I thought Britannia and Co deserved its own post. It is a Bombay institution, and, it brings with it a complex set of issues concerning power, colonial legacies, identity, belonging, and, of course food. Housed in a grand old building south of where we were staying, Britannia and Co is a Parsi restaurant. The waiters wear bowties, and, there is an image of Queen Elizabeth the Second on the wall, along with Mahatma Gandhi and a number of large photographs of famous colonial buildings. It has checked table clothes and napkins arranged as if they were flowers, spiralling out of glass with a flourish and distinction.
The fans whir overhead, and, you could be in a great many cities around the world. This is the colonial legacy. Colonialism as a world historical systems means that architectural styles, fashion choices, and overall feel can be found from Mexico City to Buenos Aires to Lisbon to Nairobi to here in Bombay. Going to Britannia and Co made me realise that I had experienced something similar before – once drinking gin and tonic at Victoria Falls in a remnant of empire. In one way, it is shocking to see it exist today given the politics of the place, but in another it seems antiquated and rustic without being threatening. It cloaks its violence in familiarity and spice. In terms of the politics, we were treated to a home-grown, soapbox moment when the 97 year old proprietor of Britannia and Co came to our table after we had ordered. Upon finding out that we were Australian, he proceeded to tell us how he had written to Julia Gillard suggesting she give up her prime ministership and have children instead. He thought that was a better use of a woman’s time in a nation building project. This was before he shared a photograph of himself with Prince William and Kate Middleton, extolling their virtues and regaling us with stories of how he met them last year when they were passing through here. We cringed, and, though you give 97 year olds some license, you could not help but think that this ideological perspective was braided through with the colonial. The restaurant, after all, is called Britannia and Co for a reason. So, why go there? You do, of course, need to check in with this conservative old guard, but it also is a bulwark against the totalitarian monologism of contemporary right wing nationalism. And, the food is pretty decent.
We ordered a pulav and a chicken cutlet. The rice was delicate and studded with burnt, caramelised onions, with nuts and fruits that reminded me of my Palestine ex-neighbour’s cooking when we lived in Kerala; and, the cutlet was pulled chicken that had been made into a patty with a crust on the outside, a cousin of a schnitzel though something else entirely. It was served with matchstick sized fries and an apricot-tomato gravy that was subtly spiced. I had never really eaten food like that, and, it was delicate and delicious. We washed it down with the only drink in town – lime soda – and for desert indulged in a fine crème caramel. Who knew the colonials did it so well? Better than cucumber sandwiches even if you could do without the preaching and nostalgia that should be farewelled.