I remember my first memories of Pune. As a child, I’d travel from Hyderabad to Mumbai to visit my aunt in Mumbai for winter holidays. Our train had a 15-minute stop at Pune station at eight in the morning. Cold winter mornings and steaming hot vada pavs. I hadn’t set foot in the city and I already loved Pune! (there’s something about this city, isn’t there?)
Fast forward to 2005 and the city finally brought me here for work. It was still a sleepy little town. But it had a strong food identity that managed to bridge local and international food. (even back then!). For a Hyderabad boy who took food seriously, Pune’s food scene was a veritable treasure hunt.
I remember falling in love with the yummy Chicken Farcha at the dingy, old Dorabjee & Sons. I remember the thrill of my first tongue roll at Hite Bar. And Vohuman! What can I say about that place that would do justice enough? Excellent chai, insanely cheesy omelets and buns with more butter than I’d considered possible. Sigh! I guess that’s when I truly understood the word ‘foodgasm’!
My food adventures led me to the juicy Chelo Murg at Diamond Queen, the trademark Tomato Gravies at Blue Nile, and the delicious sizzlers at The Place and Bounty. I also discovered the sheer variety of Maharashtrian cuisine and the freshness of Malwani seafood that the city offered; the mouth-watering spiciness of Kolhapuri rasas, and the decadent richness of Nagpuri Saoji meat dishes.
One evening in 2008, my friends took me to a quiet little Asian fusion place called Malaka Spice. What a lovely setup this little place had. I have no idea how but we finished five bottles of wine among the three of us and practically tried every starter on the menu! And I must say that each dish was better than the other. It’s not every day that you come across a place that can give you a flawless experience. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the main course. We barely made it home! Haha! Malaka has transformed since then, but I still go back there regularly to relive that experience.
In the years that have passed, I happened to relocate to other cities on several occasions due to work. But life brought me right back. I found great work, lasting friendships, and a lovely wife, all in this eccentric but lovely city! I guess there just is something about this place that brings you back, whether you grew up here or just lived here long enough to get hooked.
Pune has transformed MAJORLY in the last decade! One of the busiest hubs today, Kalyani Nagar, back in 2005, was a quiet suburb with not many food options. Today, even something as new as Balewadi High Street is a food mecca. To add to that, it’s not just the number of options in terms of places. There is also so much more variety available now in terms of the cuisines! You can now find places like Arirang where you get Korean food (made by Koreans for Koreans), or Savya Rasa, which has better South Indian food than most places in South India. The options are so amazing that more than luxury or leisure, they could also prove to be life-saving!
I recently discovered I had a serious gluten problem. But Pune’s hospitality was such that it had me covered. One day, it was a soul-filling Maharashtrian Thali at Surve’s. Another day, it was
gluten-free Bhut Chili Chicken Wings at Elephant and Co. (my home away from home). Just last week, I ordered in gluten-free burgers at midnight from Burger 11. No gluten, no problem!
I still visit Hyderabad. But I feel like that city has lost much of its old charm. Even the food doesn’t quite have the same old zing. Pune, on the other hand, gets better every time I come back. It’s definitely bigger and noisier but the food scene keeps improving too.
And while I’ll never admit this to my wife, Pune has indeed managed to make me its own, ONE BITE AT A TIME.
Picture Courtesy: Swiggy, This Is Sheena, Group Table, Flickr, Zomato, FitFoodie Megha