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sodabottleopenerwala: parsi kitsch (and food) in delhi

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sodabottleopenerwala opened in gurgaon (just outside delhi) in 2014, serving parsi food and was an immediate sensation with its hyper-version of the irani cafe. a number of branches opened and late last year it actually expanded into the actual home of the irani cafe, bombay. we ate at the original location last week. i was underwhelmed by the food and bemused by the restaurant. accordingly, i offer you a brief writeup of the meal itself (contained entirely in the captions in the slideshow) and a longer essay with my thoughts on the phenomenon. you're welcome!



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  • 3 years later...

it's mostly fine--seems like it's a rehash/stitch of existing stuff by people who actually know the culture/food.


i am amused though that for this piece that strikes such an elegiac note about the erasure of parsi culture they didn't bother to commission an actual parsi food writer. for example, the excellent meher mirza, one of whose pieces is quoted in the article and who could have done a much better job--with less purple prose--of reporting from the inside. she even lives in bombay. she's not an unknown either in the american food mediascape, having been published in food52 and the like. i guess it made more sense to send ligaya mishan halfway across the world.

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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?
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