The Taste Test: Pune vs Mumbai

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The Taste Test: Pune vs Mumbai

Illustration: Shivali Devalkar

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riends, Punekars, and Mumbaikars,

I come to bury this debate about which is the better city, not fan it. There is nothing left to settle, no terms left to define. Sure, Mumbai, you’re India’s most aspirational city, you’re the one with the cosmopolitan vibe, you’re the city that never sleeps. Well, snore. I know we’ll always be the small-town upstarts, hoping their older, cooler cousin who plays the guitar will take them to hang out with their friends. You’ll always have that. But, guess what? We’ve got our own party going and it is pretty lit. For one reason alone.

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Pune food kicks Mumbai food’s arse. Like, lai bhaari.

(Full disclosure: I have lived in Pune all my life, even though my ancestral roots lie in Bihar. But I am the sev puri dahi puri girl #FoLyf. So if you detect a Pune bias in my assertion, it is entirely a figment of your imagination. Peace and Jai Maharashtra!)

Allow me to explain. Something about the city’s air, its perfumed monsoon, its unhurried pace, and the idea of rubbing shoulders with broke scholars makes eating out in the city a more soul-satisfying experience. The essence of Pune can be distilled into a plate of sickly-sweet sheera and slick-with-grease sabudana khichdi available at a 4 a.m.-chai tapri.

Of course, this is not to contend that Mumbai does not have its share of late-night haunts. But let’s admit, that a lot of these places are classified as “late-night haunts” solely because by the time you reach them through the evening traffic, it is time for you to be in bed. The lot of us, on the other hand, don’t have to think twice before setting out for a well-deserved evening meal.

In the veins of a true-blue Punekar, runs the taste of their keema pav and caramel custard.

The love of food knows no boundaries and should not be contained by time or distance. Can you really ever make a spontaneous plan to go from, I dunno, SoBo to Andheri in the evening, just to satiate an untimely craving? You’ll probably salivate over those Cheesy Panini shots at Shreeji Stall in Borivali – and then you realise it is 7 p.m. so best to go over their Instagram feed and wait until the weekend. By comparison, it’s a stroll in the park for us to commute from Camp to Chandni Chowk to have those droolicious mayo-dripping momos from Momo Uncle.

At this point, some obnoxious SoBo bugger is going to pipe up and say, “Bitch please. We have Indigo/Burma Burma/Pa Pa Ya.” To which my response is “Talk to the hand. Can you even spell Mi-a-Mi?”

Dining out scenes in Pune have undergone a remarkable change. Upscale restaurants from metros now hold base and have been doing incredibly well, thanks to the city’s constantly changing demographic. And Pune’s palate has been moulding accordingly.

Despite all these modern influences on the culinary front, the city has not let go of its essence. The “bun maska ka chaska”, acquired over years of eating at Irani cafés like Goodluck and Vohuman, is incomparable. In the veins of a true-blue Punekar, runs the taste of their keema pav and caramel custard.

For a taste of heritage, we turn to the JJ Garden Vada Pav, the cherry on top of Pune’s street food. I could bet my firstborn that no vada pav in Mumbai can hold a candle to JJ. The vada crumbles, offset by the teekhi mirchi and the chutney, and a shot of the buttermilk is what makes every Punekar’s morning. And for every glass of standard-issue mango shake, Mumbai, we have three words for you: Sujata’s Mango Mastani, the queen of shakes and vanquisher of diets and iron wills.

Oh what is that flailing cry I hear? That Mumbai has its share of heritage eateries and legacy dishes? Did I detect someone yelling “Yazdani”? Ah yes, but can you see the long queues snaking around Kayani Bakery for a parcel of mawa cake and the cheesecake at Diamond? Of course you can’t dear Mumbaikar: You’re already waiting for your order of crunchy Shrewsbury biscuits to take back home. We’ll always have that over you.

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