A Zoroastrian Irani businessman from Bombay, Firoz Irani, ate at a California restaurant and loved the drama of a sizzling hot platter. When he came back to Bombay, he opened a restaurant called ‘The Sizzler’ in the 1960s. This is widely acknowledged as the birthplace of the sizzler
I must have been hardly 12 years old as I watched from the window of my grandmother’s old sprawling building at Chowpatty in Mumbai, a tiny little restaurant opening up. It was smart, modern with its name emblazoned in neon — Kobe Sizzlers.
Article by Kunl Vijaykar | News 18
While I did quite know what a sizzler was, because I had eaten one before, I had no idea of where this noisy dish originated from. In fact, Touché, another sizzler restaurant, which had opened years before in 1967 on Breach Candy Road, had made quite a cacophonic impact on south Mumbaikars already.
I well remember its wooden door right off the street, and a glass window from where, through the haze, you could see people ravenously ploughing into steamy looking meals. You could even hear the uproar of several hissing dishes from across the road, as the door opened to let a customer in or out. It became quite a place for our family and I ate there regularly, often scorching my tongue and mouth in my hurry to get to the meal. But the question still remained; what was this metal plate loaded with French fries, onions, meat and vegetables that emerges from the kitchen announcing its arrival with so much hiss and crackle, and where did it come from?
As legend goes, a couple, both imaginative restauranteurs, Del and Helen Johnson opened a restaurant in Culver City California, where they first launched “The sizzler”. The name ‘The Sizzler’ coming from the ‘sizzling’ sound of steak on a hot plate. A Zoroastrian Irani businessman from erstwhile Bombay, Firoz Irani, ate at this California restaurant and loved the drama of a sizzling hot platter sputtering and smoking up a room, and vowed to introduce this dish back home.
He came back to Bombay, and opened a restaurant also called ‘The Sizzler’ near Excelsior Theater in the early 1960s. This is widely acknowledged as the birthplace of the sizzler. Apparently, Irani’s wife was Japanese and she inspired him to style the food along the lines of a Japanese teppanyaki barbecue, which included steaks and meat on a hot cast iron plate. Of course, they were catering to Indian tastes, it goes without saying, that they adapted their recipes to our more piquant palates. Hence came the strong garlic, onion, barbecue, Worcestershire, pepper sauces, along with a medley of vegetables, paneer, chicken and spices.
To compliment these robust flavours, came new dishes which we had never heard of — like the Chicken Shashlik, which was seemingly invented by Irani at Touché that surprisingly is still available at Kobe. It’s one of their most popular sizzlers. Although I remember eating a non-sizzling version of Chicken Shashlik at older Mumbai restaurants like Gaylords as well.
A Shashlik is essentially meat served on a small skewer. It’s actually a type of shish kebab popular in Russia and Central Asia. Although not really Russian in origin, Shashlik is often referred to as Russian Shashlik. Some say its origins are probably from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Central Asia, but skewered meats are as old as civilisation, right from the day man decided to cook meat on a spit.
The Japanese do Yakitori, other Asian cultures make Satay, we do Seekh Kebabs and a shashlik is yet another one of them. But when topped with sauces, and buried in grilled vegetables and chips, served on a bed of rice and on a hot sizzling iron plate, it takes an avatar of its own.
When Firoz Irani died, and The Sizzler shut down at the Excelsior Cinema, his son Shahrukh Irani decided to open another sizzler joint at Breach Candy and called it Touché. That’s where I first had my taste of not only sizzlers, but Hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks and club sandwiches.
With time even Touché shut shop, but Kobe Sizzlers still stands tall. With branches in Bandra and Dubai, it has stayed loyal with a larger part of the menu. The steaks are available in a variety of sauces, mushroom and Schezwan and pepper being the most popular, the highest selling steak is the Satellite Steak which has mushroom, fresh cream, and cheese. The hamburger steak which is a big buff patty surrounded by fries, onions, and vegetables doused in sauce of your choice on a sizzling hot plate and everything available in a chicken version as well. You may be surprised to know that Kobe has managed to adapt most of their dishes to create an extensive vegetarian menu, so much so that while this may seem like a meat-eater’s paradise, Kobe is frequented by a whole lot of pure vegetarian eaters as well.
For me, I am not a huge fan of the sizzler, just because I don’t have the patience to eat such hot food, and my tongue and mouth still get scorched in my hurry to get to the meal. But I love their steak buns, the Wiener schnitzel — a thin, breaded, pan-fried veal cutlet, and their wholesome Scotch Broth Soup with fried croutons. And finally, what no restaurants does today, they make their own potato chips, not french-fries, potato chips. Takes me back to my childhood and beyond it.
Kunal Vijayakar is a food writer based in Mumbai. He tweets @kunalvijayakar and can be followed on Instagram @kunalvijayakar. His YouTube channel is called Khaane Mein Kya Hai.