Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Pune Memories – Strolling Down Main Street

A few days ago – I strolled on Main Street (MG Road) Pune Camp with Foodie Friends. 

And – I remembered this memoir I had written many years ago (in the year 2006) after a stroll on Main Street. 

Yes – I wrote this article after a stroll down Main Street more than 11 years a go in the year 2006 – while recalling memories of my earlier Pune days.

Nowadays – in Pune – most people – especially youngsters – prefer to visit Malls – for shopping – or – even for “loafing” and to have a good time. 

But – in the good old days – before the advent of Mall Culture” – Punekars went to two neighbourhoods for shopping (or just for a stroll) Laxmi Road in the heart of Pune City – or Main Street (MG Road) in Pune Camp.

By the way – I observed that many things had changed since I wrote this story 11 years ago in the year 2006.

Strolling Down Main Street (MG Road) Pune Camp (Circa 2006)
A Travel Memoir
By
VIKRAM KARVE

Pune  the Queen of the Deccan  in the 1960s and 1970s  was indeed a “paradise” – one of the best places to live in.

Life was good. 

It was easy to be happy. 

The threshold of our happiness was so low that it was very easy to be happy.

We lived on Tilak Road  in Sadashiv Peth  and one of our most enjoyable highlights was the occasional visit to Pune Camp – to see the latest Hollywood Movie in royal style relaxing on those unique “Easy Chairs at the inimitable West End Cinema  relishing tasty mouth-watering bites and soothing thirst-quenching sips at the Soda Fountain during the interval.

This was followed by a leisurely stroll on Main Street (MG Road) and East Street, window-shopping, bird-watching and snacking – nourishing fulfilling satiating continental dishes at Greenfields  maybe a browse at Manney’s Bookstore  and then  a hearty Chinese meal at Kamling or Chung Fa  or a Mughlai repast at Latif’s  or Punjabi Food at Kwality  Biryani at Dorabjee or George  or Sizzlers at The Place (the first Sizzler Place in India) next to Manney’s. 

The icing on the cake was a Meetha Masala Pan at George to carry home with us the lingering flavour and fragrance of the delightful evening.

Let me take you back in time  to those glorious days. 

So come with me  Dear Reader  and let’s start from the West End of Main Street – and stroll down memory lane.

Opposite West End there is Cafe Naaz  so let’s go in and relish those delectable Mutton Samosas, Bun Maska and refreshing Irani style Chai.

A few years later  Naaz split into two – a Non-Veg Naaz at the original location  and a Veg Naaz at the other end of the building  towards George. 

“Liberalisation” and “Globalisation” took its it toll – and in due course  the Non-Veg Naaz was replaced by a Barista – and then the Veg Naaz by a shoe store. 

Even the original iconic West End Cinema with its soda water fountain and reclining chairs has disappeared – and in its place we have a huge hotel.

Greenfields  the delicious breakfast place at the other end of Main Street has disappeared too.

Next we stop at Pasteur Bakery  for here we are going to sample their signature Almond Macaroons – wonderful, divine, scrumptious crisp crunchy crust, sumptuous rich moist chew, the lingering heavenly flavour of almonds, luxuriant sweetness, supreme, unforgettable, unsurpassed, fantastic – the best Macaroons I have ever tasted.

And then  there is the one and only Marzorin next door for Chicken Rolls, Sandwiches and Cold Coffee. 

I am so happy that Marzorin still retains its friendly character and is still going strong, becoming better each day. 

The signature dish of Marzorin is the Chicken Roll – it is matchless. 

I have tasted Chicken Rolls all over the place but there is nothing like the lip smacking one served by Marzorin – generous boneless pieces of delicious chicken – the lip smacking mayonnaise  and the soft mellifluous roll yummy treat I love it. 

If you are vegetarian  try the slightly tangy tomato and green chutney vegetable sandwiches – and wash it down with a cold coffee.

Well that’s what we “Old Fogies always did in the good old days  and still do  whenever we visit Marzorin. 

Now – there are many more delightful options  and comfortable seating upstairs – and friendly atmosphere in the balcony – where you can sit and observe the goings on below – while enjoying your snack. 

I like the hot bakes  especially the Bean Bake Chicken or Cheese, Macaroni, and Spaghetti with the zesty sauces. 

And  of course  there are all kinds of excellent Burgers, Rolls and Sandwiches, including whole wheat versions for the health-conscious foodies.

“Health-Conscious Foodie”  now thats a nice oxymoron  isn’t it…?

The chillers are exciting too Kool-Blue or Green Apple on a hot and sultry afternoon. 

And there a variety of juices, shakes, and ice creams to choose from. 

You can try what you want, everything is appetizing and tasty, but remember, in Marzorin you must relish the Chicken Rolls, vegetable sandwiches and Cold Coffee for old times sake. 

And don't forget to take a yummy parcel for the folks at home…!

A bit ahead, across the road  there is Mona Food – whose delicious fulfilling chola bhatura is still unsurpassed.

But  Mona Food is no longer the simple, unpretentious, no-nonsense value-for-money eatery it once was  but it is still worth a visit so we will relish those delectable chole bhature some other time – we want to keep our appetite for dinner, isn’t it…?

So let’s build up an appetite  and just stroll on Main Street  past Needlewoman, D. Phillips, Imperial Hosiery, Footwear, Clothes, Sports, Stores and Shops of all kinds – window-shop and bird-watch

The old faithful die-hards still patronise these stores  but the youngsters prefer shopping in the glittering Malls proliferating all over Pune.

But – before we decide where to go for dinner  let’s not forget to get those peerless Shrewsbury Biscuits, Wine Biscuits, Chocolate Walnut Cake and Cheese Papri from Kayani Bakery – and my favourite irresistible Sev Barfi from Bhavnagari Sweets.

Hungry…?

In a mood for some delicious Chinese food. 

Okay  let’s go to Kamling on East Street.

Kamling...? 

Hey  where’s that...? 

Those days – Kamling was the best Chinese Restaurant in Pune  famous for its signature pork dishes (especially the sweet and sour pork) – and inimitable American Chopsuey. 

Despite the fact that Kamling was patronised by number of distinguished personalities and famous film stars  it always remained a down-to-earth affordable restaurant.

Snap to the present. 

Kamling has vanished – and in its place there is Mayur Dining Hall where you can savour an excellent Vegetarian Thali (BTW – someone told me that Mayur Dining Hall has re-located a few metres down East Street)

And many other heritage places have disappeared too – like Naaz, Greenfields and the West End Soda Fountain – and Lords  which was the best tailoring shop in Pune.

But  many like Pasteur, Marz-o-rin, Mona Food, Dorabjee, Chung Fa, Sizzlers, Burger King, and George are still going strong  and Main Street still hasn’t lost its captivating charm. 

Some eateries like Olympia on East Street, which served delectable kababs and rolls, have transformed into new avatars.

I want to have a leisurely “heritage” meal. 

I decide to head for Dorabjee

So I walk leisurely towards Sarbatwala Chowk till I reach Dorabjee and Sons.

I dive in through the low entrance of Dorabjee’s and look around.

The eatery is crowded, with noisy families bashing away regardless greedily devouring the heaps food before them.

The mouth-watering aroma, and the sight of the appetizing food, creates in me such ravenous pangs of hunger that I quickly sit on the only vacant table and order a Mutton Biryani – the signature dish of Dorabjee.

As is the hallmark of authentic speciality cuisine restaurants the menu is select just a few choice dishes a single page.

Theres Sali, Curry, Masala and Biryani in Mutton and Chicken  Kheema, Brain, Eggs  and combinations thereof  cutlets in gravy  and a few Veg dishes  for appearance sake.

On Sunday afternoons  you can have Dhansak  maybe on your way to the races in the season. 

I spoon some Biryani onto my tongue, seal my lips, close my eyes, turn my senses inwards with full consciousness to imbibe and savour the unique medley of juices released by the succulent piece of mutton, the bitterish-sweet taste of the slightly burnt crisp fried onions, and the spicy flavoursome rice.

It is superlative delicious authentic cuisine at its best.

Dorabjee serves the best heritage mutton biryani in Pune – no doubt about it.

Yes  Blue Nile, George and Good Luck serve good heritage Biryani too – and now there are many new high-falutin places in Pune – which serve good biryani too – but the charm of these heritage eateries remains. 

I don’t know why it is so  but it appears that  of late  the unpretentious Blue Nile is trying to masquerade as an upscale restaurant – the quality of the biryani is certainly not what it used to be.

But Dorabjee still remains the same  as if time has stood still.  

The fervent atmosphere of the place and exquisite quality of the food is such that one can eat enthusiastically, with wholehearted zest and gusto  not apologetically and self-consciously  as one tends to do, trying to be prim and proper, in posh upscale restaurants. 

Yes – at Dorabjee  you can enjoy every morsel of your food with passionate ardour; not apologetically and self-consciously, as one tends to do, trying to be prim and proper, in highfalutin restaurants 

(Now – they have a Cafe on the top floor of Dorabjee Departmental Store that also serves Biryani – but - for the authentic Dorabjee Biryani – you will have to visit the original Dorabjee restaurant)

And – as I reach blissful satiety I realize that a well-filled stomach radiates a kind of spiritual happiness.

The ideal way to end this rich spicy repast is to cool it off with a Falooda

Falooda is to Mutton Biryani what Mastani is to Mutton Kolhapuri.

So  I walk down Sachapir Street, cross Main Street, and head for Badshah on East Street to down a deliciously sweet and chilled Rose flavoured Royal Falooda. 

(On the way I pick up some Sev Barfi from Bhavanagri Sweets) 

And then – as I told you – I relish the heavenly Royal Falooda at Badshah on East Street.

Of course  what better way to conclude the nostalgic food walk than with a Meetha Masala Pan at George Pan Wala to carry home with you a lingering flavour and delightful elevating fragrance. 

(Next time - I will visit George Restaurant for its Biryani and Continental Dishes)

Pune may have changed  and the “food district” may have shifted to Koregaon Park  but heritage institutions like Dorabjee, George, Kayani in Pune Camp  and a few heritage eateries in Pune City still preserve the flavour of yesteryear Pune.

But these are a few exceptions – as everything seems to be getting “standardized” – and Pune’s unique culinary culture and landmark heritage foodie institutions are slowly vanishing.

Pune  the “Oxford of the East”  the “Queen of the Deccan”  the salubrious “Pensioners Paradise”  a city which once famous for its laid back lifestyle, lovely charm and unique identity of its own  is fast metamorphosing into a faceless metropolis. 

Yes – like most places – Pune is losing the unique identity which was its hallmark – and – is metamorphosing into a faceless metropolis. 

VIKRAM KARVE
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