the day of my marriage, I had put it too, with chalk given by my to be MIL
Before I headed to the family court for the wedding
Fifteen years after our mixed marriage, the Parsi dhansak is as much
a Sunday comfort meal to me as the Bengali murgir jhol bhaat
Memories of a Dadar romance

I was quite full, when I walked into Café Colony in Dadar a couple of weeks back. I had reached there after a day spent eating across Mumbai and we had more food to cover.

I was with the Bombay Street Food Restaurant team from Toronto and we were on a Finely Chopped Food Trail of Mumbai. The plan was to have a kheema pav at Cafe Colony and get a feel of the place and then move on. 

We did have the kheema there and enjoyed it and were then ready to leave. Then I decided to order an omelette even though everyone said they didn’t want one as they were satiated. 

There was a reason behind why I did so.

Dadar was also where my first office in Mumbai was located
The mushy tale of an omelette

I had actually ordered the omelette in memory of my first visit to Cafe Colony which was about 16 years back when I was dating a girl from the neighbourhood.

I had gone to meet her that day as our office was shut as there was some sort of strike going on. A bakery strike too I think and there was no bread available in the shops of Mumbai. I got my PG aunty to pack some alu parathas which I took for my Dadar chi Bawi and her mother. I didn’t go up to her place though as I wasn’t formally introduced to the family then. 

I was a bit hungry so the two of us, the girl and not her mother that is, went to a nearby Irani café. We had omelettes and chapattis if memory serves me right. I don’t remember much about the omelette to be honest.

We got married soon after. The evening of our marriage, I made an omelette for the new bride who was feeling hungry.

These days her mother, now my mother in law, comes to visit us on weekends and makes me omelettes for breakfasts on Monday mornings. 

Since then I have learnt that Parsis call these masala omelettes 'poro'. 

Reliving my omelette romance memories
at Cafe Colony, January 2017

My mom in law makes the poro with egg white for me now and with tomatoes too. She skips the tomatoes herself and makes and on omelette with the unused yolks after she makes mine! She still likes alu parathas and our cook, Banu makes them for her, though she fondly remembers the parathas from my PG too.

With my mother in law and K at the start of the Dadar Parsi Trail
at SodaBottleOpenerWala, BKC, where we launched
 the cover of my book, The Travelling belly
My Cafe Colony story 

I never went back to that café after our first visit 16 years back till I did so a month back. It's name, as I recently found out, is Cafe Colony.

Cafe Colony is not really a famous or iconic Irani Café unlike the Kyanis and Yazdanis or Britannias and Sassanians of the world. I would be really surprised if you don't live in Dadar East and yet know of the place.

The Dadar Parsi Trail for SodaBottleOpenerWala

I went back to Cafe Colony after all these years when I got the opportunity to conduct a Parsi food trail for SodaBottleOpenerWala. 

I chose Dadar for the trail as that is an area less frequented by Parsi food lovers. Which is not surprising as there are hardly any Parsi restaurants there. I also zeroed in on  Dadar because of the associations I have with the place through marriage.

I went in to do a recce at Cafe Colony and first met Mr Aga’s daughter and finally (!) noted the name of the place. I have made two visits to Cafe Colony since then. One for the SodaBottleOpenerWala trail and one for the Finely Chopped Trail for Bombay Street Food.

Cafe Colony, Dadar East. Opposite Parsi Dairy 

Though not a big name in Mumbai, I discovered that Cafe Colony is quite the neighbourhood favourite. It was packed with customers every time I went there. 

My mom in law goes ever evening to Cafe Colony to pick pav on her way back from her yoga class. She buys eggs from there too. She examines each egg for cracks before taking them home. 

Café Colony is built on the format of the Irani cafes of yore which were provision stores where you would get food too. There are very few such places left in Mumbai. One that I have seen is Regal at Byculla.

Cafe Colony has a bit of an ‘untidy’ (read 'messy and unorganised' and not dirty) look inside. That probably reflects the granny’s kitchen vibe and warmth that Café Colony gives. It is not air-conditioned, has not toilets. It doesn't feel hot inside thoug. The atmosphere is languid and peaceful and rather welcoming.

Is Cafe Colony an Irani Cafe?

Technically Cafe Colony might not even be an ‘Irani café!’ The current owners are Muslim and not Zoroastrian. I haven’t been able to ascertain whether they trace their roots to Iran. The elderly gentleman who owns the cafe, Mr Aga, says they do. I am not sure if he understood my question. Moreover, they don’t sell any ‘Parsi food’ here as his son Mirza told me.

The current owner of Cafe Colony, Mr Aga,
 and his son Mirza (in orange) who has shaved his head since then

However, there are enough reasons to call Cafe Colony an 'Irani' cafe. From what I gathered from Mr Aga and his son Mirza, the café was opened 84 years back by a Zoroastrian Irani. Mr Aga took bought the cafe about 50 years back and he runs it with his family today. His daughters stand at the counter and manage the show in the evenings. Mr Aga is often there at the shop himself as is his son Mirza. It's a family run outlet and as mom and pop as it gets.

The Cafe Colony bill of fare
The Irani cafe menu at Cafe Colony

They serve kheema, kheema ghotala (egg scrambled into mince meat curry), akoori and omelettes, which are typical of traditional Irani café menus, at Cafe Colony. As do they serve chai (with and without milk), bun maska and mava cakes from Irani bakeries. They sometimes sprinkle in sugar into the bun maska which brings back memory of times gone past to many. The best way to have this is to dip it into the hot and sweet and milky chai and then to nibble on it like a happy bunny.

Bun maska and chai...
The classic Irani cafe menu

They serve dishes such chicken curry, with a quite an intense and hot and spicy Mughlai restaurant-like gravy, and on Fridays, biryani too. The chicken pieces in the curry, if you get a leg piece, can be very very juicy. If not, just focus on the gravy.

Chicken curry and kheema ghotala

The kheema at Café Colony makes for quite a hearty dish specially when mopped up with soft pav. The curry is high on garam masala, though not too much on chilli heat (by Indian standards), and the quality of the meat (goat or mutton) seems pretty good. 

I must stress that the dish is not smelly as I have seen it to be in some of the iconic kheema places in Mumbai. The kheema at Cafe Colony gives a lot of pleasure for sure.

Kheema pav

The omelette, the memories of which is what actually brought me back to the cafe after all these years, turned out to be one of the best I have had in restaurants in Mumbai. It was served hot on the table. Was seasoned perfectly. Was made flat, which as Amreen of Bombay Street Food pointed out, is how we Indians have grown up eating omelettes. Not the fluffy and spongy omelettes of modern western cafes in Mumbai that rarely excite me. 

The omelette at Cafe Colony was so good that I finished it off with the pav, even though I was not hungry, while I told my table mates the story of the my Dadar romance.

Kheema and omelette pav. The essential Irani cafe menu

When I put up pictures of Mr Aga on Facebook, Kunal Dhume, a chef friend of mine from Melbourne wrote in saying that he used to come here as a kid as his grandparents lived close by. Apparently ‘Aga uncle’ used to give him, and all kids who would come to the shop, toffees with their change. On my second visit, I reminded Aga uncle of the same and he gave me a Melody toffee too along with a big smile. Once again breaking the myth of Irani cafe owners being grumpy curmudgeons. 

Amreen and Seema Omar of Bombay Street Food
With Mr Aga of Cafe Colony who had a toffee for me

The Beauty of Dadar Parsi Colony

There are some lovely buildings at the Dadar Parsi Colony
Cafe Colony takes its name from the Dadar Parsi Colony which is on the other side of the road and is around the Five Gardens area. Unlike other Parsi Colonies, it is not a gated community. The buildings and bungalows here are really pretty. 

To get good Parsi food at Parsi Colony, you need to get invited to the houses of one of the many Parsis who live there as there are hardly and restaurants around as there are no proper Parsi restaurants there.

There are a few small takeaway places for Parsi food at 5 Gardens such as Parvez Hall and RTI where you get Parsi dishes made by elderly ladies who make some income through the Parsi trusts. The supply here could be a bit irregular and there’s no seating at either. There’s the tiny Café 792 where you might get dishes made by the legendary Parsi wedding caterer, Tanaz Godiwala, during the wedding season but you need to order these in advance. They sell some Parsi dishes made in house at Cafe 792 through the year and the menu changes daily. Close by is also the base of new gen Parsi caterer, Perzen Patel, and you can get her stuff through delivery apps such as Scootsy.

With Zenobia Schroff (partly hidden beside me in the white top)
and her friends and fans during the Dadar Parsi Trail
Meet Zinobia Schroff

For the SodaBottleOpnerWala Dadar Parsi Trail we went to a house in the Dadar Parsi Colony. We had got Zinobia Schroff, a gifted pickle, jam and squash maker and Parsi caterer and food consultant to cook for us and hosted the meal there. She's a Parsi who came to Mumbai from Nagpur years back. Worked in the fashion industry initially and in hotels too and then through the dint of her own hard work and enterprise and love for food, manage to carve out a career in food and became a 'home chef' well before the term was invented.

Zen made a Sunday special dhansak with kewabs, both chicken and vegetarian and a festive dessert called ravo (suji halwa) for our lunch that afternoon.

Best Parsi chicken kewabs that I have ever had

It is tough to make good chicken kebabs but Zinobia made us some of the best I’ve ever had. Her dhansak that afternoon was a lot less thinner in consistency than the average dhansak but was still pretty flavourful and possibly more attuned to the urban sedentary lifestyle of today than the heavier ones. The vegetable dhansak was delicious too and was full of winter vegetables. I took some back for my mother in law who is an eggetarian now and she loved the dhansak while K liked the chicken one and tripped on the kewabs. Zinobia herself is moving towards a more vegetarian and healthy diet and the dishes she cooked reflected that without compromising on taste.

Dhansak and kewabs by Zenobia Schroff,
the Parsi recipe for Sunday afternoon happiness

I’ve been tripping on the garab nu achar (pickle made with hilsa roe) and lemon ginger squash that I bought from Zenobia to take home.

Dadar, my shoshur baarir para (in law's suburb)

Some people asked me why I did the Parsi food trail at Dadar. There are hardly any commercial eating outlets of note there after all.

Which is very true. Dadar is no Fort or Byculla for sure when it comes to Irani restaurants or Parsi food.

But then it is the Parsis of Dadar that welcomed me to their fold and it is thanks to them that Mumbai became my home. 

It’s rather personal you see.

My mother in law explains to the folks at SodaBottleOpenerWala
How she makes poros for me

Zenobia Schroff's phone no: 9869914472

Post on Nowroz Baug Cooking Competition

Picture stories

The Dadar Parsi Trail starts at SodaBottleOpenerWala

Started the day with some hearty poro

With Harshad Rajadhyaksha who designed the cover of my book
And Kainaz who named it, at SBOW

Mohit Balachandran, AKA Chowder Singh, my friend
and director of SBOW who invited me to do the trails

On the Dadar Parsi Trail
Cafe Colony on the Dadar Parsi Trail
Cafe Colony during the Dadar Parsi Trail

The men get down to business at Cafe Colony
Parsi Dairy Farm on the Dadar Parsi Trail
Opposite Cafe Colony is the Parsi Dairy Farm
Mohit told us about how they source koolfis for SOBW all over India
from Parsi Dairy
Lassi at Parsi Dairy farm
Intensely sweet, refreshing once you get past that

Parsi Dairy toffees

The Parsi Dairy koolfi which my late father in law loved
At Zinobia Schroff's on the Dadar Parsi Trail

Refreshing lemon ginger drinks

Vegetable kawabs
Bawa kewab, son of Bawi Bride Perzen Patel
Youngest person to come to a Finely Chopped Walk

Vegetarian dhansak
Zinobia goes through the Irani restaurant chapter
in my book, The Travelling Belly

At the end of the Dadar Parsi Trail
Cafe Colony with the Bombay Street Food team
The kheema was worth travelling to India for said Seema

With the Seema and Amreen Omar and the
Bombay Street Food team at Cafe Colony

Cafe Colony is quite the neighbourhood favourite
That's tea being made in the background
Here are a few posts from folks who joined us on the Dadar Parsi Trail:

1. Bombay Glutton
2. Delectable Reveries