Saturday, March 30, 2019

Pune (Poona) Memories – A Walk Down Memory Lane – Strolling Down Main Street (MG Road)

Once in a while – I stroll down Main Street (MG Road) in Pune Camp.

And – whenever I do so – I remember this memoir I had written many years ago after a stroll on Main Street. 

Strolling Down Main Street (MG Road) Pune
Travel Memoir

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. 

Those days – in the 1960s – Pune was known as Poona. 

Poona comprised two main parts – Poona City and Poona Camp. 

(Poona was renamed Pune in the 1970s. So  for ease of understanding – I will use the present name Pune in this article – and – I will call the two parts of Pune as Pune City and Pune Camp).

Pune City comprised the “Peths” – the older Peths named after the days of the week in Marathi (Somwar, Mangalwar, Budhwar, Guruwar, Shukrawar, Shaniwar, Raviwar Peth) – and the newer ones like Kasba, Narayan, Rasta, Ghorpade, Sadashiv, Nana, Bhavani, Ganj, Ganesh, Navi Peth etc. Of course – the newer “posh” localities like Deccan Gymkhana, Erandawane, Shivajinagar etc were included in Pune City later. 

Pune Camp comprised of Main Street (MG Road), East Street, Centre Street, Arsenal (Moledina) Road, and the adjoining Cantonment Areas. 

(Today’s “suburbs” of Pune were villages or farmlands or desolate places...) 

In those days of the 1960s/1970s – Pune primarily comprised of the “Peths” and Pune Camp. 

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, and then a hearty Chinese meal at Kamling or Chung Fa, or a Mughlai repast at Latif, 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 of the 1960s/1970s. 

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 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 was replaced by a shoe store. 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 Macaroon I have ever tasted.

And then there is the one and only Marz-o-rin next door for Chicken Rolls, Sandwiches and Cold Coffee. I am so happy that Marz-o-rin still retains its friendly character and is still going strong, becoming better each day. The signature dish of Marz-o-rin 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 Marz-o-rin. 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 Marz-o-rin. 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 that's 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 Marz-o-rin 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, 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.


In a mood for some delicious Chinese food. Okay, let’s go to Kamling on East Street.

Kamling...? Hey, where’s that...? 

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. (I believe even Mayur Dining Hall has relocated)

And many other heritage places have disappeared too – like Naaz, Greenfields and the West End Soda Fountain and Lords, 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. 

Even the iconic Manney’s Bookstore shut down a few years ago. 

After a stroll down Main Street (MG Road) – I feel hungry. 

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.

There's 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, 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 highfalutin restaurants. 

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. 

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. 

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

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 culture of its own  is fast metamorphosing into a faceless metropolis. 

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