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Eat: Photoessay

By Christine Pemberton
There are restaurants.
And then there's the fabulously named Sodabottleopenerwala in New Delhi's Khan market.
And what makes this deliciously named eatery even more quirky is that it celebrates not the rich Punjabi food of Delhi & north India so beloved of the locals, but the more eclectic taste of far-away Mumbai.
Welcome to the world of Irani cafés. Let's push open the door and explore, shall we?

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Sodabottleopenerwala is an Irani restaurant, modelled on the ubiquitous Irani cafés of Mumbai.
Ah yes, Irani vs Parsi, we hear you ask. What is the difference?
Though both Iranis and Parsis are Zoroastrians, there are cultural differences. Slight differences, admittedly, but they do exist. Both communities came from Iran, but whereas the Parsis fled to India to escape religious persecution nearly 1400 years ago, the Iranis fled in the 19th century.

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These two communities are miniscule in the greater Indian scheme of things, but the Parsis in particular are a small but hugely influential community in India, punching way above their weight.
They are famed for their philanthropy, especially towards their beloved city of Mumbai.

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The Iranian influence still resonates clearly in Parsi and Irani food, centuries after their departure from Iran. Take one of the all-time favourite signature dishes of Sodabottleopenerwala and of Irani cafés in Mumbai, berry pulao.
The amazing, distinctive taste derives from - what else - the berries.
These are called zereshk (dried barberries) and are grown in Iran.

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For anyone who has ever lived in and/or visited Mumbai, these are tastes and scents and perfumes and textures that are - well - they are just so typical of Mumbai, and so it is a sensory treat to taste them, oh so authentically, in the heart of Lutyens Delhi.
Falooda, for example.

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Eggs Kejriwal are a popular dish on the menu and before any proud Delhi-wala says "Ah, there you go, of course, something named after OUR Delhi Chief Minister, Mr. Kejriwal" ...nope, 'fraid not. There is another Mr. Kejriwal whose name lives on in this sandwich. Despite being born into a strictly vegetarian community Mr. Kejriwal loved his eggs, especially a sandwich made at Bombay's Willingdon Club - eggs on toast with cheese inside and chopped green chillies on top. Mr Kejriwal, it is said, ordered this forbidden dish every day and in his honour, the prestigious Bombay club eventually named it "Eggs Kejriwal". And here is their tribute to this simple but oh-so-delicious Bombay snack.

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One of the quirks of Bombay's Irani cafés was their touch of eccentricity. The owners often had their own hard and fast rules, for example, as to how their patrons should behave. Sodabottleopenerwala pays an affectionate tribute to them.

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But Sodabottleopenerwala isn't only about nostalgia. Far from it.
There are dishes and drinks on the menu with a distinctly modern avatar.
Take this Nescoffee martini, for example.

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Sometimes, though, you really do want that typical, traditional dish.
Sodabottleopnerwala obliges here with veg dhansak, old tiffin boxes and a posy of flowers - the essence of Parsi food in one sensory-overload-combination.

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Raspberry soda and thick cheesy masala French fries - talk about playing to the nostalgia factor.
Slightly decadent comfort food, welcoming old Irani café furniture, old fashioned table cloths...
and we all love nostalgia, let's admit it.

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And on the subject of nostalgia and comfort food and the lovely retro feel that Sodabottleopenerwala induces - here's some caramel custard.
Ultimate nursery food, but oh-so-elegantly served.

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Ah yes.
The perennial Indian favourite fizzy cold drink, in the distinctive Codd-neck bottle, of course.
These bottles, developed in the late 19th century, are closed with a marble, not a cap.
And you would indeed find them in Irani cafés, their old fashioned look and feel fitting in so much more elegantly than the canned drinks of today.





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