A Hindustan Times story published in 2018 reports that between 2001 and 2006, the rate of migration of people coming into Pune was 12 per cent, with students and working professionals coming to the city for better opportunities. According to Jayesh Paranjpe, owner of The Western Routes, a Pune-based company specializing in heritage walks and food tours, this migration led to the rise of the Puneri thali containing simple, vegetarian, homemade dishes to cater to the growing population.
The different types of thalis found in Pune range from simple home-cooked meals to extravagant spreads, fit for weddings and other auspicious ceremonies. However, all Puneri thalis, regardless of where you eat them, have a basic template: three types of vegetable curries, a dal consisting of colocasia leaves, chapattis, rice, salad, papad, and some kind of dessert, such as shrikhand (a sweet made from strained yoghurt) at an affordable rate. The vegetable curries also differ from season to season and mainly utilize local produce like freshly grown dodka or soft gourd, ambat chuka or green sorrel, and more.
Because of the influence of other regions in Maharashtra and the rest of India, Puneri thalis have evolved to include non-vegetarian options like chicken, mutton, and fish due to the influence of other regions in Maharashtra as well as Gujarat. For example, the sukka mutton, a dish made of dry, spicy mutton is popular as well as the two gravy dishes, pandhra rassa and tambda rassa, translating to white and red curry from Kolhapur and suralichi vadi, also called khandvi, a traditionally Gujarati dish made out of gram flour, is also served in these thalis.
The Puneri thali also features curries with sprouted beans such white peas and lima beans. With strong flavours of chilies and garlic, the thali stands out from the rest. For example, lasun kharda, a type of chutney made by grinding garlic, coconut, and chilies together, is quite popular.
Paranjpe notes these thalis are still incredibly prevalent in the city as they offer filling meals at affordable rates. Punekars have always been foodies and enjoy tasting new flavours, thus leading to experimentation with paneer curries, chole, and stuffed eggplants, which are not part of a traditional Puneri thali.
Here are five places in the city to try the iconic Puneri thali:
Krishna Dining Hall, Law College Road
Located on Law College Road, Krishna Dining Hall serves unlimited vegetarian thalis for ₹350 per person. The thali comes with a side of fresh buttermilk, elevating the experience. Snacks such as sabudana wada¸ made with tapioca pearls, and basundi, a sweet dish prepared with condensed milk add the Maharashtrian touch.
Hotel Shreyas, Deccan Gymkhana
With several different types of dishes, such as up to 17 distinct curries, 4 kinds of salads, and a variety of sweet dishes available daily, Hotel Shreyas in Deccan Gymkhana has to be one of the best Puneri thali places. The restaurant serves a variety of snacks such as kothimbir wadi (made with coriander and gram flour), cutlets, and mixed pakoda. The thalis start from ₹400.
Janseva Bhojanalaya, Deccan Gymkhana
For a taste of authentic homemade food, visit Janseva Bhojanalaya in Deccan Gymkhana. The thali is a remnant of Puneri culture, as it was started in 1961 and has served thousands of customers since. The thali, which comes on a banana leaf, has traditional dishes like batatyachi bhaji (potato sabzi), and aamras (made from mango pulp). The menu also has masala bhaat (spicy masala rice), and chavali chi usal containing black-eyed peas. The price starts from ₹450 per person.
Asha Dining Hall, Deccan Gymkhana
Operating since 1949, Asha Dining Hall in Deccan Gymkhana serves thalis starting from ₹150. Each includes three chapatis and rice alongside three different curries. Potato sabzi and other dishes like aloo patal bhaji, a dal made out of colocasia leaves, eaten only at Maharashtrian weddings is also included. Additionally, the restaurant serves festive Maharashtrian food such as puran poli, a flatbread stuffed with sweet lentil filling and kharvas, a pudding made out of cow colostrum and jaggery.
Badshahi Lodging & Boarding, Tilak Road
With thalis starting from ₹150, Badshahi Lodging and Boarding on Tilak Road will transport you to the era of the Peshwas with the ambience of stone flooring and tabletops. Mini thalis are also available for those who want a quick meal. The menu differs every day and includes fried peas cutlets, mirgunda (a type of Maharashtrian papad), poha, and more.
Poona Guest House, Budhwar Peth
Finally, Poona Guest House in Budhwar Peth, started in 1935, is one of the oldest thali places in Pune. With three different types of thalis and many more Maharashtrian delicacies, such as the ukdiche modak, a sweet, coconut and jaggery stuffed steamed dumpling, the thali is not only filling, but also pocket-friendly, with prices starting from ₹180. Other dishes include the Puneri misal pav, a spicy sprouts curry accompanied by soft pav.