Located in the Fort area of South Mumbai, Ideal Corner Restaurant has been a favourite with city's Parsi community for over 25 years now. A ration shop during the British era, the restaurant has been serving authentic Parsi food exclusively and is considered to be one of the finest in Mumbai.
However, it's journey into making delicious food started on two wheels. It's owner, Parvez, told me all about its history when we met recently over lunch and discussed everything from Parsi food, culture, clothes and more.
"I am a bike freak and have always been in love with riding bikes. Way back in the 1970s, this place used to be a retail and servicing outlet for Ideal Java India Pvt. Ltd., an iconic bike company during those days, which later became Yezdi. Once the bike business went down, I decided to move into something new and so this restaurant was born."
Why is it called Ideal corner?
"Well, that's a very interesting story as well. It's called ideal as the original motorbike company used to be known as Ideal Java India Pvt. Ltd. Corner came from the fact that it's located right at the corner, just like many Parsi shops from that era. Now, Hindus considered corners as inauspicious and didn't want such shops and so they were cheaper. Parsis saw an opportunity there and bought them for business."
Just as we were chatting food started coming in. We started with Akhuri - which is anda bhurji, but not quite. There were two versions and we decided to try them both - the regular one with resins etc and the spicy one. I loved them both :)
Another integral ingredient of a Parsi meal is flavoured soda, and two companies which excel at it are Pestonjee and Duke, though the latter is almost gone from the market after Coca Cola takeover a few years back. I took the most typical one - ice-cream soda and drinking it literally felt like drinking ice-cream. I strongly recommend it with every Parsi meal :) Sadly Parsi soda is longer served in those iconic glass bottles, and plastic has replaced them. Kind of end of an era...
Next on our table was Sali chicken which was served with bun. Now Sali chicken is gravy chicken with crispy fries. The oohs and aahs on the table told me that it was excellent, but since I do not eat chicken, i just looked at them and waited for my food.
Luckily for me, I do eat fish and was very excited when Patra ni Machchi was served next. It's one of the most iconic Parsi dish and a treat to the senses. It's basically Pomfret cooked in banana leaf with a very special chatni, which is a bit sweet in taste. Interested in making at home? Here is a great recipe on BawaBride.
I was so intrigued by the fish that I completely forgot to take any pictures at all! The fish is literally unveiled by the diner with hands and so be prepared to get your hands immersed in the fish and chutney when you eat, but that's the whole dun of it as well :)
Next was Chicken Pulao and daal, which is again skipped. And finally it was time for desserts and we had the special Lagan nu custard. The name says it all and this was traditionally eaten at the weddings and it's actually quite rich. I have a major sweet tooth, but was a bit disappointed by it. It wasn't bad, but somehow I was hoping for something out of this world at the end of the meal.
It was raining heavily and we decided to head back quickly before the roads flooded. People were already talking about keeping extra stocks in case Mumbai gets flooded, and I didn't want to be stuck out in the open. Eventually, though, the rains subsided and I could go out again in the evening.
Ideal Corner Restaurant
12 F/G, Hornby View, Gunbow Street,
Lunch - 12 noon to 4pm
Dinner - 7pm to 10.45pm (started dinner recently - six months back)
Keep a budget of about Rs 450-500 for two people.
Special meals during the week:
The restaurant serves special Parsi food items on different days of the week and it's good to know that before you plan your visit.
Monday - closed
Dhun Daar patio - steam rice served with yellow dal and tomato tangy gravy fish
Railway mutton - mutton cooked with dried spices served with potato cubes. Age old recipe when rail was the main means of travel.
Roast chicken with potato - quarter chicken roasted with brown sauce and potato
Chicken Biryani Dal - tender chicken spiced and topped with long grain rice
Masoor Gosh - Full masoor with skin cooked hand pounded masala with mutton
masoor - Full masoor with skin cooked hand pounded with masala
Chicken and cheese patty - Shredded chicken and cheese mixed with finely chopped chillies and fried in egg batter
Papeta Gosh - cubes of mutton and potatoes cooked together snad spiced
Jardaloo Salli Chicken - Quarter chocken cooked with apricots
Pulav Dal - Choice of meat cooked with fragrant rice in aromatic light gravy and served with lentils
Khichdi Saas Papad - Fish stock cooked with rice flourm eggs, flavoured with cumin and garlic served with yellow rice and papad
The next day I bumped into Antoine Lewis, the curly-haired Food and Wine expert of Mumbai and decided to tickle his mind a bit about how Mumbai's Parsi food was evolving.
"Parsi food was the original Fusion food of India. So you take food with Iranian food, and add to that a bit of Gujarati, Portuguese, Konkani and English influences and you have the Parsi food. Parsis were basically traders and also went beyond India to China for Opium trade during the British era, so you will also see influences from Chinese, and also Malay food.
Now Parsi restaurants are primarily located in South Mumbai, especially in the Fort area, though they are in itself a rather new phenomena. Actually at the turn of 20th century, Iranian restaurants started opening in Mumbai and they are meant to give a flavor of Iranian food to everyone. On the other hand when the Parsi restaurants came up later, they still catered to the Parsi employees of the big business houses in the area. Later, of course, they became a darling to everyone who loved good food and still co-exist with the traditional Iranian food joints as well."
How has the food evolved over the years?
"The recipes have not changed much in all these years. The food is anyway already very Indianised - the spices are Indian, the vegetables are Indian. Though Parsis eat both pork and beef, no traditional Parsi dish has these and this made sure that none of the major communities (Hindus and Muslims) were offended."
What I found most intriguing was the fact that though Parsi food evolved into what it is by fusion with Indian food, now there is much less inclination to change more and evolve further. The food is now considered traditional and much value is given to keep it pure and as it is.
In any case, I am a big fan of Parsi and hope to explore many more such wonderful joints in near future. And of course, I will bring stories here as well :)