A LITTLE CORNER OF PARSI FOOD PARADISE IN COLABA
WORDS BY MEHER MIRZA AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA
Editors' Note: Since this story was first published, Paradise Restaurant has been closed down.
Buses rumble and hiss down Colaba Causeway. Cars honk. Cavalcades of tourists are emptied on to the footpath. Stall owners frantically thrust their spoils at me – a pair of chappals, Spongebob Squarepants pyjamas, a necklace. I hop-skotch over the little knots of garbage and debris that stipple the remaining open spaces. And all the time, the chiselling sun beats down on my head.
In the midst of all this, a meal at Paradise is an adagio moment.
Parsi food is the delicious, sweet-sour-spicy fare born of a cultural braid of sorts, the original Irani food having borrowed threads from Gujarati, Goan and British cuisine. It is the food of my foremothers and forefathers, food that for me dissolves the tightness of everyday stresses and strains, the food of my home and hearth. And Paradise serves some of the homiest Parsi food I have ever eaten, from a one-page daily menu hidden under swathes of Chinese, “Continental” and Sizzler dishes.
I discovered Paradise many years ago thanks to a beloved friend who long and loudly laments the rise of McDonald's and Domino's and seeks out Mumbai's forgotten eating places. And so, under the pretext of culinary conservation, I find myself eating at Paradise almost once a week. It is an onerous task, filling my belly with delicious dhansak and mutton curry-rice, but I trudge on bravely nonetheless.
My friends and I meet at Paradise often for long lunches. It is the sort of slow, easy, quiet restaurant that encourages loitering, slowing down, opening up. We give our order to the sweet, crinkly-eyed waiter ("But you always think everyone is sweet," scoffs a doubting friend) and wait. In the meantime, we whet our appetite with words. We soak up stories about each others' lives. We talk about school days, old crushes, first jobs, our eyes wet with nostalgia. We tear up plump slices of white bread and dip them into the saucy sali marghi. We order extra sali and stuff it into our mouths. Crumbs fly everywhere, and the room vibrates with our laughter. Sometimes, just sometimes, I sob into my steaming Scotch broth, unnerved by the meandering trajectory my life seems to take but instantly comforted by the warmth distilled into my friend's hug. There's nothing quite like sharing a plate of food to forge a deeper bond between friends.
The food here is always good, always nourishing, unctuous sali boti, velvety caramel custard. We go to eat but we also go to feel stronger and deeper, to laugh louder and longer, to grow our inchoate thoughts, to buttress our flagging old memories. We sate our stomachs and our spirits over hot cups of tea. And then we step out into the cool evening, just in time for the gold leaf sunset slowly consuming the sky.
Paradise Restaurant, Sind Chambers, Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg, Colaba, Mumbai 400 005. Phone: 022 2283 2874