“Shall we go to Dishoom?” is one of those questions that, when put out into a group of would-be diners, is usually greeted with an accapella of longing sighs and lip-smacking with the shocked falsetto “What?! You’ve never been to Dishoom?!”.
Inspired by the Iranian immigrant-run cafés of 20th century Mumbai, Dishoom pays homage to this dwindling fusion of food and culture, transporting it in space and time to a post-post-colonial, modern-day Britain. And to great success! Since the opening of its first site in 2010 to the rumoured launch of its eighth in 2020, Dishoom has garnered a hugely loyal and varied cult of worshippers. Therefore, it is little wonder that the team behind it has elected to release its very first cookbook, giving lovers of the eatery the chance to recreate their favourite recipes in the comfort of their own homes.
Part cookery book, part travel guide, this is the chronicling of a love affair with a cuisine, city and culture. The cover of the healthily sized hardback is the perfect precursor to its content. Matt turquoise with a tactile navy fabric binding, “Dishoom” is stamped on the spine and front in a low-shine gold foil that catches the light with understated splendour. Below it, the commemoration “From Bombay with Love” and roguishly candid admission “Cookery Book and Highly Subjective Guide to Bombay with Map” frame a delightful illustration of an Irani café that looks like it belongs in the pages of a magical realism novel.
A quick leaf through the pages reveals a collection of old photographs of Mumbai (then known as “Bombay”) holding court alongside colour shots of the city today. Personal stories, documented histories, route guides and recommendations dart between much-loved recipes and mouth-watering images of dishes to be made, making us hungry and sending us off to make a cup of Masala Chai (p.86) before we can continue our journey.
Welcome to Bombay
If we weren’t already firm fans of Dishoom, the introductory chapter would make us fast converts. Written by Shamil Thakrar (one of Dishoom’s founders), it is a lyrical and beautifully unpretentiously personal expression of the love and history that has gone into creating the cookbook. Peppered with memories, it gives a brief account of family ties, how chef Naved Nasir came on board, the importance of shared spaces and how Bombay’s Irani cafés are – to him – a symbol of inclusion.
“The Irani Cafés, opened by outsiders […] quietly subverted all the rules by welcoming all comers.”
Dishoom’s cookbook is divided into 10 chapters; from Breakfast and Mid-Morning Snacks, right through Lunch and Sunset Snacks to three dinner chapters (we Asians aren’t known for brevity in dining) and finally Pudding and Tipples. Further sections dedicated to Ingredients and Cookery Guidance; Breads; Chutneys, Pickles & Dressings; and more, follow, with the whole book woven together with Shamil’s intimate and poetic musings.
The Food Recipes
Mumbai is famously a melting pot of people and practices, and with its Irani cafés acting as sites of said chutnification, it is no surprise that Dishoom’s cookbook features over 100 recipes from Parsi, Muslim, Hindu and Christian traditions.
Dishoom devotees will be delighted to know that the famous House Black Daal (p.2014) has made it into the pages. Whilst the restaurant’s 24-hour slow-cooked recipe has been shortened to a four-to-five-hour cook, those wishing to make the “real thing” need only add more water and time to the book’s recipe.
Other favourites include the breakfast classic Bacon Naan Roll (p.47), with a carefully altered fresh naan recipe for the home grill (as most of us don’t have access to a tandoor oven). Richly flavoured Chicken Ruby (p.209), fragrant vegetarian Jackfruit Biryani (p.238) and the pull-apart sensation Lamb Raan (p.268) are all must-tries, with Gulab Jamun (p.302) amongst the sweet delights on offer.
The Cocktail Recipes
Drinks at Dishoom are often as good as the food, with many of us indulging in a few at the bar whilst waiting for a table to become available in the no-booking restaurants. The cookbook’s cocktail’s hark back to the style of “Bombay’s Jazz Age”, bringing them into the new age with flavour variations that ensure they pair perfectly with Dishoom dishes. Expect Gimlets, Old-Fashioned, Toddies, Martinis and Punches with a twist often involving spice mixes, South Asian spirits, and jaggery (unrefined palm sugar).
Viceroy’s Old-Fashioned (p.342) is a definite highlight. This twice aged, tea-infused whiskey can be made in large batches and matured for a month in bottle. Strong, smooth and well-rounded, it is a showstopper of a cocktail that is surprisingly easy to make. If you’re looking for something quicker to prepare, look no further than the East India Gimlet (p.326; London Dry Gin, Rose’s lime cordial, celery bitters, lime, dill garnish) – a bright and fresh classic that will go perfectly with most of the cookbook’s dishes.
With so many people these days electing to simply Google recipes, Dishoom: From Bombay with Love is a stunning example of a tangible cookbook done right. Not only does it include simple and detailed step-by-step instructions, with helpful tips and suggestions, it gives the reader the chance to learn about the place in which these dishes came into being, and the people who made this so. Vibrant photography and warrens of local advice make it akin to a travel guide where the snapshots and souvenirs are food experiences to be savoured.
Whilst some recipes take more time than others, there is something for everyone, from the newbie cook’s first trepid steps into spice, to a South Asian grandma with legendary culinary chops.
Dishoom: From Bombay with Love reads like an open and passionate love-letter to Mumbai’s diverse gastronomy. If you’re looking to buy one cookbook this year, make it this.