The Irani Cafes of Karachi

Customers relaxing on a hot summer afternoon at Cafe Mubarak on Garden Road, Karachi

Mishal Zahoor Jamali at Medium: Stepping into High Ceiling and dimly lit Irani cafes with vintage furniture, mosaic chipped floors and tablecloths take one back to old Karachi. These desolate Irani cafes were once hubs of social and intellectual exchange and frequented by students, journalists, and intellectuals.

The history of Irani cafes can be traced back to the early 1900s when Parsis migrated to the port cities of the subcontinent to escape the economic crisis in Iran. Most settled in Bombay and the rest in Karachi.

Parsis established Irani cafes, coffee shops and bakeries all over Karachi. By the 70s there were hundreds of Irani cafes and restaurants now a few remain.

Cafe Mubarak, more than 50 years old, is situated on Garden road and a couple miles from the IBA city campus hence a popular breakfast and hangout spot among IBA students.

Cafe Mubarak is a popular choice among office workers, youth and the old because of the unchanging nostalgic ambiance and affordable menu.

Inflation, religious intolerance, the deaths and departure of successful business owners, the rising cost of real estate, and commercialization are some of the factors that have contributed to the demise of Iranian cafes.

68 years old Mushtaq Ahmed carrying chullu kebab order. Mushtaq has been working in Cafe Mubarak for the past thirty years.

Middle Class were a significant demographic for Iranian cafes in the 70s and 80s and were greatly responsible for their success. Now Middle Class crumbled under inflation and is finding it increasingly difficult to afford menu pricing.

According to Muhammad Mushtaq, 68 year old server at Cafe Mubarak:

“Growing religious intolerance also poses a threat to profit. Owners of the cafes have been targeted because of their Ismaili Shia identity. People do not prefer to eat at Irani cafes because of the owner’s religious affiliation.”

More here.