We went back to Pune after 3.5 years. This time it was a family trip and the second time for Tugga. The first time was when he was just 45 days old and we were packing our bags to shift permanently. For a person like me, who has not shifted his base too much in life, I tend to easily grow roots in one place whereas for Madhushree, life moves on quite frequently, I must say.
Read – Our revisit to German Bakery after 6 years
One of the fondest memory of Pune has been the Bengali food joints or Bengali restaurants which we explored while we stayed there. Babu Moshay in Khadki was not a food joint but one would get all essentials bengali sentimental items including Shubhra Kasundi and Jharna Ghee with sunday radha bollovi, the bengali magazines, bengali sweets and almost everything possible.
Read – Do you know why Poila Baishakh is so special?
There was Deep and Radhika. Twin restaurants, more of shacks rather than restaurants which were next to each other. It was heard that Deep and Radhika were initially together and then the business split between the partners. Radhika had a waiting when we first visited this bylane, so we went to Deep. Soon we became regulars at Deep. Never explored Radhika, since everytime we entered that lane, the Deep fellows would be out there expecting us to enter. Deep was a small 30 seater shack, not high on hygiene aspect, however the food was excellent. There has never been a case of smelly or bad ingredients and most importantly Hilsa or Pomfret. The showcase outside had some of the eternal bengali and non bengali sweets. Deep being near to our home in Wakad and less formal, economically priced used to be our go to place at any point of time. If Deep was a go to place, then Oh! Calcutta was a celebration.
Like a city, the people at a restaurant play a major role in the customer experience. The same was with us in Oh! Calcutta. Mr. Panda was the Manager and soon we struck a chord – I guess he had a personal relationship with all the patrons of this outlet. Many a afternoon has been spent there devouring the lavish buffet spread, to an extent overfilling ourselves and not been able to walk back to the car. During the buffet spread also, often now and then Panda would come up with something from kitchen in a bowl, which was not in the menu and would request us to taste and pass our opinion. The food served there remained a constant without any spikes either ways, so it was a comfort zone. We recommended this place to all our bengali friends and took all the guests, colleagues, relatives; everyone. Oh! Calcutta never failed us. And then one fine day it shut down. It opened around 2008 and received a very popular food award in 2014 in the best bengali cuisine category in Pune. Also to mention there was Rice n Curry Flavours of Bengal which opened in Pune, I tried that place once and didn’t like it. There was another place in Viman Nagar called Aadrika which has also been shut down.
This time when we visited Pune, we started meeting old friends; but there was a sense of vaccum in the food discussions. While Pune has seen significant change (in our eyes) in the foodie landscape, the non presence of a Bengali restaurant was also a point of discussion. Surprisingly no strong substitute name came up amongst my friends who are otherwise Bengali food lovers. When I posted in Facebook (with a subtle sense of insecurity) about what was happening on Bengali Cuisine in Pune, some interesting names came up.
Khorisa in Magarpatta, which is an Asamese joint but also some trademark Bengali dishes like Kosha Mangsho (which is a hit there) has made presence with the few other Bengali dishes.
There is a tiny joint in Viman Nagar called Bengali Sweets and is more of a Value for money meals and rolls and sweets. This is clearly not a substitute to Oh! Calcutta and as someone pointed out, that it can be only a last resort.
Appayan has opened in Wakad and although it seems the Shorshe Machh (mustard fish) and Kosha Mangsho are brilliant but again its more of a takeaway joint. The other new kids in block are Question Mark – taste of Kolkata, kanak Durga both opened in Wakad (and when we first moved in to Wakad no one was ready to deliver to that place, leave aside opening a restaurant) . In Pimple Nilakh, there is a restaurant which has opened up called Issh (If anything to go by the name, then this place won’t work – although i will loved to be proved wrong). Not to forget Calcutta plus which has opened up in Pimple Saudagar – a no frill restaurant which is more the lines of the pise hotel.
So where is the problem? Has Bengali food lost its charm? Are people skeptical in putting their stakes on Bengali cuisine which may not yield enough ROI? (the love and passion for food never supports the Operational expenses for the joint) Two of the stalwarts whom I have been following since I started blogging have put their fingers on two important aspects which may be the reason for this. Kalyan says that the consistency is the issue and as long as good businessmen who are also visualizers and storytellers don’t come in, the scenario won’t improve. Kaniska is of an opinion that the cuisine has not reinvented itself and Bohemian is an ideal example of that. I echo Kalyans thoughts that whether Bengali basic cuisine been exposed, tasted, debated and digested to its maximum potential. I will say no. To an extent I will also say that the Bengali vegetarian spread is the most underrated vegetarian spread in the country.
If the demand and lust ( that’s the word for good food) for Bengali cuisine has not gone down, if the number of Bengalis have not got reduced in Pune (we met fellow bengalis and old pals for the first time in Pune after ages) and if bengalis have not stopped eating out (all the places that we ate had atleast couple of bengali families), then there is a surely a vaccum in the value chain of Bengali restaurants in Pune. A place which can be in between Oh! Calcutta and Deep and Radhika …
Anyone listening ?
P.S. – Thanking all my friends who have contributed towards giving shape to this random rambling of mine not in any specific order but Mrunmayi Ainapure, Soumyakant Singh, Abhinav Kumar, our best friends in Pune – Arnabi and Suditpo Marjit, Mandira Gupta, Sandip Ghosh, Shibangi Das, Rupika Vatnani, Amit M Sengupta, Prasad NP and others. Never thought that while writing for this i will come across two beautiful food blogs and that too by bengali bloggers from Pune. Priyanka Roy Banerjee and Rimli dey the best outcome of this blog is getting to know you two. Thanks for the pictures and wishing many many many more delicious blog posts to you two.