The rejuvenating sound of Chinese tadka, the early morning smell of sambar, the soft touch of Bun Maska, the auspicious look of Puneri Thali and the taste of numerous cuisines that sit right on top of a Punekar’s tongue, an exotic species amongst foodies which eats through all its five senses.
As a member of this species, this International Eating Out day, I cannot resist but write about the culinary pleasures this beautiful city offers. Pune is home to all major global cuisines, but today, I write about the top three cuisines which have been reinvented time and again and have never stopped ruling Pune’s foodscape.
The festive Thali, our Identity:
In 1935, Nanasaheb Sarpotdar set up the Poona Guest House as an eat-out/cafeteria for his film company. Soon, it became a regular diner for struggling theatre artists, students, and eventually, families living on and around Laxmi Road.
This grand legacy of Thali is being carried forward by innumerable restaurants such as Shreyas, Durvankur and Badshahi. While Durvankur and Badshahi are famous for their homely and delicious plates of food, there is hardly anyone living in downtown Pune who hasn’t eaten at Shreyas, especially during festivals such as Gudi Padwa or Dasera.
Thalis are a wholesome, delicious collection of at least eight dishes, all served together in a format that leaves you ‘santusht’ (there’s no English equal; satisfied is the closest) at the end of it. Inter alia, a solkadhi on the side, a crispy papad, coconut chutney, and a delectable sweet to leave you with a happy feeling in the end – A Thali is a mix bag of flavours. Cramped together in a plate, all these flavours still maintain their distinctiveness and identity. Thalis are indeed true representation of Pune’s culture.
Up until recently, Pune’s concept of Thali was restricted mostly to vegetarian food, but in the last couple of years, the non-vegetarian variant has become a rage. Places such as I am Lion Strictly Non-Veg, Surve’s and Dakkhan serve delicious chicken and mutton Thalis. With variants such as alni (bland) chicken Thali and chulivarcha mutton (Mutton cooked in traditional slow cooking ovens) Thali, these places are a major crowd puller. In fact, I was surprised to see a long queue outside the newly opened Surve’s branch in Kothrud during the month of Shravan, when the religious lot among meat lovers refrain from eating meat.
Puneri Chinese – Unapologetically Unauthentic:
As a college student in Pune, I was no stranger to late night loitering and urgent food cravings around midnight and hence to Punyacha Chinese, found exclusively near Baba Bhide pool and at a particular joint on FC road named Kok-Pa Chinese. A Manchow soup followed by an almost involuntary request “Wo thoda shev jyada dena” (Please give some extra shev), spicy schezwan chicken (might be spelled, Sichuan in China, but who cares?) and Hakka Noodles which were anything but bland is a standard order at these places.
Transforming from a student to a working professional adds a few more nickels to the pocket. You slowly climb the ladder from these street-side joints to places such as the modest Golden Dragon in Kothrud, to The Chinese Room on Karve Road, to, ultimately, Mainland China. And yet, the love for Puneri Chinese keeps taking you back to those joints which offer no ambience, but certainly a guaranteed sizzle on the tongue.
The once murky Kok-Pa Chinese on FC road has thrown in a pleasant surprise by opening a swanky place in Baner, a place which retains the delicious taste of the past, but with the kind of ambience you would want to take your non-Puneri guests to. With iconic dishes like Chinmay Chicken, Golden Dragon in Kothrud is a great place to order food from, when you and your friends are hit by a sudden urge for Chinese food on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Some would want me to include momos, especially tandoori momos here, but respectfully, that’s North-Eastern, and it is mandatory for a foodie to recognize the difference between momos and dumplings.
Puneri Chinese is far from being authentic Chinese food and it does not shy away from this fact. Go to a Chinese restaurant owner and talk to him about authentic Chinese food and he will politely (not really, whom am I kidding, we are talking about a shop owner in Pune!) tell you how he and his customers do not give two hoots about it. Puneri Chinese is distinctive and has not just coexisted, but also prospered alongside other, more traditional cuisines in this city. Like the Thali, the secret of its success is its steady evolution with changing times. Do pause reading this article and order a Triple Schezwan right away.
Puneri South Indian – A story as thick as the chutney, and as deep as Sambar.
Fans of authentic South Indian food would always consider Matunga, Mumbai as the default headquarters of this cuisine outside of the Southern states. Pune, however, adds its own zing to South Indian cuisine.
The rich taste of sajuk tupatla dosa (dosa made with desi ghee) and the iconic sambar cheer up the gloomiest of mornings of a true Punekar. The eternal smell of sambar around Hotel Vaishali, a restaurant which has a cult-like following across age groups, is unforgettable for anyone who has waited to taste the simmering hot plate of delicious medu wadas dipped in its goodness.
In the last few years, restaurants like Iddos and Anna’s Idli have brought in the authentic taste and plating style of this cuisine and are an absolute rage amongst foodies. The definition of a perfect Sunday morning which often begins with shopping at mandai, a walk on ARAI tekdi, or a match at the old Deccan Gymkhana is surely incomplete if not followed by a South Indian breakfast at a joint you are absolutely religious about.
The brand loyalty towards South Indian food joints in this city is beyond comprehension. A true Vaishalite would rather die than hail any other sambar as tastier, while staunch loyalists of Wadeshwar and Roopali swear equally vociferously by their brands. All three restaurants have been coexisting and thriving on the same street, serving the same cuisine, for years now.
Which team am I affiliated to? Well, as a foodie, and I like a bit of all. The delicious podi idli of Wadeshwar, the scrumptious mix wada (sambar separate!) of Roopali, and the divine cheese Mysore sada dosa from Vaishali are some of my absolute favourites and manage to satisfy my palate on all of the 52 Sundays of the year.
We take food seriously in this city and the growing, thriving food culture of this city is a testament to that. Pune began as a modest food destination serving local foods, but now offers a variety of global cuisines. While developing the Climb app – India’s first social media app, which offers a discounting based on your social media likeability, I got a chance to explore the food scene of Pune like never before. As someone who loves cooking and eating out, I love the foodscape of Pune city in so many ways that this International Eating Out Day, my only concern is that I cannot love it enough.
The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.