Have food? Will Walk.

Pune is very rarely labelled as a food city. Very few think 'Food!' when they think about Pune (I mean, I do, but then I would even go to Bank Street to look for a bakery. Oh wait, I have done that).

A stack of Bhakris

Pune has it's own 'Khau Gallis'  but nothing is wildly popular, or at least it seems so at first (at least not like Paranthewali Galli or Paradise Biryani). The old timers, the true blue gourmands and the adventurous all know about the best food places, but for many others, I have sometimes felt that  'Pune Food' probably begins and ends with Vada Pav. Puneri food is often undervalued and more often than not, it goes unappreciated.  (Pardon my cynicism, but it dawned on me recently that only the 'pucca Punekars' have set any value on the food of this city). Tourists and visitors rarely venture out to the old city to try delicacies being served for generations, but then there may be a logical answer to that. The old city can be fairly daunting to a newcomer, with it's narrow lanes, frenzied pace and traffic. Another reason could be the sheer lack of promotion of these old places. The only promotion that happens is by word-of-mouth. Most people do know about Marzorin, Kayani and even Chitale, but how many know about the place in the heart of the old city that has been serving 'dahi icecreams' (translates to 'yogurt ice cream'. Rings a bell? Frozen Yogurt??) since the 1930's? (Cold-drink house, see below!)

Dahi Ice cream - In house promotion

And yet, people travelling out of Pune will in all probability be carrying Chitale chi Bakarwadi by the kilo, Puran Poli in dozens, packets of Laxminarayan Chivda and Amba Barfi enough to fill a refrigerator. I'll make a confession - I have always loved food and I have always loved the food from my home state, but the first time I truly saw Maharastrian food in a different light was at the first Bhimthadi Jatra I went to. There was so much to see there, in terms of food. There is so much depth and intricacy in our food, and there's so much to learn. Take for example, ‘Mande’ it's Puran Poli – only 3 times the size! And they are cooked over open, inverted kadhais (or woks).

Traditional 'Mande' being cooked on open wood fires

Having said all that, people are finally rediscovering food in ways like never before. And I don't mean just fusion and fine dining. I mean our food heritage. Pune is a place that is replete with places small and big full of histories, serving food with love, some for more than 100 years. The first chance I got, I went for a food walk in the old city. It's a nice 3 hour walk, and you eat, you walk, you eat , you walk...A food walk was a novelty, and I had to explain to quite a few friends about how it worked. But then again, I seem to go to crazy lengths when it comes to (re)discovering food.

(Disclaimer: I don't do restaurant reviews and the following should not be taken as such. In my own quirky way, I want to tell you about their histories and the food they serve, more than anything else!)

1. Shri Krishna Bhuvan

Let me introduce you to Misal. A very basic explanation would be a spicy curry served with slices of white bread, but honestly that doesn't even begin to capture what a real Misal is. Misal is a complex curry, made usually with sprouts, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and a very special 'masala' mix. The key in a Misal is the Rassa or the Tarri or sometimes even Sample (no, don't ask me why 'sample') It's the liquid served separately that's made with fried onions, coconut, tomatoes and red chilly powder. Recipes vary, but what you'll get is a fiery red liquid served along side the dry 'bhaji' and bread.

Recently renovated, with a large dining area, Shri Krishna Bhuvan was established in 1941. It used to be a tiny hole in the wall place, and the only identification was the long queue that formed outside the restaurant for the missal. They have been serving misal from the year 1968, and they don't use any sprouts. Instead they add poha(beaten rice). One plate of Misal is very filling, and you can choose to eat a 'medium' Misal if you don't want your tongue burning and eyes watering, or the 'tikhat' (hot) missal, which comes with a deep crimson, hot tarri.

2. New Sweet Home

On the main road, I can't believe I have missed this place for all the years I have living in this city. They specialise in 'Upwas' (fast) food. Go try the 'khichadi' and the 'sabudana wada' and if you want something sweet, the  'shengdana ladu' (groundnut ladoo)

3. Poona Guest House

Poona Guest House - Old World Charm

Started 78 years ago by Nanasaheb Sarpotdar, a pioneer of silent films, Poona Guest House is a charming place. The dining area (or the restaurant) is on the first floor. Spotlessly clean with large tables, and a white  painted, wooden ceiling, this place serves authentic Maharashtrian food. Their menu is called Alpopahar (अल्पोपहार; a light meal). Their food is so good, it doesn't feel like it's come from a restaurant. Indeed, because of the balcony, it hardly feels like a restaurant (almost like you have been invited for a lunch or brunch to someone's house).Their thalpeeth is not deep fired but made on a 'tawa' and served with a generous dollop of white butter (good ol' makkhan) and garlic chutney. Their dadpe pohe (fine beaten rice, tossed with onions, coconut and tempered spices) are spicy and sweet and make the perfect mid morning snack (beats all other processed fast foods).
Dadape Pohe

Puran Poli, smeared with 'ghee'

The menu that has not fallen prey to the fancy menu cards of the 21st century
4. Coldrink House

Established 1923.

Yes, that's how generic it gets. This place, also known locally as Gujar Mastani House, is where the (very Puneri) beverage Mastani originated.The cold drink house was established in 1923 (which makes it a 90 years old!). The beverage was known for many years as Ice cream-cold drink or Dudh cold drink. To make it more glamorous and probably exotic, someone decided to name the drink Mastani.

Mastani was the second wife of the very famous Peshwa Baji Rao I. Legend has it that she was 'fair', and very, very beautiful. A princess and a danseuse. Their story from the 18th century is the stuff legends are made of, and there is a lot of folklore around it.  The beverage, on the other hand, is a delicious mix of ice cream, milk and dried fruit. Every place has it's own version.

The coldrink house, located amongst countless lottery houses, is a tiny place. There are a couple of rooms with minuscule booths and there are hand drawn paintings and photographs adorning the wall. But when the mastani arrives in front of you, you forget everything, as you drown out the noise to focus on the taste of the rich creamy ice-cream.

Photos of their Mastani are faded, but they still lure you into trying a glass, or two, or three...

I went for the Pune Food Trail organised by The Western Routes, so if you are in Pune, take a look at their Facebook page.


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