When Alka Kaushik and Puneetinder of Travel Correspondents & Bloggers Group suggested a curated Parsi food walk at Pune with food critic Jayesh Paranjpe who also runs travel company The Western Routes, I wondered if I could do justice. I am not much big on food though I do experiment with food during my travels.
But a food walk? I did go out of curiosity….and I am glad I did. It definitely was an opportunity to meet two more wonderful people Kalyan Karmakar, a food blogger and Jayesh.
Though the popular street snack has no Parsi connection except its location near the biggest Fire Temple in Pune, the Jamshetji Jeejibhoy Agiary, but the walk began at Garden Vada Pav Center. What seemed as just a ‘food cart’ to me was quite a popular food stall among ‘vada pav’ enthusiasts. Even Jayesh had been frequenting that particular food stall since he was a kid with his grandparents.
I would have loved visiting the agiary and typical Parsi structures but then this walk was about food! And after a helping of vada pav that diffused the evening hunger pangs, the four of us embarked on exploring the age old food joints.
The particular walk was aimed at introducing few old Parsi Bakeries and Eateries around Pune Cantonment, so named after the British military base in the area. The immigrant Parsis and Iranis also chose to reside closer to British camp. The arrangement worked for both expatriates. British did not want to mingle with natives of Maharashtra and Parsis found business opportunity near the British camps.
The walk began at Dastur Mahal road in a light drizzle with Jayesh recounting a brief history of the settlement. Our first Parsi and Irani destination was Kay’s chocolates.
A plain unimpressive shop with an equally unnoticeable blink-and-you-miss signage sat at the corner. As we walked in through a single glass door, the interiors were also nothing to speak of. It was a small family retail venture started only after ending a long stint as a chocolatier with a big chocolate brand. There was though a positive vibe of ‘hope’ and ‘ambition’ to expand as a brand.
The taste however of even one of their chocolate balls or the walnut fudge chocolate squares was enough to make me believe in the sweet beginnings of something new in my blogging journey!
Having tasted at least ten chocolates each, we moved towards our next destination. The drizzle had become a downpour and we huddled in the two umbrellas that the men bravely shared with us.
Walking along the Bootee Street my attention was drawn towards the big and small vintage houses with wooden shuttered windows and cast iron grills, a few of them, as Jayesh pointed out, had silhouette of Queen Victoria….iron woman carved out of iron! Some houses had put up bird feeders which I found quite attractive.
Dorabjee’s on the Bootee street was our next halt.
Dorabjee And Sons Restaurant
Established in 1878, the all new exterior of this 140 year old eatery shone bright in green metal sheet roof and smooth ceramic tiles. The interiors had however retained its relaxed ‘chai-biscuit-bun-maska’ vibe.
It is at this restaurant that our walk aimed to sample the Parsi cooking actually began. With locally made sugary raspberry and lemon sodas to accompany popular Biryani, Dal Gosht and chicken and mutton cutlets, it was one greasy but utterly delectable affair. The earlier vada pav still sat in me so I just tasted the cutlets. I had no appetite. Dhansak which essentially is mutton and lentil gravy in rice was unavailable but it seemed the men were satisfied with what was served in lieu.
I was hardly seeking more food but the walk was far from over and we made it to Cafe Yezdan for more Parsi fare.
True to its name, this eatery served no meal, just the most popular snack ‘masala chai’, slice of pav and loads of ‘maska’. Bun maska is nothing but a soft bun with a little more than generous helping of butter.
I wonder what came first the Parsi bun-maska or the term ‘maska mar ke‘ (basically greasing the palm with bribe). There was also Bun-maska-jam and Broon Maska, a hard biscuit with butter along with milky sweet coffee(the kind I like in evenings actually)
The old charm and bonhomie prevailed in this small eatery with old men sitting in groups deep in conversations over cups of tea. The restaurant is popular among horse racing bookies. Many a bets have been placed and won in the cozy crowded afternoons here.
Emerging with now bursting tummies, we still had few more eateries to visit. Husseny Bakery and Marz-O-Rin awaited us.
Established in 1932 at Taboot Street, the family run Husseny Bakery is being looked after by old yet enthusiastic Mr Mahmoot Irani. Born right here in Pune and having adopted most of the local way of life, he has a soft corner for his country of origin. He proudly shows off an old picture of war times when theirs was the only bakery that could provide bread to the city.
Even today Husseny bakery supplies bread and buns to various other Parsi and Irani eateries besides retailing khari, rusks and cakes.
For once the four of us declined Mr Mahmoot’s tea and biscuits. I was so full that I had decided not to have dinner later at home. We had almost completed a circle during the walk when Jayesh pointed out a hole in the wall selling chaat and dhokla. But I had had enough…
The last of our Parsi food stop was Marz-O-Rin at MG Road. Now that is one restaurant that I have frequented and absolutely love. While Jayesh, Kalyan and Alka did order a few of the popular sandwiches, I looked on because I knew I would return to that particular restaurant whenever I would be in cantonment area. Unlike Alka and Kalyan who hailed from different cities and would not visit Pune often, I was in no hurry to sample their offerings.
Set up in 1965, this eatery caters everything from sandwiches to burgers, pizzas, shakes, cakes, and pasta dishes. A tiny eating space jammed with chairs and tables does not seem to bother people sitting here and conversing at leisure. The first floor of the Bakhtiar House where the restaurant sits is for in-house dining while the ground floor is for takeaways.
I remember the time few years ago when there was only the ground floor with few tables crammed against the wall. But it always attracted crowd young and old alike.
There were more small Parsi shops and food joints along the way. there was even a specific Parsi Bank. A small restaurant which apparently served only aerated drinks sat among the houses and shops. That intrigued me quite a bit…
I may have not gone all out and hogged on the Parsi fare but the little introduction left me wanting for more. That I never explored my backyard for such history till now has also triggered enough interest in me and soon I might do a architecture walk of Parsi settlement too.
Until then I will munch on some Irani pistachios and have that slice of pav with a blob of maska!