For over three years, I contributed to the well-loved city site Mumbai Boss, mostly as a photographer (collaborating with some fantastic journalists) but also a few times as a writer.
You can see some of my stories here. Last year the website shut down, and three of its editors Purva Mehra, Pronoti Datta and Amit Gurbaxani joined forces again to form The Daily Pao. I recently contributed my first piece to them, a local's guide to my hometown, Pune.
Pune and I have always been intimately acquainted. I spent the first decade of my life in the city (and though I spent the second in New Zealand), I returned here for the entirety of my gap year and I moved back into my childhood home a year ago.
As far back as I can remember, Pune has always had a vibrant dining and cultural scene. It’s varied and interesting and also mighty affordable. The city’s best establishments are homegrown and though some favourites like Terttulia and Doolally have recently made their way to Mumbai, others remain staunch Pune-only institutions. Some from my youth have stood the test of time, others are patron-worthy new additions.
Here are some ways and places to experience Pune like a native:
I have this theory that Pune people take up morning activities such as strolling at the scenic Nala Park (wedged between lanes 2 and 3 in Koregaon Park) or joining the local laughter club just for an excuse to eat breakfast at Vohuman Cafe (click here to read my post) after. Share a table if you must, the humble cheese omelette and buttered toast are elevated to cult status here.
Vohuman Café, 34 Sasoon Road, Near Jehangir Hospital
Lane six is home to momos (right outside the park) and Mahlzeit, a cool new Berlin-style imbiss featuring the ampelmann, cool stencilled artworks, seating made from crates and of course, doner kebabs. Upgrade your brat- or currywurst to a meal and the fried potatoes and homemade iced tea won’t disappoint either.
Mahlzeit, Sapphire Housing Society, Lane 6, Koregaon Park Tel: 7028012041
Another much greasier local favourite is Kapila Kathi Kebab, whose kathi rolls are so popular that they recently moved from a stall across the road to much larger brick-and-mortar shop. Get the double chicken kebab loaded with onions, add a squeeze of lime for freshness and don’t expect to get the smell out of the car ever.
Kapila Kathi Kebab, opp Hotel Kapila, Dhole Patil Road
I live within walking distance of Fantasy Juice bar and I’ve never walked over. However, I’ve driven to it more times than I can count after opting to skip dessert at a restaurant in favour of its excellent thickshakes. Order’s whatever’s in season: custard apple, chikoo, strawberry, mango, each shake is laden with fruit and heaped with pillowy whipped cream.
Connaught Place, Corner Bund Garden and Mangaldas Rd Tel: 020 26160255
Its beginnings as a tea stall were humble, but the more than a century old Dorabjee and Sons is a city icon, known far and wide for its fantastic Parsi fare. Get the biryani and the farcha, Parsi-style crispy fried chicken unless you go on a Sunday, when you can get creamy dhansak and patra ni macchi.
Dorabjee and Sons, 845 Sharbatwala chowk, Dastur Meher road, Camp Tel: 020 26145955
It’s small, the decor is tacky and you have to sit on a cushion on the floor, but the pho and summer rolls at Smiley House, an unfussy Vietnamese spot are worth the pins and needles. The menu is limited, the offerings are fresh and the coffee is delightful.
Shop 37, Patil Complex, Near Spicer College & Ambedkar Chowk, Khadki Road, Khadki, Pune
Explore Kasba Peth, Pune’s oldest neighbourhood, home to the famous Shaniwar Wada fort, a cacophonous street dedicated to the city’s copper industry and many brightly coloured murals.
Earlier this year, visual artist Harshvardhan Kadam organised a street art festival, inviting a host of Indian and international artists to Pune. The artworks are dotted around Kasba Peth and a nice bonus is that the architecture (although crumbling in parts) is quite spectacular. Read my interview with Harsh and download the map here.
Watch a film under the stars at Lost the Plot (click here to read my post), an open air cinema at Seasons Hotel that screens cult classics on weekends, and also showcases independent films and documentaries. It’s a fine way to spend an evening, they serve excellent bar food and cold beer and provide each patron with a pair of headphones for individual stereo sound. Come early to snag a beanbag.
Lost The Plot, Rooftop at Seasons Hotel, 128/2, Sanewadi, Aundh Tel:083081 74419
It’s a wonderful, leafy spot to relax during the day but Thursday nights are dedicated to jazz and blues at Shisha Cafe (click here to read my post) which also hosts an annual jazz festival. Order the zereshk polo (berry pulao) and rangineh (dates sauteed in whole wheat flour) with ice cream, get settled in and experience some excellent live music.
Shisha Jazz Cafe, ABC farms, Koregaon Park Tel: 020 6520 0390
The best Pune souvenirs are perishables and if your friends and family already know this, be prepared to face their wrath when you come home empty handed. Haul back Budhani’s near-translucent potato wafers, Laxminarayan’s famous poha chiwda, spicy Bakarwadi from Chitale Bandhu and of course, Kayani Bakery’s blue cardboard boxes stuffed with buttery, crumbly shrewsberry biscuits.
Budhani Bros Waferwala, Opp Wonderland, M G Road Tel: 020 26134118 (There are other outlets)
Chitale Bandhu, 759/54, Deccan Gymkhana, Opp Gharware Chowk Tel: 020 2567 1748
Laxminarayan, 374 Bhawani Peth Tel: 020 2645 4561
Kayani Bakery, Opposite Victory Cinema, East street, Camp Tel: 020 2636 0517:
My grandparents' printing press was housed at 95A MG Road, the building adjacent to ABC Farms tiny corner shop and I have many memories of hanging around as a child. Squeeze into the old-fashioned booths, hydrate with their lemon lassi, and stock up on their fantastic cheeses, vinegars and oils.
ABC Farms, 95 MG Road, Camp and also North Main Road, Koregaon Park Tel: 020 26348438
Batik shirts, wooden toys, designer dresses and kitschy bits and bobs, Either/Or has something for everybody with a penchant for handmade goods and independent design. It’s the perfect place to buy presents, their stock is divided between two showrooms thirty metres apart, both offering something slightly different.
Sohrab Hall, Sassoon Road, Opposite Jehangir Hospital Tel: 020 2605 7225
Relaxed regulations have long allowed Pune microbreweries to experiment with varieties of beer and there are many to choose from but Independence Brewing Company is a crowd favourite. All their handcrafted brews are on tap, and sold by the glass or pitcher. The rye pale ale and four grain saison are highly recommended.
Zero One, S No. 79/1, Pingle Vasti, Mundhwa Road, Tel: 020 6644 8308
Photo: Sunset from the lovely rooftop at the O Hotel.