Hidden behind a concrete exterior with a fading sign, the New Irani restaurant in Ahmedabad’s old town is easy to miss. Even when you enter, the interior’s crumbling walls give little indication of the culinary treasures that await. But the humble, nearly 70-year-old cafe is home to what may be the city’s finest maska buns and Irani chai. Cloud-like in its softness, served with a generous spread of maska (homemade white butter), and topped with a honey-colored glaze, the bun can and should be used to mop up every last drop of the precious, milky tea.
At New Irani, the flavorful duet of bun and chai is dished out at all hours. Seating is limited and patrons are shielded from the congestion and commotion on the streets outside by the tall concrete wall. The eatery attracts a diverse assemblage of diners in the bustling Indian metropolis, from construction workers wolfing down a cheap, quick meal during their lunch break to foreign and domestic tourists lingering over their bun and chai as they contemplate the best Instagram filter to enhance a shot of the crumbling interior. At the sole entry and exit point of the restaurant, the proprietor stands guard over the cash register, but it is the man next to him whose task is more important. This man sticks his ladle into a massive cauldron of butter and spoons out a generous quantity, which he then proceeds to slather in between the two halves of a bun, a task typically accomplished in one swift motion.
At New Irani, the maska bun costs four times the price of a plain bun, but it’s worth it. Maska is many things at once. Think cream cheese, but with the consistency of whipped cream: delightfully airy and soft in texture, lusciously creamy, and decadently buttery. Maska is what elevates a plain bun to an exalted status. As for the bun itself, it’s the outcome of Portuguese colonizers in the state of Goa, located much farther down the west coast, who tried to re-create their pão on Indian soil.
Irani chai, meanwhile, isn’t Irani at all but a decidedly Indian predilection. A cup of tea in Iran is a spartan affair, served black without milk or sugar, whereas the chai in India is unthinkable without either. The beverage, however, is a prominent fixture at the teahouses that Iranian immigrants established in India in the early 20th century. Iranian teahouses are places for socializing, conducting business, and lounging on comfy carpeted benches. The Formica-topped tables and hard benches at New Irani may offer scant comfort, but the convivial atmosphere of an Iranian teahouse is very much present.
As Mumbai’s iconic Irani cafes have received most of the (albeit much deserved) glory and attention, Ahmedabad’s New Irani restaurant has flown under the radar. Yet this hidden gem is no less worthy of wider public adulation for its amazing maska bun and Irani chai.
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Where to Try It
New Irani RestaurantOpp. Sunheri Masjid Khas, Salapose Rd., Ahmedabad, 380001, India
The eatery's open seven days a week, from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
- Achyut Yagnik, Ahmedabad: From Royal City to Megacity, Penguin UK, 2011.
- Colleen Taylor Sen, Food Culture in India, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004.
- Lizzie Collingham, Elizabeth M. Collingham, Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, Oxford University Press, 2007.
- Naomi Duguid, Taste of Persia: A Cook's Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan, Artisan Books, 2016.
- Margaret Shaida, The Legendary Cuisine of Persia, Grub Street Publishers, 2018.