Families in Food: Born in 1895, how Mumbai’s iconic Bhagat Tarachand got its name

Parth Khatau
Joint Affair (Above, left to right) Bhisham Ramesh, Hitesh Gurmukh, Saggor Ramesh, Rahul Gurmukh, and Ramesh Khemchand (seated) Chawla; a typical spread at Bhagat Tarachand. (Express photo by Nirmal Harindran)

In 1895, Tarachand Chawla opened a small eatery in Karachi with the sole purpose of feeding people. "My grandfather was a very big-hearted man and those visiting his stall would never go hungry, even if they could not afford to pay," says Ramesh Chawla, 63, a third-generation co-owner of Bhagat Tarachand, as he sits in the chain's flagship outlet in South Mumbai's busy Zaveri Bazaar. "Back then, my grandfather would maintain a book where those eating at his stall could write their names and their monthly hisaab (account). At the end of the month they could clear the bill if they could afford it," he adds. This earned him the title "bhagat" (meaning "kind"), with his restaurant eventually being called Bhagat Tarachand.

The restaurant moved to Mumbai after Partition, with the first outlet opening in Zaveri Bazaar. Back in Karachi, the menu had been basic, comprising chapatis, rice, seasonal vegetables and lassi. Today, dishes like paneer tikka masala, dal fry, dal makhani and papad churi are favourites.

The busy Zaveri Bazaar location draws office-goers during lunch hours: the food is delicious, and the quick service enables lunchers to head back to work in time. Among the most popular items ordered here is the chhaas (buttermilk) which is served in chilled beer bottles, with glasses first being filled with a masala mix, before the beverage is poured. "We call this Kutchi beer," says Ramesh. The menu, with over 120 dishes, is vegetarian, and caters largely to a customer base of Gujaratis, Marwaris and Kutchis.

When Ramesh and his brother, Prakash, 60, took over the business from their father, Khemchand Tarachand Chawla, in 1972, they introduced some changes to keep up with the times. Desserts such as gulab jamun, gajar ka halwa and rabdi, were added to the menu.

What keeps customers loyal, besides the reasonable pricing, is the food's unflagging quality, says Ramesh's son Bhisham, 32. "We source the best quality raw materials, which we also use to cook our food at home and feed our staff," he says, "With the fourth generation of the family running the show, the business has expanded its geographical spread, with more than 25 outlets across Mumbai, and in Pune and Bengaluru.

"One thing that I have told all the youngsters is to never forget our founding principles," says Ramesh. During the 2016 demonetisation drive, for example, Ramesh allowed many customers, who did not have cash, to eat at his restaurant in Zaveri Bazaar, and to settle bills later. He says, "My grandfather would make sure nobody went home hungry from his stall and we try our best to do the same even today."

This article appeared in print with the headline: Families in Food: Their Dish Runneth Over