Food is often the best way to explore a place and its culture. Pune’s culinary fabric is a miscellany of singular cuisines that is worth exploring. From humble comfort-food joints tucked in narrow by-lanes of Pune’s old city to chic fine dining destinations offering sophisticated spreads, here’s a list of the best places to dine in to understand Pune’s foodscape.
Take a Heritage Breakfast walk
Pune’s old city is studded with historic sites like the Shanivar wada, Vishrambaug wada, ornate temples and flamboyant old buildings. Explore the area on foot, and in between seeing the sights, clicking photographs and haggling with street vendors, grab quick bites at few of the city’s iconic eateries. The Western Routes, a city-based travel outfit that organizes customised tours in and around Pune, conducts a Heritage Breakfast Tour that takes you to a few of the city’s oldest food joints to sample their signature breakfast treats. There’s lots to bite in to – piping hot matar karanji, a deep-fried pastry with a green pea and coconut stuffing; and upavas kachori, savoury potato croquets stuffed with a sweet coconut and dry fruits filling, available at The New Sweet Home. Or tackle a fiery version of the Puneri Misal at the seventy-five-year-old Shri Krishna Bhuvan, and dig into crusty thalipeeth and ghee-laced puran poli, at the octogenarian Poona Guest House. Finally, cool down with a glass of Mastani, Pune’s almost-century old trademark ice-cream shake at the Cold Drink House in Budhvar peth.
Sample a pure vegetarian Maharashtrian thali
The Janseva Bhojanalaya in the Deccan Gymkhana area is one stop you must make on your culinary journey in Pune. Another heritage eatery now in its eighth decade, Janseva Bhojanalaya serves pure vegetarian Marathi Brahmani thalis comprising typical Mahrashtrian delicacies like the slightly sweet and tangy Aamti, the thin sour Kadhi, subtly spiced Chana Usal, spicy Masali Bhaat and crusty Bhakhri served with a host of condiments. The food is simple and scrumptious, reminiscent of a home-cooked meal served in a humble, no-frills setting. While you are there ask for kharvas, a unique sweet dish made from the first-drawn milk of a lactating cow, which is then reduced, flavored with saffron and cardamom, and chilled to set.
Bun maska and Irani chai
Like Mumbai, Pune too has had its share of quaint Irani cafes, which have been as much a part of the city’s cultural bequest as it has been of its culinary fabric. Over the years some of these illustrious eateries, famously synonymous with their bun-maska and Irani chai, have closed their doors for good. The ones that remain continue to woo locals and tourists by virtue of their iconic dishes and, sometimes, sheer nostalgia. Take for instance the Goodluck Café, near the Fergusson College Road, which does brisk business dishing out dishes like Bun-omelet, kheema masala fry and Biryani. Their gooey, slightly bitter, chocolate mousse is a must try. On the other hand you could try the double cheese omelet at Café Yezdan in the Camp area, or simply settle for soft buns slathered with butter and a cup of Irani chai at Café Vohuman on Sasoon Road.
Relish a lavish Parsi meal
The cultural legacy of the Parsis in Pune is strong and splendid, their dwindling numbers notwithstanding. And no culinary quest in Pune can be complete without a taste of the flamboyant Parsi cuisine. Your best bet – Dorabjee & Sons. Located in a quiet lane flanked by charming old buildings with gabled roofs and stained glass windowpanes, Dorabjee & Sons has been serving authentic Parsi food since 1878. Their mutton cutlets, spiced minced-meat patties dipped in whisked eggs and fried, are outright winners. The cutlets quite literally melt in the mouth. The Mutton Sali Gosh, a light and flavourful mutton curry topped with a heap of crispy thin potato sticks (sali) is especially recommended. However, if you want to sample the quintessential dhansak, a slow cooked meat and lentil curry served with a brown rice pilaf, or the patrani machhi, another Parsi classic, go on a Sunday.
Satiate your seafood cravings
Pune has seen a proliferation of seafood restaurants in recent years and the most popular among the city’s seafood destinations are Masemari – The Fishing located in the Sadashiv Peth area and Fish Curry Rice on Law College Road. While Masemari offers a delectable assortment of Malvani, Marathi, Goan dishes like Ravas (Indian salmon) Hooman and Surmai (King Fish) Aambat and rarer Karwari specialties like Prawn Tikhale, at Fish Curry Rice, a regular fish thali typically includes a semolina-crusted fish of your choice, a Malvani-style curried fish and a spicy prawn curry, served with rice or bhakhri and a bowl of solkadhi, a cooling drink made of coconut milk and kokum.
Go on a Vada Pav binge
If you have a soft spot for vada pav, you must sample the ones from JJ Garden Vada Pav in the camp area. Expect a sizeable crowd through the day – office goers grabbing a quick lunch, college students on cool motorbikes out for a snack and families huddled in posh cars on an evening out. But the wait is surprisingly short. The JJ Garden men operate at lightning speed – it is quite like a relay race between three pairs of adept hands – dishing out deliciously spiced potato fitters and fried green chilies shoved in between soft pav bread smeared with a generous splotch of spicy and tangy green chutney. In fact, it is this green chili and coriander chutney that is said to give the Garden Vada Pav its special status. Relish the vada pav while it’s smoking hot, wash it down with a glass of Masala Chhaanch (spiced buttermilk) and order for a second one. You simply can’t stop at one.
You can’t leave Pune without sampling the legendary Kayani Bakery’s celebrated shrewsbury. Why not take some home? Bakarvari is the quintessential Maharashtrian snack and Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale is said to make the best ones in town. No wonder they sell over 3000 kilos of bakarvadi a day. You should also pick up a few bags of crisp potato wafers from the legendary Budhani Waferwala in the camp area.