New Bombay Restaurant gives off old Karachi vibes

Published 16 Oct, 2021 09:48am

Faisal Quraishi

Staff Writer

The Cantt Railway Station isn't just famous as a train travel hub. It also hosts one of the oldest awami restaurants in the city.

The facade of the New Bombay Restaurant
The facade of the New Bombay Restaurant

It stands as an iconic landmark for all those entering Karachi for the very first time from Cantt Railway Station, Karachi. New Bombay Restaurant (NBR) on Fatima Jinnah Road is flanked on the one side by Lily Bridge and on the other by the Cantt Railway Station, with Frere Hall and the Pak-American Cultural Centre (PACC) also in very close proximity.

It is from here that NBR started doing business shortly after Partition, as testified by one of the senior waiters, Rehmat Baba, who distinctly remembers that he arrived in Karachi from his hometown in Mardan shortly after the 1971 Pak-Indo war, and took up employment at the New Bombay Restaurant under the same owner who presently runs the establishment. Another waiter, Sufi, claims that he has also been serving at NBR for well over four decades now.

Waiter Sufi still going strong after 40 years at the New Bombay Restaurant | Photos by Zubair Shah
Waiter Sufi still going strong after 40 years at the New Bombay Restaurant | Photos by Zubair Shah

With their trademark greyish-brown vests bearing the NBR logo, the waiters scurry in and out of the neat, blue-painted and tiled interior of the restaurant, precariously but perfectly balancing outsized circular trays bearing breakfast goodies and treats in the form of aromatic parathas, steaming-hot chainaks [traditional teapots] brimming over with doodh-patti chai [tea cooked in milk], half-fry eggs and omelettes to the surrounding hotel rooms, and to the restaurant’s two separate dining halls.

So why name the restaurant after the Indian city of Bombay, now Mumbai? Rehmat Baba says the location used to previously house a number of small shops all run by Malabaris under this very name (Bombay), and when the present owners took over and turned the property into a restaurant, they decided to continue with this very name.

No doubt, many a weary traveller finds his way to NBR to relish a hot meal at the end of a long and tiring train journey, thanks to our notorious railway system and incessant and inordinate delays in arrivals and departures.

The Cantt Railway Station in Karachi is not just famous as a train travel hub. It also hosts what is among one of the oldest awami restaurants in the city

Flanked on either side by hotels and musafirkhanas (modest lodges that don’t provide meals), many wandering and footloose Sunday foodies who map K-Town for its gastronomical delights found freely in the city’s countless nooks and crannies, land at NBR on Sunday mornings to savour and relish tandoori parathas glazed with butter from the adjacent Cantonment Dairy Farm outlet. The tandoori paratha is noticeably different from its cousin, the freely found and quite greasy Quetta ke hotel ka paratha, made on a huge skillet.

Business as usual, early Sunday morning
Business as usual, early Sunday morning

The tandoori paratha is wholewheat and baked in a tandoor (oven) after which it is quickly given a rub down with a 25g slab of butter and rushed off to the eagerly-awaiting customer. Food for the gods! The tandoori goes down very well with karrak [strong] doodh-patti chai and half-fry egg or omelette.

NBR also has its very own yoghurt stall and serves a plate of fresh yoghurt and a glass of chilled lassi topped off with a thick wad of malai [cream] with parathas or maska bun which, simply put, is a sliced and generously buttered fruit bun.

The breakfast goodies don’t end here and there’s also a wide variety of ‘popular’ items on the breakfast menu to choose from: sabzi [vegetable] fry, maash daal fry (with butter), qeema [minced meat] fry, karela [bitter gourd] fry, maghaz [cow brain] fry, bhindi [okra] fry, daal chana karrhai, chicken fry and anda ghotaala [egg in curry].

Rehmat Baba churning fresh lassi for a customer
Rehmat Baba churning fresh lassi for a customer

Besides the omnipresent nihari (beef and chicken both) and mutton paaye [trotters in broth], another not-to-be-missed item are NBR’s scrumptious and meaty chapli kababs, served at lunch and dinner. And if your concern is food quality, rest assured, the ingredients used are top-grade, and fetch you your money’s worth.

For the God-fearing, ever willing to give out generously in alms and charity, there are always hungry mouths waiting to be fed around NBR. All that’s needed is to inform the waiter how many poor souls one wishes to feed, and then pay up front. For their part, the management diligently hand out chai paratha treats to the poor, hungry lot.

The next time you’re in the neighbourhood or just passing by the area, and the appetising smell of parathas, chaplis, anda ghotaala and daal fry wafts up your nostrils and tantalises your taste buds, know that it’s business as usual at the New Bombay Restaurant. It’s open 24/7 to serve whoever finds themselves at its doorstep, looking for an experience that’ll stay with him long after they’re finished polishing off every last morsel.

The writer is a member of staff. He tweets @faisal_quraishi

Originally published in Dawn, EOS, October 10th, 2021