First Look: Bombay Street Food the passion project that started at farmers’ markets has become a full-fledged restaurant
The menu at Bombay Street Food Co. is an homage to that city’s Irani cafes
Image: Jason Finestone
Sisters-in-law Amreen and Seema Omar have expanded their successful farmer’s market operation, Bombay Street Food Company to a bricks and mortar restaurant. It pays homage to the old Irani cafés of India’s most populous city.
It all started for the duo back in 2014, as a way for Seema to reconnect with the street food she so missed from her native Bombay. Seema was a veteran of the fashion industry in India and Amreen, a prosecutor for the province of Ontario and law teacher, decided to collectively take a leave from their jobs. They set up shop at Market 707 on Dundas West and then at the East York Farmers Market. Soon they were spending more time attending festivals and catering than at their day jobs, and took the leap into the food industry, full stop.
According to the sign, the restaurant’s policy prohibits hair combing, spitting and other vices (IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)
After constant inquiry as to where their restaurant was, last year they decided it was time to launch a permanent location. Bombay Street Food now occupies the former What A Bagel at 828 Bay St. But before they opened, it was important to travel back home and gain some perspective.
“I grew up as the only Indian kid in a rural New Brunswick town,” Amreen tells me. “I spent the summers in India with my grandparents. It was a big part of my identity.”
Seema grew up in Bombay (now commonly referred to as Mumbai), and moved to Canada in 2004 when she married Amreen’s brother.
Alongside Tyler Fraser of The Fifteen Group, their restaurant consultancy firm and Eric Boulden (Jump Branding) their designer, the team travelled back to Bombay for an intensive 5-day food tour with renowned food writer Kalyan Karmakar.
“It was very interesting and eye opening to go back for the food tour with Tyler, Eric and Amreen,” Seema explains. “Strangely enough, we started in my neighbourhood. I saw it with totally different eyes, exploring my hometown as a tourist.”
“We spent a lot of time looking at the colonial architecture, local markets, and talking with local merchants – getting recipes and presentation tips from street food vendors,” Amreen recounts, still in shock at how generous the local food community was about sharing their trade secrets.
Griddled pav buns act as base layer for the beef keema pav (IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)
Much of the décor and menu design was inspired by the Iranian cafés – oft forgotten relics that boomed at the turn of the century and were ubiquitous in the 1950s and 60s when Seema’s parents were growing up. Fewer than 30 now remain in Maharashtra’s capital city.
Robin egg blue walls, antique mirrors and gilded picture frames, teak ceiling fans, patterned upholstery and mosaic floors bring the classic elegance of these relics to the interior of the 40-seat Bombay Street Food.
Most dishes seem to fit into the sharing-and-snacking model (IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)
Beef keema paw ($11.95), an aromatic mix of spiced ground beef, garnished with fragrant ginger, coriander and crispy onions, served with a creamy yoghurt sauce on griddled pav buns is an exemplary staple of the Irani cafés. As is the Salli Chicken ($11.95), a sweet, spicy and sour Parsi style curry with fried potato chips atop basmati rice.
The restaurant itself, which will take your order at the front counter and serve your food tableside, is inspired by a particular Bombay café called Yazdani that’s been operating since 1953.
Many of the Persian cafes also double as bakeries, and a torso sized jar of airy khaari biscuits ($3.95) brought in daily from Muzda Bakery on the Danforth can be enjoyed alongside a creamy mango lassi ($4.95) or dunked in one of their house blended chai teas ($3.95).
“We wanted to bring a little bit of the Bombay experience back here,” says Seema.
“I’ve always connected with my heritage through food,” Amreen continues. “It’s visceral, its beyond rationale and logic – it really goes to the core.”
Bombay Street Food Co., 828 Bay St., 416-821-7862
Orders are placed at the counter and then brought to tables (IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)
The same evocative tone of blue is used throughout the space (IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)
(IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)