An Englishman, a Parsee and a Punekar walked into a bar. The story of 6 restaurant stops on the Pune Cantonment food walk with a biryani bonus at the end



The very popular Garden Vada Pav stall at Pune where the walk started

This post is about a food walk that I went to in Pune's Cantonment area and features some legendary places there such as Garden Vada Pav, Dorabji and Sons and Marz-O-Rin and at camp, Blue Nile.

Hopping on to Jayesh Paranjape's Pune Cantonment Food Walk


I have had the good fortune of attending some truly wonderful food walks across the world in places such as Seville, Madrid, Barcelona, Prague, Rome, Dubai and Hong Kong. This is the story of another food walk that I went on recently and and happened much closer  home, in Pune to be precise 

The walk was conducted by Jayesh Paranjape. Jayesh has done his MSc in responsible tourism from the Leeds University and the impact of this international exposure showed in the excellent quality of the walk that he took me a and a couple of travel bloggers/ writer, Alka Kaushik from Delhi and Shoma Abyhankar from Pune, on. This was on 13th August 2018. Jayesh is based in Pune and runs a travel and tourism company called The Western Routes and curates experiences across the country and around a variety of themes. 

Luckily for us, he now does food walks in Pune too and his love for his hometown and for food make them special. However, I will do disservice to Jayesh’s earnestness if I make this post about him and not about the city he loves, and so will switch tracks and tell you about the walk now.

Alka and Shoma hung on to every word that Jayesh said as did I. I ate more
than them though but then I was the food blogger in the group

'Attention!'


We met on a Monday when most establishments in Pune, especially the traditional Maharashtrian owned ones in the ‘city’ area, are shut. No problem, Jayesh had an ace up his sleeve. He took us to another part of Pune, the Cantonment area, which is referred to by locals as both 'cant' and 'camp'.

This is where, Jayesh told us, the British had set up their army camp when they moved in to Pune when they ruled India. This area was slightly away from where the ‘natives’ lived then so that neither would disrupt each other’s lives. 

As they are wont to do, especially if one goes by what one has seen in Mumbai too at least, the Parsis too settled close to the British and cantonment became home to the city’s Parsi population too. After Mumbai, Pune is the other big Indian city with a significant Parsi presence. There are colleges set up by them in the city, Irani cafes too, grand Parsi bungalows too, and a lot of this is concentrated at Cant.

My friend, Dr Kurush Dalal, a Parsi and proud alumni of Pune's Deccan College's archaeology department, told me that technically 'cantonment' means more than just an army camp. A cantonment is where civilian houses, shops and a whole ecosystem, that centres around an army camp, exists. In Pune the terms camp and cantonment are used interchangeably. I guess this makes sense since while the British have gone, the Parsis are still here and the area is now a thriving section of the erstwhile Maratha capital city of Pune.

History has a funny way or ironing out the creases you could say. Jayesh's paternal grandmother was Parsi while the rest of his antecedents are Maharashtrian. 

The heading of the post is a PJ based on the history where we went to. It is not the start of a archetypal 'three men walked in to a bar' joke. 

Sir Jamsetji Jejeebhoy Agiary, Pune, consecrated in 1844

Garden Vada Pav

Address948 And 949, Buttee Street, Camp Cantonment , Camp Area, Pune, Maharashtra 411001

The biggest fire temple in Pune, the Jansetji Jejeebhoy Agiary, is located near the JJ Gardens in Pune. The area is famous today among food lovers in the city for the JJ Garden vada pav gaari (food cart). I had been told to go there by former Punekars in Mumbai when I told them that I was going to Pune, as I was told to by Punekars on social media too when they heard that I was in their city. Our food walk in Pune’s ‘Parsi town’ started ironically with the vada pav!

Not so 'ironically' though given that every Parsi that I know, especially my late father in law, loves the vada pav. Even my wife (a Parsi) and I used to stop for vada pavs on the way back from work every evening at Nariman Point when we were dating. 




Coming back to Pune and Gaden Vada Pava, I noticed a couple of things that that were different about the vada pav there. 

Firstly, the batata vada patty was flat and not round unlike in Mumbai. Secondly, the potato filling was not as intensely turmeric hued as it is in Mumbai and was not too high on chilli heat either.

The made to order batata vada


Jayesh, who has been coming here to eat ever since he was a kid with his grandparents, told me that the batata vada patty was flat so that it covers the entire surface of the pav. In Mumbai, you squash the vada pav for the potato filling to spread across the pav. No such problems here. The batata vada and the pav are literally 'made for each other' here!

Jayesh added that Punekars don’t have a high tolerance for spice and that he found even these batata vadas spicier than what his mom makes for him at home. Yet, this doesn’t stop him though from wolfing down a few when he is near JJ though he now lives 20 km away from the JJ Garden. 

The vada pav stall started in the  early 70s Jayesh tells me (1972 according to a Mid Day article) and was just a cart then. With business growing over the years, they have now taken a shack close by to fry the million batata vadas (figuratively speaking) required every day and they then get them piping hot to the cart for hungry customers thronging it. 

This was possibly the nicest thing that I ate at Cant that evening.


JJ Garden Vada pav...the inside story

A walk down Parsi memory lane




We then walked down the lane (Dastoor Meher Rd) paste the JJ Garden as the sun begun to set. The weather was damp with the odd drizzle accompanying us as we walked down and there was a slight nip in the air.  The weather made me realise why the British liked this spot so much. As did I.

Jayesh pointed out to the buildings and houses around us. The balconies of the Parsi houses had closed grills he said, some sporting patterns of Queen Victoria’s face! The few Maharashtrian houses around had open balconies and courtyards we learnt and Jayesh said that we would see more of this in the ‘peth’ area and the city. We walked by a Parsi colony too which had boards with announcements from the Parsi Panchayat displayed on the gate including the unfortunate demise of a resident.

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Kay's Chocolates


Property No 877, Bootee Street, Camp, Pune - 411001, Opposite Cafe Garden

We walked into a shop where a Parsi lady and her middle-aged son, Shahryar, ran a small chocolate shop called Kay’s Chocolates. This was the new avatar of their family business I learnt and they earlier manufactured chocolates for big brands. The family has now moved into retail due to changes in policy of their client after multiple ownership changes there. 

The look and feel of the shop was similar to that that of the RTI restaurants in Mumbai. Spartan and warm, like a Parsi grandma's pantry. We were given some butterscotch chocolate balls to taste by mamma (granny) and I bought some pistachio chocolates to share with the Parsi side of my family on the Parsi new year for which I was going back to Mumbai the day after.

Chocolate love at Kay's


Dorabjee & sons


AddressNo. 845, Dastur Meher Road, Sharbat Wala Chowk, Pune, Maharashtra 411001



Our next stop was Dorabjee & Sons. Established in 1878, this is the oldest running restaurant in Pune, Jayesh conjectured. It is a small, humble, neat and clean place that serves largely Parsi food and snacks. It is still run by the founder’s family. The staff around that evening were elderly locals though and not Parsi. It seemed as if they had worked here for years and felt like they were part of the family. They welcomed us in warmly and like at every place that I visited during my short trip, they too dispelled the urban legend of the grouchy and sarcastic Pune restaurant owners and staff that I had heard of.

Dal gosht with biryani rice at Dorabji


Jayesh had been coming here since he was four (yes) years old he told us. He said that he is a big fan of its biryani and I later learnt that its biryani is what Dorabjee is loved for the most. I wanted to try the dhansak as I always do at a Parsi eatery. Turned out that they have a daily menu and dhansak features in the weekend.

The ingenious staff came up with an idea of a makeshift dhansak. They served us with dal gos which they said was the same as their dhansak dal. The mutton pieces were tender, the dal sharp in its flavours.  Instead of the caramelised brown rice of dhansak they gave us a plate of the biryani rice. One bite of it and I knew why the biryani here is so popular. Each grain was separate and delectably flavoured as it is in a good Parsi mutton palao dar (dal). I told myself that I must come back here for the biryani some day.

We had the chicken and mutton cutlets at Dorabjee too where the filling was soft but the high salty notes shrouded the flavours I am afraid. I am sure that K, the Parsi cutles freak, would have loved it still.

Mutton and chicken cutles at Dorabji


If Mumbai has Pallonji, then Pune has Ardeshirs making soft drinks based on flavours that Parsis enjoy Jayesh told us. We tried the raspberry at Dorabjee which K loves. It is an acquired habit which I am yet to acquire. I guess cough syrup is not my favourite flavour in drinks! The ladies with us loved it though as did Jayesh. The Limca like lime flavour worked for me.

Lime and raspberry

Cafe Yezdan

Address623, Sharbatwalla Chowk, Sachapir St, Camp, Pune, Maharashtra 411001
With Alka and Jayesh in front of Yezdan


We then moved on and went to Café Yezdan for some more Irani love. 

Pune has a longstanding culture of Irani cafes of which Café Good Luck is the most famous I think. I saw Good Luck a distance the next day though I could not make it to it this time. Cafe Yezdan is another example of these sort of cafe. Unlike Dorabjee, these are not full fledged breakfasts and are more popular for breakfasts and tea.



Chai, toast butter, bun maska

You get toast and butter here, bun maska (butter) and jam too. The bread is bought from local bakeries. At the most expect to get eggs as you do at Yezdan and Good Luck is famous for its kheema too. Chai (tea) is must of course. We skipped the eggs at Yezdan as we were rather full by then but I would love to come back and try them once. We did have some nice chai and toast butter and bun maska though.


White bread toast, butter, it's been so long


The service, once again pretty warm and here too, there was no Parsi/ Irani on sight at the till. This was in contrast to places such as Britannia, Yazdani and Kyani Bakery in Mumbai or even Good Luck in Bandra where you still do see the Parsi/ Irani owners around.

The chai chef at Yezdan

Café YezdanJayesh told us, is popular among those who are in to horse racing as a book to do with betting/ racing is on offer here. We did see many hunched over the little magazine, comparing notes and strategies, while we dipped our buttered toast into hot chai

The atmosphere was vintage and lovely.


Meet the punters


And the bloggers!

Husseny Bakery

Address662, Taboot Street, Opp. Cakes 'n' Coffee, Camp, Pune, Maharashtra 411001



Keeping the Irani flag flying high in person at Pune's Cant was the affable Mr Mehmood Irani. His family had set up the Husseny Bakery in 1932 after they came into India from Yezd in Iran. Originally, Zoroastrian, his ancestors had converted to Islam while stile in Iranand finally moved to India to live their life in peace. He was a science major who decided to take up the family in accordance with the wish of his family elders. The bakery was set up by his father's uncle and he is dutifully carrying the family legacy ahead

The bakes at Husseny Bakery

Mr Mahmood is there every day in the bakery, keeping an eye on the quality of goods and making his customers feel welcome. He was kind enough to take us into the baking section which had a grand wood fired oven and then offered us figs and pistachios which his daughter had brought for him from Iran. "Have the two together," he said and was most excited to hear that I was surrounded by pista and caviar as a kid when I had lived in Rasht in Iran for a year. 


Mr Irani showing a picture of the Husseni Bakery which supplied
bread even during the flour rationing of the Indo Pak war years of the early 1970s


While talking to Mr Mahmood, you would feel as if you had been transported to the sets of the movie Casablanca thanks to his accent and his elegant style of speaking. He told us that his son is a doctor and lives abroad now. Mr Mahmood said that he hopes that his son will take the family business ahead after him and he (M) has even set up a tea shop opposite the bakery for the next gen. 

The products inside were really good and fresh and I took back bags full of milk toast (which I took for my granny in Kolkata who loves rusks from her days in Delhi) and also coconut macrons and khaari biscuits for the Parsis in the family for the new year. The gifts were a hit with all.

A friend from Mumbai, Saumitra Velkar, later told me that located opposite Husseny is Budhani which is famous for their potato wafers and that you now get them across the city.

Mr Mahmood, ever the milk of human kindness, fed us loads of fresh milk toast

Mahalaxmi Khaman Dhokla


Address320, M G Road, Opp Wonderland Lane, MG Road, Camp, Pune, Maharashtra 411001

Mahalaxmi Khaman Dhokla


Our penultimate stop on Jayesh's food walk, was a tiny hole in the wall place and no, this was not  a Parsi or Irani place though there was a connection if one really stretched it and saw. The wares on offer at the Mahalaxmi Khaman Dhokla Store, where Jayesh took us to, were from Gujarat.  The state where the Parsis and Iranis had first landed in when they came to India from Iran.

The delicious khaman dhokla chaat here is what draws Jayesh to the place and we tried a plate of it. Freshly made dhoklas, cut into cubes and served with a tamarind chutney and chaat masala and shev and coriander leaves made for a lovely nostalgic trip for me too. It took me back to my school days in Kolkata when my mother would take me to the Haldiram's at Rabindra Sadan for Dhokla and where I used to dote on the chutney.

There was a dabeli stall in the shop. If vada pav is called the 'Mumbai burger' (sorry Punekars) then dabeli can be called the Gujarati burger. We didn't try it here though as were bursting at our seams.

The smiling owner of the shop was present on site. We spoke to him while having our chaat. He said that he had started the business in 1977 and sold his stuff from a gaari (cart) then. He then set up this little shop as his business took off. His welcome was warm and his smile even sweeter than the chutneys in his chaat, but by then we had realised that this was characteristic of Cantonment, if not Pune.

The owner (on the left) and the chaat ustaad

Marz-O-Rin (Marzorin)

AddressBakthiar Plaza, 6, MG Road, Pune, Maharashtra 411001

Marz-O-Rin, MG Road


Our last stop of the walk was on the main MG Road at the end of Cant. I am talking of Marz-O-Rin, which was recommended to me by many ex-Punekars, based on nostalgia, and others who still lived there, for its chicken sandwiches. The vegetable ones are popular too I learnt. 

I tried both sandwiches. I thought that the bread in the chicken sandwich was a bit dry and the chicken scanty and the aroma rather interesting. The vegetable one was on the same lines though it had a sweetish green chutney instead of mayo and tomato and cucumber slices instead of chicken. 

Were they the best in the world? Well, they have their loyalists and if you are around you might want to give the sandwiches a shot. I was not most excited about them to be honest but felt privileged to have sampled this bite of Pune's heritage.

Let me change the subject and talk about the place instead of dissecting the sandwich. Jayesh told me that Marz-O-Rin was set up in the 60s (1965 according to their website) and was initially a tiny shop then from where sandwiches were sold. Little Jayesh used to come here with his granny who lived close by. I am told that the ownership of the place has changed hands now but I cannot vouch for that. 



As the business grew, Marz-O-Rin occupied a larger space and  now an entire building called Bakhtiar Building. A heritage building which is  125 years old. Today, it is still a hangout of families and even college kids (there were posters telling them not to do their project work here). 

The ground floor is for takeaways. The upper floor is where you can sit and it is a self service place.

A sort of equivalent of Candies in Bandra you could say and to whose chicken sandwiches I am partial to and which I must have when I return home from any trip.

With Jayesh, Shoma and Alka, at the end of the walk

Blue Nile Restaurant

Address102, Bund Garden Rd, Agarkar Nagar, Pune, Maharashtra 411001

While Jayesh's walk ended with Marz-O-Rin, my night didn't. I went back to the hotel (Blue Diamond by Vivanta) and freshened up and then went out for a late dinner. I went to a place called Blue Nile, famous in Pune for its kebabs and biryani. It is located in Camp and at the periphery of Cant. The other local Pune favourite for biryani, and apart from Dorabjee, is SP Biryani. However, it was located too far from Koregaon Park where I was and friends who know me well told me that the biryani there is spicy and not up my street.

The waiter at Blue Nile looked at me with a bit of concern when I chose the Irani biryani instead of the regular dum biryani when I reached the restaurant at 10 pm. "Not spicy enough," he told me with a look of warning and disapproval.

Yet, I beamed when he got me a plate of the fragrant rice with a tub of butter and zereshk berries (from Iran) and pieces of fried, moderately tender, mutton (goat meat) and fried tomato and I will tell you in a bit why I didn't find it to be sans spice. 

Irani mutton biryani at Blue Nile

As I waited for my cab at the end of the meal, I saw an elderly gentleman sitting at the courtyard outside the restaurant. I went up to him to say hi. I learnt that his name is Taher and that he is one of the co-owners of this restaurant which had started in 1965. "Pune was paradise then, now it is not the same," he said when I asked him about the changes that he might seen over the year.

He is Parsi and was most happy to hear that I married one and that I had lived in Iran. We bid each other a warm goodbye as I wished him for the Parsi new year in advance.

There was a certain sense of tranquility that distinguished the aura of Blue Nile that evening and I knew that it was the soul of its genial owners which ensured this. In terms of ambiance, it is a simple place where the focus is on making sure you leave well fed and happy. The sort of place, you could say, where India eats.

Mr Taher of Blue Nile
I felt happy as I headed back to my hotel and I must say that the food at Blue Nile that night added to this peaceful, easy feeling. The Irani mutton biryani at Blue Nile brought about this peaceful, easy feeling. You see, the dish that I ordered at Blue Nile that evening, took me back in time to just the sort of food that my mother used to make for me when I was a fussy and chubby five year old in Rasht and which I loved.

I savoured those memories in solitude before heading back to my hotel.

The plan next day, to explore the Maharashtrian heart of the city, AKA as the 'city'.

That peaceful easy feeling, Blue Nile Restaurant, Pune


'At ease'


Was the food that evening at Cantonment the most memorable? 

Possible not. In parts perhaps. As Bourdain said it would be, when you travelled. He called this the 'grandma’s kitchen' principle. You don't seek perfection when you travel. It is all about the connections that you make and that was what my evening at Cant was all about.

Were the people nice? They were. 

Was the company great? It sure was. 

Was the evening a happy one? Couldn't have been more. 

Did I come back with interesting stories? You bet I did.

Did you get wet in the rain? No, I didn't. Coincidentally both of us boys had umbrellas and were big enough to give cover to the ladies.

Wait, the last one sounds like a question that my mother would ask me. Come to think of it, she did actually when I returned to Mumbai and  called her. 

She was rather pleased with my answer!

And there you go, this is my second instalment on Pune. As you might have guessed, I really enjoyed writing it. I hope you liked reading it too.

At the end of the last year I decided to travel to parts of India that I have not been to before or have not written about before and come back and tell you their stories.

As you can see, I am having a ball so far!

Appendix:

I. Phone videos from my YouTube Channel, Finely Chopped by Kalyan Karmakar. Please do subscribe to the channel for more slice of life casual videos about where I eat and whom I eat with. They are largely shot and edited by me and whoever is around me with my iPhone 7 Plus using the iMovies software. That's not a plug but am sharing this as some have asked me about it.

1. Garden Vada Pav

2. Dorabji and Sons:



Husseny Bakery:


Marz-O-Rin




II. My earlier post on Pune which is on Koregaon Park

III. More pics

Yezdani Cafe




Down Cantonment Road
Not The Kayani. They are good too said Jayesh. When they
open for business. A mystery apparently






Husseny Bakery


With Mr Mahmood Irani



Dhokla chaat
Marz-O-Rin


Jayesh Paranjape hosted us on the walk. If you want to contact him to engage his services then you can call him at 9011040773/ 9405591758 His website is www.thewesternroutes.com
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