I came to know of the place when a friend of mine recommended it to me. Since I am a fan of almost all cuisines and dishes I made up my mind to give it a try at the earliest opportunity. The opportunity arose rather quickly when I had to go to GPO on Wednesday. The restaurant was rather easy to find as it is literally at a stone’s throw from both the CST station and GPO.
The rather small and dimly lit place was full of activity when I arrived at around 1300 hours and the old wodden tables seemed all taken up by nearby
office workers and others stopping by for a quick lunch. Just when I thought I would have to wait a while before I could get a table, the waiter noticing that I was alone ushered me to a table where four other men were already enjoying their meals. Nobody seemed to mind though, as they were also four random individuals eating at the same table only because of their love of Pancham puris and they moved in to make space for me. At the centre of the table was a huge bowl full of chillis as well as a jug of water and a few glasses for the customers to help themselves to.
Unlike most restaurants in Mumbai which serve standard dry potato sabji and three puris in a dish of PooriBhaji, Pancham Puriwala offers a variety of sabjis including potato, methi, palak, chole and bhindi (i.e potato, fenugreek, spinach, white chickpeas and okra/ladyfingers) and also a choice between normal and masala puris. The waiter immediately tried to sell me the costliest item on the menu which was a Rs, 70 deluxe thali that includes 3 types of sabjis, dal, kadhi, papad and rice in addition to puris.
However, I decided to go for aloobhindi and puri. As you can see alongside, five piping hot puris were served along with a spicy aloobhindi sabji and a watery curry side dish. The puris were larger than those served elsewhere and I did not order any other main course item (which me being me says a lot). As the sabji was rather hot and spicy, I went on to order a bowl of curd which was served to me with a spoonful of sugar dumped on top. The added sugar was not an attempt to mask the sour curd as I suspected it might be. The curd itself was pleasantly sweet as well. For drinks, there was a choice between lassi and masala chaas and I decided to opt for the latter and it was so tasty that I went for a second glass as well!
This hearty meal set me back by just Rs. 59 and as I was paying the bill I enquired about the restaurant. My grandfather had said earlier that he had had meals at Pancham Puriwala when he used to work at Union Bank HQ in Fort area so I decided to ask how old the restaurant was. The dramatic reply was:
You maybe told that Pancham Puriwala is opposite the General Post Office but infact the General Post Office is opposite Pancham Puriwala because when it was built, our restaurant was already here. It is more than 170 years old.
I then went around to take a look at the kitchen which is actually right next to the eating area and you can even peep in to take a look from a window facing the road. One of the cooks there told me that they fry more than 4000 puris every single day! The turnover is so high that the chaas and lassi are also prepared large barrels instead of vessels.
All in all, I was rather satisfied and impressed with Pancham Puriwala. The food is excellent and I strongly recommend that anyone going to VT (now CST) must sample its delightful fare. While the is no attempt at any sort of fancy decor, the hordes of people who gobble up 4000 puris a day are enough for me to overlook this shortcoming. I’d rather patronise a hole-in-the-wall small but popular joint than expensive but empty air conditioned speciality restaurants.
Unfortunately, the GPO did not have what I was looking for so I might be going down to VT again very soon. There is not doubt that when I do, I shall be paying another visit to Pancham Puriwala. I am already looking forward to it!
More photos here: http://on.fb.me/pancham_puri