Global cuisine in Pune

Global cuisine in Pune
Chilling inside the double-decker at 11 East Street, Photo Credit: Jason Mendez
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The typical Puneri summer treat Mango Mastani now happily co-exists with soulful Italian food

Manjula Narayan
July 17 , 2014
09 Min Read

It isn’t difficult to fall in love with Pune. The slightly eccentric city has many facets to it that reveal themselves as you go along… unless, of course, you have a discerning local to help you. You're not sure if you fall into the category of the discerning local. But you've been in Pune long enough to have adopted some of the more exotic local customs, like wearing a flower-patterned cotton jacket called the 'sun coat' over your clothes, wrapping voluminous scarves around your face and wearing seriously outsized sunglasses. The whole 'getup' has now become so much a part of you that you occasionally forget to get rid of it until after your meal has been served. The face swaddling is a bit of a problem when you want to savour a typically Puneri summer treat — the Mango Mastani, a thick milkshake awash with slivers of dry fruit and topped with a large, very large dollop of ice cream. Mastanis come in a range of flavours including chocolate and sitaphal but it's the seasonal mango variety whipped up at Sujata on Sadashiv Peth and Meridian on Moledina Road that has you salivating. Named after the Muslim courtesan who was the love of Pune's Brahmin ruler Bajirao Peshwa's life, the Mastani is sinfully indulgent.

 How different the outcome of that doomed romance might have been if Bajirao and Mastani had met in the low-key ambience of Wadeshwar on FC Road. While the menu features the usual vegetarian favourites like pav bhaji and chana bhatura, you are partial to the coconut kachoris, the sweet corn patties and, ah, the pesarattu dosa. Famous for this exciting tamarind-slathered Andhra version of the southern standard, Wadeshwar is an unpretentious place popular with youngsters from the colleges nearby and with companies of little old ladies who gravely sip cups of filter coffee. Done up in faux bamboo with canopies to protect your plates from the unwanted contributions of the birds in the trees overhead, Wadeshwar is one of those few places where you can continue to pretend — although you have to struggle — that Pune is a sleepy small town.

At the Shisha Café in ABC Farms in Koregaon Park, you could pretend that Pune does not exist at all and that you're actually ensconced in a machan somewhere. The place with its wooden floors and comfortable sofas to lounge on, should you want to suck on a hookah, serves authentic Iranian cuisine. The Zereshk Polo or cranberry rice served with chicken or vegetables is flavoursome and the Chello Kabab Koobideh, which is lamb-mince kabab served with rice, is pretty good too. You're not sure if it's because Kukuh Ballal sounds to you like a voluptuous South Indian item girl that you aren't particularly taken with the Iranian sweet corn omelette but you do enjoy the baclava. You can choose to wash all that down with a mint cocktail called Sekanjabin or a shot of strong Turkish coffee but the most satisfying option is a cup of gentle Iranian tea. The right way to enjoy your cuppa, apparently, is to munch on a date after each sip. However, if all this is too exotic for you and you're just craving the full-bodied taste of familiar Indian foods, Shisha also serves plenty of tandoori stuff and regular Italian favourites like Spaghetti Neapolitan and lasagna. Shisha has also built up a reputation as the place to hang out at if you enjoy live jazz acts. 

Also within the ABC Farms complex is Soul, which aims to serve authentic Italian food at affordable prices. Here, while you're tucking into your tagliatelle you can listen to some of Pune's favourite bands or take in a performance by whichever theatre or music act is on that evening. On Open Mic Nite on Sundays you can work off all those extra calories by jumping on stage and jamming with the band. You can also tee off at the adjoining 18-hole mini golf course.

 If mini golf isn't your scene but London-seen-through-the-eyes-of-the-Yash Chopra film-fan is, then walk down East Street until you come across a red double-decker wedged into a building. The bus is part of a restaurant called 11 East Street that attempts to recreate a typical London street complete with façades of Brit retail establishments like M&S. Thankfully, though this is one part of Pune that's forever England, the food isn't ghastly English. The global menu which includes Indian, Italian and Continental favourites also has Mexican nachos, a few Greek dishes, an in-house creation called Bacardi Chicken, and poutine, a rural Quebeçois dish of French fries and green chillies served with cheese and topped with allemande sauce. Live bands play here on Thursdays. Your sudden nostalgia for Mumbai (not London!) makes you jump on to the double-decker, which you discover is actually the restaurant's bakeshop and confectionery.

 You don't know why Italian cuisine especially is so popular but your guess is that the city's techies developed a taste for it during the lonely years they spent creating code in, no, not Europe, but the US. While the foreign-returnees continued to appreciate the simple pleasures afforded by the city's few remaining Irani joints with their bentwood chairs and brun maska and restaurants like Shrishti and Konkan Express that serve Malwani coastal food, they had also developed adventurous tastes that restaurants like Malaka Spice in Koregaon Park (Southeast Asian food) and Silk Route (Japanese and Korean) are happy to satisfy. Still, it's Italian cooking that the Punekar now swears by and the success of restaurants like La Dolce Vita and Little Italy are a testament to that. 

 Pune's continuing growth as an IT city has meant that it now has a sizeable population of professional expats — a trend that has led places like Soho in Kalyani Nagar to reduce the amount of spice in their Mughlai dishes and others like Casanova and The Ship, also in the same area, to cater specifically to this clientele.

 At The Ship, a 6,000 sq ft restaurant that serves mainly Continental cuisine, proprietor Captain Shrinivas Iyengar, a former merchant navy officer, put his nostalgia for the sea to good use and created a magnificent liner complete with wooden floorboards, a genuine captain's wheel, portholes and a sailcloth ceiling. The place has a smoking room, a private room for small parties and a terrace fashioned like the bridge of a ship that can hold a party of 80 people. And, yes, the food is delicious: start off with their roesti topped with spinach and corn before you sink your teeth into the Lamb Chop Damascus. Then sample the Hungarian goulash before you give in to the seductions of the heavy nut mousse.

 At Casanova, the Ravioli del Canale, which is ravioli stuffed with fresh salmon and parsley in a champagne cream and smoked salmon sauce, is excellent, as is their Maiale Normandy, which is grilled pork chops cooked in calvados, apples, onions and cinnamon and served with roast potatoes. Top that off with a coffee and sambuca gelato, a chocolate pie or a rum tea and a good Cohiba. Take the time to enjoy the vast space with its large bar that stocks about 200 French wines, features sofas by Roberto Cavalli and Fendi, where industrial chic meets superfine dining décor. The place has a bakery-confectionery unit and also makes its own fettuccini. “Our ham comes from Spain, our salmon is Norwegian, the Chevres cheese comes from France. Our ingredients come by air every alternate day. So you really do get international standard food here,” says proprietor Rachna Panjabi who has recently added a Lebanese section, too. 

 If, after all this culinary excess, you feel rather jaded, go out and grab a vada pav at one of the several Joshi Wadewale outlets in the city. The first bite of this homegrown burger, which, incidentally, is the perfect example of fusion cuisine — the pav or soft unleavened bread was brought to the city formerly known as Bombay by the Portuguese — tells you that all the ingredients from the potatoes and the chillies to the oil it's fried in is fresh, fresh, fresh.  

 Still, the only meal that'll succeed in making you feel virtuous is the one you have at the National Institute of Naturopathy. Don't worry, you don't have to contort your body in a thousand asanas to qualify for a drink of amla juice at the institute's Diet Centre. But the delicious oil-free thali and the range of juices that include cucumber and ginger that are available here feel so light on the stomach that you could do headstands afterwards if you really wanted to!

 Restaurant directory

 Sujata, Sadashiv Peth (020-24474641)

Meridian, opposite West End, Moledina Road

Wadeshwar, FC Road (020-25520105)

Shisha Café, Koregaon Park (26810050)

Soul, Koregaon Park (65206997, www.entersoul.com)

11 East Street, East Street (41045511)

Shrishti, Peru Gate Rd (24478858)

Konkan Express, Kothrud (Anupam Complex, Dahanukar Colony Road, opposite New Kothrud Bus Stand)

Malaka Spice, Koregaon Park (26156293, www.malakaspice.com)

Silk Route, Koregaon Park (26135793, www.silkrouterestaurant.com)

La Dolce Vita, Dhole Patil Road (26145555)

Little Italy, Bund Garden Road (26136565)

Soho, Kalyani Nagar (26681987)

Casanova, Kalyani Nagar (26608888)

The Ship, Kalyani Nagar (26608777) 

Joshi Wadewale (several outlets; www.joshiwadewale.com)

Diet Centre, National Institute of Naturopathy, Tadiwala Road (26059131, www.punenin.org)

 


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