Where Vada meets the Waffle
One of the reasons why Pune is unique is because people here cherish old dining halls and traditional cuisines but are open to trying out newer culinary experiences
Maharashtrians, just like the rest of Indians, love their history, traditions, and of course their food. However, what is unique to cities like Pune is that while it is protective about its traditions, it is willing to embrace change too and that is beautifully reflected in the way Puneites have responded to new types of restaurants and cuisines constantly being introduced here.
Around five years ago, one would hardly find food trucks or restaurants specialising in ‘the whole dining experience’ rather than just food. Fine dining was limited to a certain income group and one would not find many Maharashtrian families visiting a restaurant-cum-bar that hosted a jazz gig. But today, things have changed drastically. A fast-food truck or a bistro like Barometer is as much loved as Badshahi Boarding House, the quaint dining hall that has been serving authentic and delicious Maharashtrian thali for seven decades. Other traditional places like Asha Dining Hall (Apte Road), Durvankur Dining Hall (Sadashiv Peth), Janseva Bhojanalay (Deccan) etc that serve basically everything that is prepared in Maharashtrian homes continue to have their loyal clientele. And yet, Belgian Waffles, Pop Tate’s, Flechazo, Boteco, Zee Loft, Kurtosshhh, are making brisk business too.
City-based electric engineer, Milind Dodake, 49, believes that this coming together of two cultures — traditional Maharashtrian and global cuisines — is rather beautiful and endearing. A foodie, he says, “I have been going to Badshahi which is located on Tilak Road ever since I was a kid and continue to visit it every two weeks. I live in Hadapsar, but don’t mind driving down all the way to this joint which still has stone tiled flooring, wooden furniture and old ceiling fans. It is pure nostalgia — it reminds me of the simplistic life that our parents wanted us to lead. However, I am equally excited about tasting the mouthwatering pastas and waffles that the new food trucks are selling in different parts of the city.”
Dodake ensures that he takes his children to Badshahi and other traditional thali joints to introduce them to his roots, but never stops them from eating fancy items like Ravioli, Nachos, Pizzas etc.
And if you thought only middle-aged people like him or youngsters are crowding food trucks and new cafes, then meet this Balewadi couple — Dr Sanjay and Sailee Rathi, both in their 70s, who ensure that they try at least one new cafe/cuisine in a month. Sanjay, a practising dentist, says, “We are a regular at Shreyas because we love our simple meal but at this age, I think we are trying to catch up with things that have changed over the decades while we were busy making our careers. It is nice to see so many new unique cafes opening up in this part of the town.”
Age is just a number and the Rathis are proving this adage true. “From the fancy ice cream places, to themed cafes and bars offering unique cocktails, we are trying out everything,” he says.
Sailee who feels that one should evolve with time while appreciating what we have, says that clinging to your rituals, customs and heritage and not welcoming the new things with open arms, is absolutely not wise. “I can’t claim that Puran Poli is the best dish without trying out what other states or countries call their best. I feel it is one of the most exciting times to be in where the past and the future are co-existing in such a marvellous way. I think food is one of the best ways to experience this melange.”
The fact that they get a lot of stares from people when they go to a food truck doesn’t bother the Rathis. “People seem to think, ‘How can these old people eat at a food truck?’ We believe that we should be open to change and experiments and that’s what makes life more interesting. Just because I enjoy a Bloody Mary, doesn’t mean I like Sol Kadhi any less!” she exclaims.
For a youngster like Prajakta Kulkarni, both dining halls and food trucks are an amazing way to get the bang for her bucks. It gives her a chance to taste the best food with her limited pocket money. Kulkarni, who is pursuing Bachelor of English at Savitribai Phule Pune University, says, “I love visiting Asha Dining and Badshahi because it is a way to stay true to my roots in the fast changing world. They serve you endless amount of food and are light on the pocket. Similarly, food trucks are about experimentation, innovation and new flavours, plus they are inexpensive which attracts me to them. In a way, I am able to keep up with the changes happenings in the world of food and gastronomy.”