Posted 08 May 2019 - 06:41 PM
i did wonder, by the way, if in the reference to non-parsis who have reservations about the simulacrum offered by sodabottleopenerwala i heard an echo of things i've said. see, for example, my introduction to my review of dishoom in london (and in mishan's piece as well the references to dishoom and sodabottleopenerwala come together).
While in Delhi in January, we ate at Sodabottleopenerwala, a restaurant that packages Bombay’s Irani cafe kitsch and Parsi food to (largely) non-Parsis. I was somewhat bemused by the experience and not particularly enthused by the food. What I failed to mention in my description of that restaurant’s maximalist aesthetic—what I called “Irani restaurant as theme park—is that it represents not merely a simulacrum of Bombay’s fading Irani cafes but also the return to India of a template that had already become a huge success abroad.
It’s not clear if their children will carry on the family business. Instead, people of neither Parsi nor Irani descent are trying to replicate the aesthetic of the cafes, notably at Dishoom, which opened in London in 2010 (and which has since added six locations throughout Great Britain), and at MG Road, which opened in Paris in 2014. Simin doesn’t see this as cultural appropriation — since 2013, she has consulted on Dishoom’s design, with its spotted mirrors, dangling electric wires and mood of sepia twilight — as long as the original cafes aren’t being glamorized, “because they weren’t glamorous,” she says. But even some non-Parsis have expressed reservations about the homegrown Indian chain SodaBottleOpenerWala, which opened its first outlet in 2013 in Gurgaon, a suburb of Delhi, and today has nine branches. (Its name is a play on the Parsi practice of taking surnames connected to professions, like Doctor, Reporter and, yes, the couriers known as Sodawaterwalas.) It’s slightly disconcerting to see a simulacrum so close to the original, the sleek, replicable model ready to push out the old and take its place. But is this the only way these traditions can survive?