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A Stroll through Mandai: A Culinary Heritage

Tuesday, 15 April 2014 - 6:51pm IST | Place: Pune | Agency: dna

A bright Sunday morning saw a motley group of people gather outside the biggest fruit and vegetable market in the heart of this multifariously tinted city. Delivery suppliers, hawkers, and shoppers looking to stock up on fresh produce and fruit were probably a little surprised to see this assembly that included young people, some of whom brandished high-end cameras, a trio of female expats, adolescent boy and girl scouts, and elderly folks that all shared a common interest—exploring the nooks and crannies of the sprawling, somewhat daunting, yet fascinating Mahatma Phule Mandai. This was part of the ongoing Pune Heritage Week line-up.
  • mandai-spice-it-up Mandai the oldest vegetable market in Pune. Sonia Malani

The walk began with volunteer guides sharing little-known trivia about the origins of the bazaar—the relocation from the vicinity of Shaniwar Wada to the present address in Shukrawar Peth; the costs incurred for constructing the building in 1885 (Rs. 4,00,000); and the two gentlemen who had then opposed the change in address and are now immortalized with their name and memorial statue adorning the entrance of the building (Mahatma Phule and Lokmanya Tilak respectively). Entering the sections of the main market greeted us with an abundance of fresh, colourful produce—stacks of greens, neat mounds of multi-hued vegetables waiting to be bought and bundled into eco-friendly cloth tote bags that most buyers carry. The goods on sale, we were informed, are sourced from all corners of the country, some even shipped from across the seven seas. Next, we were taken up a flight of stairs that lead to the atrium of the building; this is being remodeled presently. The encircling corridors with mesh screens provide a partial view of the fair-like outskirts of the bazaar below.

A traditional vegetable store in mandai.- Sonia Malani

Our stroll finally culminated in a small culinary workshop that demonstrated the use of some of the purchases made during the tour. Milind, a young boy scout leader, donned chef’s whites to deftly put together a salad of crisp cucumbers, radishes and lettuce in a tangy lemony dressing spiked with ground red chilli. Suchitra, another volunteer, dished up a smacking ambyachi daal with soaked gram and raw mangoes, a balanced concoction of sour, spicy and sweet flavours. Also available for sampling was thecha—a seasonal version of the condiment featuring raw mangoes along with the regular wallop of hot green chillies and garlic. 

SMILE, a collaboration between a women’s self-help group and the Urban Community Development Department of the Pune Municipal Corporation that works to help underprivileged and differently-abled women was one of the organizers for the event. The affable Mrs. Sanjivani Joglekar, an activist, explained the workings of the group that also runs a store retailing items handcrafted by women entrepreneurs, and generously bagged a couple of the relishes and produce for the participants. The enlightening walk ended with the group sharing cups of panhe (a sweet, tangy cooler made with, again, unripe mangoes) over warm chatter, as only people who feel a strong sense of belonging to a history and community can.

Daal being prepapred at the cook out in mandai vegetable market -Sonia Malani

About the Author

The author is the Pune head for Food Bloggers’ Association of India (FBAI). FBAI is one of India’s premier online news channels on food, chefs, food events and food bloggers, and is an influencer that is making its presence felt across the Indian food and beverage electronic, online and social media space.

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