An explicit summary of our journey while shooting Pune 'I Was Here' episodes.
Gone are the days in this country when Asian cuisine was represented by two sauces; The Red Schezwan and the Black Manchurian. For long we Indians have relished these two dishes and it's multiple 'Chindian' (Chinese-Indian) variations. The coming of age for this Pan-Asian cuisine has seen a rather long curve with growth of Black Bean based dishes, use of Lemongrass and Shrimp Paste and the burst of Dumpling outlets at very nook and corner. More recently in the first half of this decade, the South East Asian cuisine has brought a wide array of flavours that also somewhere inside of it has shown mild hints of Indian influences. The Burmese Khao Suey / Kaukswe, Thai Papaya Salad, Tempura based appetisers, Sushi and Sashimi are a few dishes that can be now seen on the menu of almost all mainstream Chinese eateries. While many have opted to introduce a few of these iconic dishes into their regular menu, only a few have managed to keep the authenticity intact. Pune is in the middle of a similar Pan-Asian storm where dying eateries are refreshing their menu with new offerings while a handful of start-ups are building a strong base with authentic provincial dishes from almost all of the South East Asia. One such example of a budding startup offering an attempt at South East Asian dishes is 'The Asian Box' located in Koregaon Park, Pune.
The owner couple - Dheeraj & Priya Mahtani who shifted to Pune from Singapore also brought with them their experience and flavours of the Singapore street food. More importantly they believed in the concept of a humble street food joint where ambiance and decor was secondary while tang was primary, thus came the birth of 'The Asian Box' which offers dishes from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Japan and Burma. In both of our dining experiences at the outlet (a dinner followed by the next day lunch), the food was consistent & uncomplicated with straightforward flavours. Regional favourites like Malaysian Kway Teow, Nasi Goreng and Burmese Khao Suey were ordered along with contemporary dishes like Kung Pao Chicken, Roast Hainese Chicken Rice and Chilly Bean Chicken.
The 'Roast Hainese Chicken Rice' came with a cautionary advice about it being on the bland side of the palate and needed a heavy dousing of the side chilli sauce. Nonetheless, one spoonful mix of the humble rice brightened by the soup, one fork full of Chicken strip dipped in Chilli Mix and you experience the ultimate amalgamation of fundamental Asian flavour. Period !
Our 'Nasi Goreng' bowl of fried rice was topped with a fried egg, crackers and two skewers of Chicken Satay. Yet again a generous dish with heat derived from the chopped Red Chillis and briny flavours from the long grain rice coated in Oyster Sauce. The Singapore and Indonesian favourite had already wooed us and got us confident enough to indulge into a bowl of the pinnacle of Burmese culinary craft - The Khao Suey. Going for a seafood variation was only a matter of trusting the kitchen to deliver an intense Coconut Milk broth deepened by chopped Basa fillets and handful of Prawns. It's a dish not for the voracious eater, but someone who understands how to tackle two large bowls of curry and noodles combined into one and ornamented with fried garlic, onions, chopped spring onion greens and red chili. This Khao Suey could have easily toppled Busago's version had the celery not been missing from the accompaniments. While it is tiny little addition, the celery brings a zing that stops the repeated flushing of palate with coconut and seafood meat flavours. Vastly on all fronts this Khao Suey is a bowl to be reckoned with.
The Penang favourite 'Kway Teow' flat noodle dish too was deeply enjoyed across the table. A little dry in nature, but was well accompanied by the slightly curried Chili Bean Chicken. The presence of Sambal Paste in the Kway Teow comes out quite distinctly in the dish, though they do offer the dish minus the sambal paste for people who are intolerant to fish sauce or shrimp paste.
Although they offer a few known desserts for the end of a meal, we're lucky to be offered bowls of a unique 'Pandan' flavoured Panna Cotta with a touch of dark sugar syrup on top. The Panna Cotta was a bit firm, though what intrigued us was the simultaneous presence of an interestingly nutty and grassy flavour caused by the infusion of the Pandan leaves. Top marks for simply bringing the leafy flavours into a Panna Cotta.
In conclusion, the hospitality of the owners, their presence and effort to educate the patrons on their order are some of the highlights of this humble eatery. The quality of food and restricted Pan-Asian menu is a conscious yet brainy move that plays to their strength, which has also build its thick set of loyalists. Not only has all of this earned them a top spot in the Pan- Asian list of eateries of Pune but also bagged them a title of "Best Pan-Asian (Casual Dining)"during the Times Food Guide Awards 2015, held in Pune. It's an appreciable testimonial for honest cooking, humble beginnings and resolute road-map to success.
Location : Ground Floor, Shahinsha Building, Lane no. 6, Koregaon Park, Pune.
My childhood memories of Poona (not popularized 'Pune' back then) is of travelling in the White-Green MRSTC bus starting from Dadar bus stand passing through carved ghats and arriving at Pune station. Dad always made us stay at a certain 'Dreamland' hotel close to the bus station. Mornings were spent sitting in the balcony enjoying the chaos at the busy junction while lunch was a cab ride to Camp Area, specifically 'Dorabjee' for their Dhansak, Salli Ghosh and Bheja . Evening meal at times was at the generic restaurant in the hotel or only if we felt adventurous, then some good diner in Deccan or Camp.
A lot has changed since those days; Poona has transformed into a vibrant 'Pune City', I've got a set of thick friends, cousins who belong there and my two wheel wandering has enabled me to navigate through some unknown lanes and satiate my high to find a new route to every destination. The past few trips have only made me incline more towards this city than Mumbai for various reasons. The culinary scene is on a tremendous rise with almost all giant eateries making their way into the malls while some better home-grown eateries & breweries have exploded in Pune and then made their way to Mumbai. A deeper analysis will only keep me favouring to this concentrated, well organized conurbation than it's neighboring megacity.
Here is the list of a few of my explored eateries from this city. I'm sure these are not even half of what Pune has to offer, yet making an effort to put these eateries on the social media map.
(CA - Camp Area, KP - Koregaon Park, AU - Aundh, BG - Bund Garden, SR - Sasoon Road, VN - Viman Nagar, KR - Kothrud, SV - Salunke Vihar, KN - Kalyani Nagar, NIBM - NIBM Annexe)
- Marz-o-rin (CA) - My first love in the city and the best place to catch up on friends for a quick chat with Chutney Sanchwiches, Baked Bean Macaroni, Slushes & Burgers.
- Dorabjee (CA) - That old school favourite from childhood. Legendary Parsi delicacies liike Mutton Dhansak, Kheema Bheja, Saali Ghosh, Akuri & Traditional Parsi Biryani's creates that perfect nostalgia.
- Cafe Yedzan (CA) - Good old irani cafe known for a cuppa Chai, Bun Maska and Cheese Toast.
- Vohuman Cafe (SR) - Known for their legendary breakfast. Don't miss the Double Cheese Omelette, Bhurji, Bournvita & Chai.
- Olympia Restaurant (CA) - Kathi Kebab Rolls while on the stroll.
- German Bakery (KP) - Of Course ! For the buzzin crowd, location and all day cafeteria food.
- Flour Works (KN) - A piece of Bandra but situated in Kalyani Nagar. Scrumptious breakie, sandwiches & continental mains.
- Smiley House (AU) - For that quaint vietnamese soul food.
- Habibi (KP) - Hearty Mezze & Kebabs in an open air middle eastern ambiance.
- High Spirts (KP) - To experience the famous 'Cookout' sessions.
- Independence Brewing Company (KP), Flambos Brewpub (BG) & Doolally (NIBM)- Brilliant Craft Beers straight from their Microbreweries.
- Chopsticks Malabar Spice (VN) - Not much popular for their Chinese preparations as for their Kerala Thalli, Parotha, Chettinad Curries & Biryani.
- Tiranga (KR) - If you've an appetite for a true Maharashtrian cuisine and like your burps blazing like a dragon then their Gavran Handi, Rassa, Sukka & Thallis are for you to devour.
- Kayani Bakery (CA) - Pack some of their world renowned Shrewsbury Biscuits & Mawa Cakes.
- Yumme Tumme (SV) - Very underrated, dirt cheap eatery but serves some idiosyncratic food. Must try their Shawarma & Afghani Burger.
- Jashn (SV) - For that unexpected generous mouth watering late night meal.
Some other good old places may have been missed out, nevertheless there are a few more trips left to be made and it'll surely bring out those names along with new hidden gems.
With such a breezy pleasant weather right now in the summers, i'm surely contemplating a temporary move to this city. All these meals & hanging out would not have been possible without the help of a city insider, Ms. Jehan Thanks for bearing with the random visits, early breakfast calls & late night hopping.
Here are the three episodes we produced in collaboration with Novus Pictures. The series is called 'I Was Here' and these three episodes are based in Pune.