Best Irani Cafes in Pune
Parsi community migrated to India maybe a 1000+ years back. They migrated from Persia (modern day Iran) due to Arab invasions on their country. They are also followers of Prophet Zoroaster and hence called Zoroastarians. They landed in Gujarat and adopted a lot of Indian Culture and also speak Gujarati.
Irani Café is a very generic name given to restaurants run by Parsis or Iranis, who also migrated during a similar time period. The Parsi community in Pune is a small and warm set of great human beings. Many of the Parsis stay in and around the Camp / M G Road area in Pune.
Most Irani Cafes sprung up in the early 1900s in Pune. The ambience of every Irani restaurant was almost the same and even the food they served was almost similar. Irani Cafes are attributed for their quick and fast paced service along with cheap but quality food.
What will you find in an Irani Café?
Most of these cafes are still running with the same infrastructure. Let me see if we can do a generalisation of Irani Cafes here. Most of the cafes have
- Round shaped back wooden chairs
- Steel Tables
- A large glass counter which holds cakes, pastries, cream rolls, biscuits etc
- A very large bowl of butter kept over this glass counter.
- A parsee sitting behind the counter who is good at swearing at his staff, mostly in the Gujarati language.
- Bun maska, when you order that,the bun will come to counter and the parsee himself will butter the bread from the large bowl of butter.
- Sign boards in Red & white
- Serve Eggs in all forms
- Serve the world-famous Tea / Irani Chai. It tastes almost the same at all Irani cafes
Irani Cafes of Pune
Some of the existing Iconic Irani Cafes of Pune would be
I started going here in 1992, while I worked in an office on Dhole Patil Road. It was then located just behind Jehangir hospital on the main road between Pune Station and Wadia College. This place was where we used to have our evening snack and tea.
Vohuman’swas most famous for the Uncle sitting behind the counter. It was also famous for toast butter and Omelette topped with Irani Chai.The Uncle used to come on a Luna. Sometimes he would also use a moped which looked very similar to M-50 from Bajaj. I think it was some vehicle from Yamaha.When you entered his smile would welcome you with all the warmth.
As soon as you grab your chair, you would here uncle scream on the waiters to come and take the order. Chai after chai after chai interspersed with some omelettes and bread butter or toast butter or bun maska.Time used to fly there and evenings change to night within a few chais. That is the charm of that place.
They later introduced the cheese omelettes on public demand, which also caught up and the new age guys would know this place more for the cheese omelettes.
The uncle is no longer there, expired a few years ago. I thought the charm was lost a bit on this one.
Vohuman’s is now shifted to a new age place on Dhole Patil Road and has a mezzanine seating arrangement. Everything is the same, except that there is no Uncle shouting behind the counter and they use gadgets to take your orders.
- Naaz / MahaNaaz
The huge sprawling Mahanazz and Naaz café, bang opposite Aurora towers was always a busy place, whether it was mornings, evenings or afternoons.
It had and still has all the generic features of a good Irani Café; in addition, it had something unique. None of the restaurants gave or give this kind of a feature. They had a very famous Patti Samosa (veg and Non-veg both). But that is also not what I am talking about.
If a group of 4 went and sat on a table and ordered samosas. The waiter would get a plate of 10 samosas with a bottle of ketchup (pumpkin based). The bottle of ketchup was a large bottle of Kissan ketchup in those days. People would start eating from that plate and you would be billed based on the samosas left on the plate. Now, have you heard of that?
The patti samosas were and are the perfect fix of mixed vegetables with a bit of mint and obviously some parsi masalas. Down those samosas with Irani chai.
What is this fuss over Irani Chai……. Kya hai special?
Irani Chai is special for a few reasons. The chai / tea gives you a slightly burnt and minty flavour and a special blend of masalas which the Irani Café owners keep it secret.
What I know is that they boil the milk and reduce it, like we do we for making rabdi. Its not reduced to those levels but surely gives a slight burnt flavour with a creamy texture to the milk.
The tea is also boiled long enough and is strong. The concoction is kept separate and the milk is always boiling. When ordered the taps of the concoction are opened straight into the cup and topped with creamy milk.
Now that’s what makes the Irani Chai special.
Coming Back to Café MahaNaaz
Now, it is just a small little sit out in Taboot street, one of the by lanes of Camp in Pune. Serves Mutton Kheema and Pav along with the other regular Irani Café menu.
- Café Yezdan
Located in the busy Sharbatwaala Chowk, this is a café which can be missed very easily. This is a place for people to hang around, meet and have their Anda / Egg Bhurjee (in Parsi it’s called Akuri).
This place is filled with the smell of fresh Bruns cut and ready to be buttered and downed with chai. Brun maska is a delight with Irani chai. I do not even know how many people know what a brun is.
Now what is this Brun?
Brun is a bread which is very hard on the outside and very soft inside. It is surely not bite friendly. You need to cut it into slices with a knife and Its generally dipped into the Irani chai and eaten. I prefer an omelette with it. Dipped in Irani Chai the brun reaches heavenly levels.
Why do I digress….. back to Café Yezdan
The interiors are likeany Irani café, just that this café is quite dark inside. The mornings here are beautiful as it has large windows but closed ones and the light just about enters through the dirty window giving the interiors a very movie like feeling.
Comng back to the food, the bhurjee is full of green chillies and masalas. It is a little on the spicier side but works well with the brun. You get other breads also. I mentioned brun because that is what is on the counter early Sunday morning.
They also serve black tea and Pune’s very own soda called Ardeshir. Will write about Ardeshir some other time. Because this place is small it does get noisy when crowded. But, if you do not mind that, this is the place to go for a good bhurjee with brunmaska.
- Café Good Luck
Located in a corner on the busy square connecting Bhandarkar Road and FC Road. This is no longer a quaint little place like yester years.
Café Good luck has added a lot of variety into its menu apart from the regular Irani stuff. Now there is a debate whether Cafe Goodluck is Irani or Afghani. I will let that debate be. Because the food is what I am talking about here.
I could qualify this place as having the tastiest Bun Maska, I have ever had.The sweet bun and butter with the chai was a staple for a very long time when I worked for a place on Apte Road.
Apart from the regular Irani Café stuff, they have a whole menu for lunch and dinner. Their Kheema pav, Chicken curry and Biryanis are something one should relish. They are packed throughout the day and you would need to wait 10-15 mins every time to get a seat.
1n 1998, we were lucky that, we never had to wait to enter Café Goodluck ever. We could just walk in and get a seat.
Pune’s Lost Irani Cafes:
- Lucky restaurant, which is where R-Pride is in Deccan
This was located just opposite Café Good Luck. Another sprawling place, great food and not costly at all.
Both Café Goodluck and Lucky Restaurant are famous for the numerous Bollywood stars who visited them when they were a nobody and were studying at FTII. Lucky had photographs of all these stars put up on the walls.
I liked the Biryani Rice here with Fish Curry. They had a large menu with chicken, fish and mutton curries, biryanis etc.
- Café Sunrise, again on Deccan but now converted to another mall
This was a place for Scrambled Eggs and toast butter. A very busy restaurant which somehow got lost in the glitz of the new age diners.
The uniqueness of this place was not only the scrambled eggs, but it had a silent presence on the busy Jangli Maharaj road. In fact, some corners in the restaurant were so silent that they were used by seniors to have chai and read newspapers.They were also used by couples to hold hands and chat away lazily through their afternoons.
Café Sunrise also had an Art Gallery. It was often used by Artists to show off their wares on the walls of this hustling place.
I think the lure of moving with the trend is what caused this café its death. It got converted to a brand called Dosa Diner, which failed badly. It re-opened as Café Sunrise but could not last long as another mall took it over. Miss this one for the scrambled eggs and the meditative peace it provided.