Bombay Showcase

Made with butter and love

Tempting:“Quality and dedication are the secrets of success in any field,” says Danesh Nejadkay, the quirky proprietor who reigns over this butter-and-flour kingdom.— Photo: Vivek Bendre  

It looks like any other batasa biscuit: blobby and crumbly. And the bakery looks like any other struggling business: basic and unprepossessing. Even so, a steady stream of customers head straight up the single step, lean over the counter, indulge in a spot of drooling, and place their orders. “Five packets butter biscuit … one milk toast … and what are these? Okay, give me one packet Shrewsbury as well.”

For those who know their bread and butter, macaroons and mawa cake, Paris Bakery is an essential Mumbai landmark. An important destination when guests are coming to tea, school dabbas have to be filled and Tupperware boxes need replenishing. For the rest of the city though, it’s a forgotten gem, overshadowed by the new cinnamon-scented bakeries with their cronuts, cupcakes and startling price tags.

After all, it’s easy to whiz past the unremarkable bylane in the shadow of Our Lady of Dolours Church. And even those who wander away from Marine Lines into the street of butchers, chaiwalas and doctors’ dispensaries are likely to miss this shop with its old-fashioned counter, brown fan and flapping yellow curtain. Or, at most, will gape when the proprietor greets a customer with a frank, “You’ve become very heavy. Not good. Control kar. Control kar.”

Which is a real pity. For stacked on the shelves behind the functional counter and unconventional salesmanship are some of the most sublime biscuits in Mumbai. Delicate palmiers topped with sugar. Elegant vanilla biscuits, born to be dipped in melty chocolate. Crisp garlic toasts baked to golden perfection. Little cheese papdis the size of a SIM card. And, of course, the plump, sunshiny cheese batasas like no other you’ve ever tasted.

All these emerge from the bhatti behind the flowery yellow curtain, under the eagle eye of Danesh Nejadkay. “Quality and dedication, those are the secrets of success in any field,” says Nejadkay, the quirky proprietor who reigns over this butter-and-flour kingdom. “People keep suggesting opening franchises and exports and all sorts of things. But I believe in personal supervision and the best ingredients. That is the only way to maintain quality.”

Old-world charm

Indeed, Nejadkay and his bakery seem to belong to another age. They sit amid Free Reading Rooms and agiaries and shops that have been around since the 1800s. Paris Bakery still closes for a siesta. Passersby greet Nejadkay with a loud “Saibji!” and stop to discuss the demise of the day. “Very tragedy,” they agree.

Posters around the shop exhort customers to “Eat well, live well.” And to “Please reheat Maska Khari and Maska Butter in Electric Oven before serving.” Packs of butter and bags of ingredients arrive at the bakery and are stowed away. Fresh biscuits emerge from the oven at the back of the shop and are arranged on the shelves. And you get the distinct feeling that nothing much has changed here over the last 50 years.

The story of Paris Bakery is part of the larger saga of the Iranians who migrated to India in the 1900s. Nejadkay’s grandfather — who cultivated almonds and pomegranates in Iran — came to Bombay about 75 years ago. Here, he ran Brabourne Bakery in Chira Bazaar. “My father bought Paris Bakery in 1963,” says Nejadkay, who doesn’t know why the bakery was named after the French capital. “He was only focussed on bread production.”

It was when 22-year-old Nejadkay joined the business in 1985 that new ideas and biscuits entered the business. “In the beginning it was just khari, butter and nankhatai,” he says. “And even now those are our big sellers. The Gujaratis buy kharis and the Parsis buy butters.”

Gradually, Nejadkay began to bake with different ingredients. A spoonful of cheese. A pinch of elaichi. A dash of garlic. And soon his new creations appeared on the shelves, and the modest, little bakery became known as the home of glorious cheese biscuits and shortbread.

Even today, the experimentation continues. “Have you tried the cheese breadsticks?” Nejadkay will demand. “You must. They are deadly. A mix of Amul and cheddar cheese. Pure sin.”

Or: “Come on, you must try my Bajra Methi Biscuits,” he will wheedle a portly, white-haired woman who is piling on the buttery delights and shuddering at the thought of so much wholesomeness. “You will love them if you are fond of bitter flavours. Very good for diabetes and very healthy. Just one bite.”

Sadly though, even as new delights pop up, old favourites vanish.

One customer is crestfallen to find that “those wonderful chocolate oatmeal biscuits” have been discontinued. While my daughters are appalled that butterscotch cookies and jam biscuits are no longer available. “Not enough demand,” shrugs Nejadkay. “Those chocolate oat biscuits were so superb. Then I used to make some gaur papdis that were so fantastic. And I used to freak out on my butterscotch cookies. Even the bajra methi biscuits are such a superb, healthy product; but I only make for special orders now. They don’t run. Maybe because of this area. Maybe because we are in a bylane.”

And maybe because of Nejadkay’s forthright approach to sales. “The star biscuits are very rich,” he warns me, as I window shop. “You must go slow. They are full of butter.” Not that I’m dissuaded. I return home after every Paris Bakery expedition with three times the number of parcels I had planned. And then for weeks enjoy the taste of butter and adventure.

Paris Bakery, 278, Dr Cawasji Hormusji Street, Our Lady Of Dolours Church Lane, Marine Lines; 22086619

The author is a freelance writer

‘I return home after every Paris Bakery expedition with three times the number of parcels I had planned’

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 6:37:52 PM |

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