|Dahi, sliced bread, onion bhaaji and green chilli, misal sample (red), sev. |
Shree Krishna Bhuvan, Tulsi Baug
The Maharashtrian heart of Pune
As you probably know, I went to Pune on a food trip earlier this year in August. I have written a couple of blog posts on my experiences from then. One was on Koregaon Park and the other on the Cantonment or Camp area of Pune. Here, is the third and final post on the trip.
This post is about my visit to the area in Pune that is referred to as ‘city’ by locals. This is the traditional part of Pune, its original settlement. One could argue that this is the heart of Pune too. Well, that's the feeling that I came back with at least.
Cantonment and Koregaon Park reflect two distinct phases in the evolution of the city of Pune. The former, traces its roots to when the British took over Pune from the Peshwas and established a garrison, a bit away from where the city was then based. The latter, was where Osho set up his commune and which became the hub of hipster Pune, the successors of the flower children of yore. It became particularly trendy with students from across the country flocking to Pune towards the end of the 20th century to study.
|The grandness of the city. The Pune of the Peshwas.|
However, it is only when I went up to the part known as the 'city,' on my last day, that the magnificence and scale of the city of Pune hit me. That is when one remembered that Pune’s original identity was that of the capital of the Peshwa chiefs of Maharashtra. Not just a British garrison city, nor the colourful base of a controversial Guru.
In the wide roads which where bustling with people, in the grand old buildings located in its vadis and peths, in its markets selling everything conceivable from flowers to saris and cooking utensils to its small, close to a century old, masala and provision shops, and in the large book shops selling academic books of the city, lies tales of the grand history of Pune as I realised. That is where I would recommend that you should head to discover the city's soul. A place very very different from the 'chilled out' lanes of Koregaon Park and the sepia tinted tones of the cantonment area that I had experienced till then in the trip.
I finally found myself in the middle of a city that was full of energy and whose people looked as if they were on a mission. This to me is where Pune had 'cast of the transient' and came into its own in my heart.
My objective during my trip to the city was very clear. I wanted to try out some of the traditional Maharashtrian restaurants there that day. No more French bakeries and Asian eateries and Irani cafes this time, unlike what I had experienced till then in Pune.
I began with a bit of a misal exploration. Misal means ‘mixture’ and is a dish which is popular across the state of Maharashtra. There are debates on whether it is more of an in between meals snack than a dish to be had at main meals. On whether it belongs to the homes of Maharashtrians or to the bylanes of the state. Discourse aside, there is no denying the fact that the popularity of misal remains unabated in Pune regardless of the changes that the city sees. I am told that there is a new misal place opening up every other day here. I found this news slightly reassuring given the rapid change that the city of Pune seems to be undergoing. It was great to see traditional food favourites still holding strong and moving with the times.
I had earlier heard that misal eating practises are slightly different in Pune compared to those in Mumbai. To start with, they have it with sliced bread here unlike in Mumbai where pao rules today. I am told that there was a time when misal was had by itself or with roti but not with pav in Hindu households but that is a story for another day. I had also heard that misal in Pune tends to be on the sweeter side. Now that I was on ground zero, I was dying to experience the truth first hand.
Jayesh Paranjape, with whom I had gone on a food walk at Cantonment the previous evening, had suggested that I go to Shri Krishna Bhuvan first. He said that the taste of the misal here is more convivial to non-Puneri taste buds as it tends to be more on the savoury side and is not too sweet.
|Following the misal trail to Shri Krishna Bhuvan|
down the Tulsi Baug Market
Shri Krishna Bhuvan is located in Tulsi Baug. There is a busy market which lies in the lane leading up the eatery and it reminded me of the markets near Dadar Station in Mumbai. I am told that women in Pune flock this market to buy masalas and utensils for their kitchen as well as saris and jewellery and what not.
“Ladies in Pune love this place,” said Neelima Nitin to me when we reached the spot. Neelima is a Pune based food blogger. She belongs to another part of Maharashtra from what I gathered, but along with her husband and her son has made Pune her home now. She most kindly agreed to accompany me on my exploration that day and I am truly grateful for that. Her friendly and lively nature ensured that people opened up to us with their stories. When language was an issue, she would translate what they were saying for me. Her indefatigable energy and good cheer was infectious that day.
|Neelima Nitin, the Duracell Bunny of Pune|
We reached Tulshi Baug after a 40 min Uber ride from Koregaon Park and had to cover the last bit to Shri Krishna in an auto. We finally located the restaurant and walked up the first floor which is where the seating area is. The place is not air-conditioned, the seating simple and the place very clean. The eatery was full of people of all age groups and belonging to both genders, all eating happily at noon.
At Shri Krishna Bhuvan we met Mr Atul Joshi who is the third generation owner of the place. His grandfather, the late Yashwant Joshi, had started the business in 1941. At that time it was a small eatery Atul told me, and which served snacks as puri bhaaji and chai to those who came to shop at the market. The family then opened a small restaurant which was located at the ground floor of the current premises and Atul’s father, Sudhakar Joshi, ran it till he (dad) passed away. That is also the time Shri Krishna became famous for its misal. Atul then created the first-floor section sometime back and kept the ground floor reserved for takeouts on Sundays when the rush of customers is high. He added his own touch to the misal. Instead of adding the customary sprouts which the curry in misal has. He added potato bhaaji and pohe instead. He liked this combination himself he said and so did his customers and I would add myself to the list of the fans of the Shri Krishna misal now!
The pairing of the hot and savoury curry of the misal with the turmeric spiked mashed potatoes of the bhaaji, the gentle and nourishing taste and texture of the pohe, the crunchy sev and zestful red raw onions, makes for quite a rejuvenating, hearty and lip smacking dish in my opinion.
|With Atul Joshi at Shri Krishna Bhuvan with a plate of misal|
I found another difference between the misal of Pune and Mumbai apart from the sliced bread served instead of pav that is, at Shri Krishna Bhuvan. I had early referred to a ‘curry’ when I spoke of the misal at Shri Krishna. Well I meant the gravy or sauce actually. This is served on the side and poured on to the pohe and potatoes by diners according to their taste. In Pune, this red gravy is called kat or ‘sample’. In Mumbai, it is called tari.
At Shri Krishna Bhuvan they serve the sample separately and you then add the gravy from there according to your choice. In Mumbai on the other hand, the sprouts and potatoes are put in same plate as the sample/ kat/ tari, topped with farsan and not just sev, and served.
Pune allows one more customisation in misal as I discovered that day. Neelima said that those who find misal spicy have the option adding curd to tone down the chilli heat levels. I did not need to do that at Shri Krishna though, despite my low tolerance levels for chilli heat.
|Onion Bhaaji at Shree Krishna|
I also tried a delicious kanda bhaajia at the restaurant at Atul’s insistence. The gram flour batter coating was soft and juicy and not too crisp and it was packed with onions inside.
This was good quality food for sure and it was no surprise later, that the kitchen which Mr Joshi showed me were very clean too. This is something that I have noted in all Maharashtrian restaurants that I have been to. Cleanliness comes first to them and they are very proud of their kitchens and are happy to show them to you without any notice.
The legendary Bedekar Misal
|Bedekar Tea Stall|
The most famous misal shop in Pune going by social media chatter seems to be Bedekar misal. I did go there later in the day. To start with, I found out that the actual name of the shop is Bedekar Tea Stall and not Bedekar misal! This humble eatery traces its origins to a tea shop set up in around 1947-1948 by the late Dattatraya Bedekar close by to where the current shop is located. He and his family then began to sell home made snacks out of the shop which operated out of their house. They added misal to their repertoire and this began to define the restaurant and hence the name, Bedekar misal.
The eatery today is bigger than the original place. It has a few a tables and chairs for customers to sit and eat the legendary misal with tea. They have Maharashtrian sweets on offer to such as gulkahnd ladus and a most amazing sugary puff pastry like sweet called chirote.
There is always an orderly queue to enter and the guests are received most politely by the late Dattatraya’s sons, Mr Anil Damodar Bedekar and his bother Ahlad Damodar Bedekar. The third generation of the Bedekar family is involved too in the form of Anil’s young and chirpy daughter, Tanvi. They run the show together and with a lot of heart.
|Ahlad, Anil and Tanvi Bedekar at Bedekar Misal|
The Bedekar family is a Konkanastha one (from the Konkan coast of Maharashtra), unlike Atul Joshi who is Puneri (from Pune). The misal that they serve at Bedekar is indeed on the sweeter side. Interestingly, the misal served here too does not have sprouts. Instead, the kaat or sample at Bedekar has vegetables in it…gourd, pumpkin and the likes. Nutritious and healthy enough to make the mothers of Pune happy about their kids snacking on it I guess. The misal is served with sliced bread of course. The sev put on it is made in house too and the Bedekar’s keep a hawk eye on the quality of the produce used.
A misal that I had the previous day at a maushi thela on the streets of Koregaon Park had sprouts and was spicy and was served with pav and not sliced bread. Goes to show that in Pune, the misal rules are quite liberal.
|Misal, sliced bread, chiothe and gulkhand laddoo at Bedekar|
In case you are wondering, the family that makes Bedekar’s pickles belong to the same village as the Bedekar misal family but are not related according to Mr Anil.
Pune on a thali
|The very busy Shreyas Hotel on a Sunday afternoon|
There’s a lot more to the food of the Puneri Maharashtrians than misal of course and I went to Shreyas to get a flavour of this. Shreyas restaurant is located in a hotel of the same name. It is owned by Mr Chintamani Chitali. He belongs to the same family as the owners of the sweet shop Chitale Bandhu which is best known for its bhakar vadis. Shreyas has just completed around 52 years of its existence and is still going strong as I could see from the crowds at lunch time. They serve vegetarian Maharashtrian thalis and sweets can be ordered a la carte. I realised later that the opinion on Shreyas among locals is divided. There are some who feel that the food is ‘evolved.’ A wry way of saying that it is not true to its Puneri roots today. However, Jayesh Paranjape had suggested that I go there and told me that Shreyas is where he goes himself to have vegetarian thalis. Going by our meeting during his food walk at Cantonment the previous day and my favourable experience at Shri Krishna recommended by him, I knew enough by then to trust Jayesh.
Well, I am not a Maharashtrian and cannot comment on the ‘evolved’ bit at Shreyas, but what I can tell you is that I really enjoyed the food at Shreyas. It was light on the tummy and the flavours complex and invigorating. I did not feel as overwhelmed as I do at a Gujarati thali place and found the thali at Shreyas more to my liking. The restaurant is air-conditioned and the thali came to around 300 Rs.
|Thali at Shreyas|
Some of the dishes that we tried at Shreyas were puris, plain and masala, sol kadhi, a salad called koshimbir, a val chi birda usal (a legume based dish), bharli bharta (a mellow smoked aubergine dish), poli (soft chapatis), masala rice and the chaat that Punekars love, SPDP.
I had gone to Shreyas to meet Preeti Rajesh. She is a Maharashtrian food blogger based in London. We have been friends through Facebook over the years and she and my mom often exchange notes too. Preeti happened to be in town and I took the opportunity to meet her in person. She has just published a lovely book called Paat Paani, which has recipes from her family who belong to Marathwada region of Maharashtra,. She gifted me a signed copy and I bought another copy for a friend.
|With Peeti Rajesh and her book, Paat Paani|
Joining her at Shreyas were Madhura Bachal and Shilpa Bheede who live in Pune. Madhura runs a YouTube channel called Madhura’s Recipes. Shilpa is known as the ‘modak queen’ thanks to her very popular modak making classes. Neelima was with us too and it turned out to be quite a coincidence as all of us belonged to a Facebook group called Angat Pangat which is dedicated to sharing stories of Maharashtrian food.
|Neelima, Priti and Madhura. The Angat Pangat ladies|
I must make special mention of the service at Shreyas as Pune traditionally has had a reputation of not being very service oriented as a city. There were two avuncular gentlemen managing the team at Shreyas and their demeanour was marked by a beautiful balance of discipline and compassion. On seeing me take photographs, one gentleman came up to me and said, “eat first and take photos later. Your food will get cold.”
Then the other gentleman came up to us and the first gentleman gestured towards him and said, “give him your phone, he will take your photographs while you eat.” And then added to reassure me, “he is an expert.”
Later, gentleman no 1, came to me with a tray of dal and rice and ghee and said, “this is dal bhaat tup. Even Tendulkar loves it.”
“I like dal bhaat ghee (Bengali for vadan bhaat tup),” I replied with a cheeky smile. “I am Bengali though. I am a dada (Saurav Ganguly) fan.”
The gentleman broke into a smile, “I like you. You are a happy man.”
Yes, that is the effect Pune had on me. It made me happy.
A side trip for some meaty bits
Maharashtrian food is not just about vegetarian food of course. My first meal in this trip of Pune was a mutton (goat meat) heavy lunch, albeit not in town. This was at a restaurant called Maratha Samrat and I went to branch at Camp. There was a queue to get in on a Sunday afternoon but it was worth the twenty minute wait. Maratha Samrat is a comparatively new restaurant chain and offers food from across the various regions of the vast state of Maharashtra. Unlike the other restaurants mentioned in this post, the ambiance is a bit more posh but the service is still warm and efficient.
|Maratha Samrat, Camp|
The manager was quite helpful and on figuring out that I do not eat very spicy food, recommended the mutton with kala (black) masala from Vidarbha over the Kolhapuri mutton which is what they are best known for. I went for a thali and the ensemble had a Kolhapuri styled kheema and fried mutton in it with the delectable stock based soups, pandara (white and coconut milk based and very soothing) and tambara rassa (red and more spicy). The quality of the meat nonpareil as one could make out from how tender and flavoursome it was. To salvage my conscience, I had jowar (millet) bhaakris to go with the red meat.
Could not have had a better welcome to Pune that that thali. I did follow it with a nice snooze. Mutton followed by a nap is perfect Pune Sunday afternoon plan it seems according to my friend Radhika Dossa, who had recommended the place to me.
Worked for me too!
|Masala rice, mutton gravy, bajra roti, pandara rasa, tambara rasa, mutton fry,|
kheema fry, mutton in kala spice. Maratha Samrat.
Shri Krishna Bhuvan
Bedekar Tea Stall
|With Neelima Nitin at Bedekar|
|With Shilpa Bhide at Shreyas|
Shree Krishna Bhuvan
Shreyas Hotel: No. 1242 B, Apte Rd, Deccan Gymkhana, Pune, Maharashtra 411004
Shri Krishna Bhuvan: 1164, Budhwar Peth Rd, Tulshibaug, Budhwar Peth, Pune, Maharashtra 411002
Bedekar Tea Stall: 418, Munjabacha Bole Road, Narayan Peth, Pune, Maharashtra 411030
Maratha Samrat, Camp: Atur house building, Front of National Institute of Virology, Besides BMW showroom, Wellsley Road, Camp, Pune, Maharashtra 411001