My husband called from work the other day and asked if I wanted to eat out. Since our dinner was ready and waiting for him, I was understandably miffed. He does this too often really and I was all set to bicker when he informed me that he’d heard of this place called SodaBottleOpenerWala on Lavelle Road that was supposed to be great and would I like to try. I shut up and here’s why:
- The name! Having no idea about the kind of food to be served (though it sounded Parsi), it still sounded too delicious. SodaBottleOpenerWala. I rolled that around my tongue for a bit and liked the sound of it.
- Lavelle Road – One of the few places in Bangalore that still feel like the old Bangalore I came to fifteen years ago. Like Queen’s on church street. There’s just something about it.
- Being a geek and unable to think about anything for more than 3 minutes without googling, I had already discovered that they served their own version of Kayani Bakery’s Shrewsbury biscuits!
- I was reading Em and the Big Hoom at the time, which is a lovely book and I will talk about it at length later, but characters in the book keep hopping into Irani cafes and having chai and Mawa cake. This place now, is supposed to be an Irani cafe and I wanted to look!
And yet. Dinner was on the table and I am a bonafide housewife and mother now and cannot be setting my kids the example of chucking good food and rushing off to eat at Irani cafes. Besides it was late. So we came to a compromise. We had to visit friends and see their newly born baby the next day so we figured we could go to Lavelle Road after and eat there then. It was not what my husband wanted to hear but compromise is the core of all successful marriages. Touchwood!
When we landed up at SodaBottleOpenerWala post our new baby visit and battling Bangalore’s infamous traffic, it was ten pm and way past the kids’ bedtime. I had confirmed previously over the phone that they stayed open till 10:30 so that was ok BUT there was a 25 minute wait. On a weekday! At 10 PM! In a restaurant that opened over six months back! In Bangalore that signifies great things and my husband was thrilled. My spirits though plummeted. I had come straight from work and my work clothes did not fit in in that fancy place. There were NO other kids and I think they were not expecting people to walk in with their kids either. The music was really loud!
While we waited, I had time to take in the place. The decor was quirky. There was a blackboard with a set of stern injunctions like – ‘No Flirting. No Laughing Loudly. No Singing. No Childish Tantrums. No Talking to Cashier’. Red chequered table cloths which I have since discovered are an Irani cafe staple and this train track running round the restaurant, only overhead. My children discovered this one and the younger one especially was extremely thrilled by it. He giggled non stop for about 14 minutes, squealing ‘Time Tunnel approaching’ every time the train went through the ‘tunnel’ in the kitchen and shrieked as it emerged on the other side. I watched that train go round and round for twenty minutes till my head was spinning. By the time we got our table, the kids and I were dizzy and drained.
The menu was full of interesting names. I was especially intrigued by the eggs Kejriwal. As of today, there is only one famous Kejriwal but I had heard nothing of his preference for eggs and I wondered at the dish. I discovered soon enough that this was a famous Bombay egg preparation with a history.
My husband is an adventurous eater and he ordered all kinds of things. I wanted to try Bombay street food but they were out of vada pav so the little one and I stuck to Bun Maska. The older one predictably discovered Macaroni on the menu and asked for that. My husband ordered non vegetarian Parsi fare that I was too exhausted to enquire about. Enquiries across the table would anyway have entailed large scale bellowing. Think Aunt Dahlia calling the cows home across the grand canyon and you’re close.
My husband insisted on us ordering better fare so I threw in an English pound cake and the kanda bhaji which were strictly average. The macaroni was too spicy and I decided to not try the biscuits or the mawa cake. Oh the tea was sad too. The whole experience was a depressment – maybe I was not in the mood for it. I’ll plan to return another time and leave the kids out of it and report back.
Actually though it might simply not be my place.
I really like that in our generic, newly homogeneous world, there is a place so specific! It is like someone from UP discovering a Jain Shikanji in LA or a Bangalorean chancing upon a darshini in Tokyo. An Irani cafe is a very specific piece of cultural history, belonging to only one place, and within that place to only one community. If you don’t get it, I guess you just don’t!
There was an item on the menu called ‘Khade chamach ki chai’ which google informed me is like a challenge thing. People who manage to finish this syrupy tea get their name up on a wall of fame which has six names to date. When I told the spouse about this he looked at me with an air of bewilderment and said – ‘You mean you haven’t seen the Amitabh Bacchhan movie where he stirs ten spoons of sugar into his cup of tea then parks a spoon in it which stands upright and says -this is how I like my chai. Khade chamach ki chai!’?
I guess I just didn’t get this one.
PS. An update. I didn’t want to go back to try again so I made my own mawa cake from this recipe. I used atta and milkmaid instead of mawa, creamy milk instead of milk and cream and eno instead of baking soda but the end result was quite nice!