Queen’s Road: I don’t know when eating local food became an integral part of my travel experiences. Growing up across North-India, my diet consisted of rajma-chawal, kadhi, paneer, stuffed parathas, yellow dal, bhujia subzis, occasional puris, and the staple whole-wheat rotis. I never explored what lay beyond obvious representatives of regional Indian cuisines. For me, South-Indian food was dosa and idli, Gujarati food was dhokla and Bengali cuisine was all about fish curry and rice. Similarly, until my mid-20s, I associated Maharashtrian food with only bhel-puri and pani-puri.
It was only when I moved to Pune, years later, that I learnt about some authentic and delectable regional dishes. By that time I had already been travelling for several years and had developed an interest in exploring local food. I decided to find out where were those old eateries with tattered roofs that served simple local food at out-dated prices.
I started with my highway-favourite Maharashtrian snack, Misal-Pav. I had eaten this in various forms on my road trips across the state, but it was only when I ate one at Shri Krishna Bhuvan in Budhwar Peth that I learnt of its layered taste and textures and knew what I had been missing!
Misal, literally meaning mixture, has no fixed recipe. However, Krishna Bhuvan, like most other traditional eating joints, serves it with a layer of poha at bottom, topped with mildly-spiced boiled potato, sprouted moth beans, sev (farsan), garnished with chopped coriander and onions, and accompanied by the trademark reddish-orange gravy, called sample (pronounced as s-aam-ple). This is slurped up with plain slices of bread. It was a huge leap from the misal-pav I’d eaten previously.
The exact history of misal is unknown, but I am told by locals that it originated as a breakfast food for the hardworking common man. It is prepared using leftovers and when accompanied by bread or pav, makes a filling, high-carb meal. Shri Krishna Bhuvan, specialising only in a handful of breakfast/snack items, belongs to an era when all the restaurants in Pune would shut in the afternoon for a siesta, but with changing times, they’ve adapted and are now open till 7:30 pm. If you’re heading there on a weekend, be prepared to wait in a long queue to get a table.
One would also not want to miss the fare at the legendary Poona Guest House, a guesthouse cum restaurant standing strong for over 80 years. It is one of those local haunts with crumbling façades, a narrow staircase and oodles of old-world charm, still serving authentic Maharashtrian cuisine at rock bottom prices. Poona Guest House was one of the typical ‘addas’ of theatre and film artists like Dev Anand, Lalita Pawar and Sulochana. Started by late producer-actor-director, Shri Nana Sarpotdar, it is now run by his family members. Here I tasted some more local dishes like Puran Poli, a flatbread stuffed with jaggery sweetened filling, Thalipeeth, a multigrain pancake (roasted or fried) served with white butter, green chilli chutney and garlic-peanut chutney, Sol Kadhi, a pink coloured drink made of kokum and coconut milk.
While walking through the by-lanes of the old city, it’s almost impossible to miss the various ‘Sweet Home’ hoardings. I went into a such New Sweet Home and came out satiated after trying out Matar Karanji, a savoury version of North-Indian Gujhia, Gulkand Laddu made of dried rose petals and Sabudana Khichdi, a savoury dish made of tapioca pearls.
I also tried out Mastani. More than the drink, I was intrigued by its name and found its original 80-year-old home in Gujjar Cold Drink House, Budhwar Peth. Surrounded by lottery shops, in midst of Pune’s red-light area, stands a no-frills joint, with community tables, vintage advertisements, kitschy-gaudy decorations, efficient staff and over 50 flavours of Mastani.
History goes that the Gujjars were the first ones to make ice creams in Pune, some 80-85 years ago. They started mixing ice-cream with cream, milk and seasonal fruit flavours to create a summer drink. The drink was called a ‘cold drink’ until 30-35 years back, when people started calling it ‘Mast’, which later got modified to Mastani. Now, a Mastani, is commonly available across Pune with relatively newer brands like Sujata opening several outlets across the city. But it’s at Gujjar Cold Drink House that the story began!
Then I found a place that has been serving really good Parsi food at very low prices for over 136 years. Dorabjee & Sons remains a family-run place.
Here, I tried Salli Chicken with roti, their popular Mutton Dum Biryani and then topped all that with a really thick and creamy Malai Kulfi.One cannot talk about the Parsi contribution to the city of Pune without mentioning Kayani Bakery. When I got there, it took me a good 10 minutes to reach the counter and order their famous Shrewsbury biscuits. Kayani is not simply a bakery, it’s a little wonderland with biscuits like Shrewsbury, ginger, chocolate, and cakes like mawa, madeira, sponge with chocolate icing and several fresh out-of-oven breads. Started in 1955 by an immigrant Irani family, Kayani has become a household name in Pune. They make about 250 kilos of Shrewsbury biscuits everyday and they are almost always sold out by the end of the day!
It is heartening that Pune still loves these traditional joints in the by-lanes of the old city, where you can experience the food, architecture and pace of another era. It is at these joints that I found the common man of Pune eating, resting and sharing his stories.
During my next trip to Pune, I want to explore the legendary fare at Vaishali and gobble some sandwiches and macaroons at the 50-year-old Marz-o-Rin, the pioneers in Pune’s fast food scene, and chill at Café Good Luck that’s been serving delicious affordable food for 75 years.
— at http:// www.travelsandstories.com