Hassan Haji introduces himself, the star of his own show, and tells us that he was born above a restaurant in Mumbai, the city formerly known as Bombay. Take note: The First thing we hear about him relates to food.
He comes from a poor Muslim family, whose history he relates to us starting with his grandfather. Bapaji's (Grandfather's) "great hunger" (double meaning here) drives him from the streets where he hustles as a lunch delivery boy all the way up to becoming a popular cook for soldiers in a U.S. Army base during World War II.
Bapaji takes advantage of an opportune moment in real estate to buy his own property and officially set up shop. Hassan's father and aunt are born, and when hard times come to India after WWII, the family goes into hiding.
Papa then meets Tahira, Hassan's mother, and falls in love with her because she smells of chapatis, which is Indian flatbread. Yum.
Hassan begins to relate his own memories, the earliest of which is holding his father's hand in from of the Hyderabad Restaurant, which is located on the rich end of Mumbai. While they're standing there, they watch the celebrity restaurant owner, Uday Joshi, step out of the restaurant and immediately get swarmed by cameramen. Papa stomps off in a jealous huff, challenged by his money and success.
We get to know Papa. He is large, he is old school—"always dressed in the old way, a kurta, over trousers" (1.35)—and he is kind of gross, particularly after large meals. Despite the rather unappetizing description, Hassan admires his dad for his incredible determination and "charisma" (1.38). He now runs the family business and is the man of the house.
Sensations of Hassan's childhood: Indian spices, buzzing flies, sweat, and family crowded together cooking and eating. These memories are idealized in his mind to the point where fish scales are "jewels" and fish blood is "ruby red" (1.41).
Once a month, Papa and Hassan travel to Malabar Hill, the fancy side of town. Papa keeps a judging eye on the comings and goings of the upper class and his polished nemesis, Uday Joshi.
When Hassan is twelve, Papa goes all out to set up Bollywood Nights, a huge and glittering lower-side sensation right on the edge of Mumbai high society.
Meanwhile, trouble is on the horizon. Hassan remembers vultures that come from the nearby burial ground and circle overhead.