Food is such an integral part of travel and eating local food is one of the best ways of getting an insight into local life and culture. India is a continent inside a country and we have such a rich food heritage but unfortunately, I don’t think that regional Indian cuisine is celebrated as much as it ought to be.
As I travel around the country I am always on the lookout for traditional or regional cuisine. I have been to Pune several times, but this time we were on a mission – and that was to try a variety of Maharashtrian cuisine that the city has to offer.
Our first stop was Hotel Shreyas that serves vegetarian Maharashtrian Bhramin food. Tucked into a leafy lane off the main road Hotel Shreyas was a welcome find. We had initially planned to go to Fish Curry Rice, touted to serve some of the best seafood in the city, but as luck would have it, when we got there, after driving through bumper to bumper traffic we discovered that the restaurant was closed as everyone was off visiting their villages in the Konkan region for Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. A visit to Hotel Shreyas was on the cards, so we headed there instead.
We were lucky to find a table right away and as soon as we were seated the assault started. Shreyas is known for their thalis – which is an all you can eat meal, that comprises of a variety of dishes. We were served moong dal wadas (lentil fritters ), dahi papdi chaat, dahi wada, beetroot koshimbir (salad), amti (a sweet and sour tur dal or lentil preparation), kadhi (a dish made of yoghurt and chick pea flour and tempered with spices), chawli, bharli vangi (stuffed brinjal), pitla (a dish made of chickpea flour), puris (a fried flatbread), bhakris (flatbread made of jowar – a millet grown in Maharashtra), chapattis (flatbread made of wheat), rice with sadha varan (untempered dal or lentils), masala bhaat (rice cooked with a variety of spices and vegetables), papad and chaas (buttermilk). If a katori (bowl) was anyway close to finishing it would be immediately refilled. What really took the whole experience a notch above was the fabulous service! Different people were serving us different dishes, as is most often the case with thalis and almost all of them patiently answered our questions and even helped us pick the right combinations of what should be eaten with what.
There are a variety of sweets to choose from, each priced separately and come at an additional charge to the standard thali that costs about INR 270. We were bang in the middle of Ganesh Charturthi celebrations and ordered an ukadiche modak. Served with a generous portion of ghee, the modak which is similar to a dumpling stuffed with grated coconut and jaggery was absolutely divine. We were told to spilt the modak down the middle, pour some ghee over it and then devour it! Good news is that modaks are served everyday. During festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi where the demand for modaks goes up, they make them in larger quantities.
This 58 year old establishment would be my top pick if you want to sample some authentic Maharashtrian food in a clean, no fuss, air conditioned environment. Eating a thali is the best way of sampling a variety of dishes especially when you are travelling alone, witha a small group or as a couple.
The next day we had lunch in a restaurant that serves Maharashtrian food in a fine dining setting. We discovered J1 or Jevan as we were heading back from Shreyas and it looked so beautiful from outside that we decided to give it a try (we did reviews and they were good too!). A flight of steps takes you up to the restaurant that has a curved glass wall running through one entire side. Leafy trees provide a perfect backdrop to the restaurant that tries to recreate the atmosphere of a typical wada or traditional Maharashtrian home. Subtle lighting, earthy tones beautifully complemented by gleaming brass utensils and artifacts make for an inviting setting.
The menu features vegetarian and non vegetarian Maharashtrian dishes from around the state. We started with some sol kadhi which is a drink make from kokum and is meant to be a good digestive and chaas. We were in no mood for starters and hence went straight for the main course. I tried the pitla, jowar bhakri and bharli vangi, which were slightly different from what we ate at Shreyas but were delicious in their own way. My husband ordered fried mackerel and mutton kheema both of which he said were really good.
Mahasrashtra has a large coast and sea food dishes are an integral part of the state’s cuisine. In addition coconut, kokum, spices and millets feature prominently in the cuisine.
Attention to detail is a highlight of the Jevan experience. After our meal we were given brass finger bowls that were filled with warm water from a bamba or a copper water heater.
No where as reasonable as Shreyas, Jevan did not drill a hole into our pocket either as most dishes were priced very nominally. I would highly recommend Jevan for those looking to try regional cuisine in a fine dining setting and who would like to try both vegetarian and non vegetarian dishes from across the state.
Shreyas and Jevan are two ends of a spectrum. While Shreyas has been serving traditional home cooked Maharashtrian food for decades, Jevan has taken the same cuisine and presented it nicely packaged and with a lot of emphasis on recreating the whole experience of eating in a typical wada. For me both are winners as they celebrate regional cuisine in their own way!
1242 B, Apte Road, Deccan Gymkhana, Pune
Ph: 020 – 25532785, 25532023
J1 / Jevan
1202/5, Ghole Road, Near MJM Hospital, Shivaji Nagar, Pune
Ph: 020 – 30162383