Thursday, January 15, 2015

Puri, bhaji and Satkar

I came across this report that Satkar restaurant near Churchgate is moving to New Marine Lines. So many memories of childhood came flooding back.

I think 30-40 years ago there used to be an Indian Express office in that building, maybe the circulation office. My father would sometimes have to go there early in the morning on a Sunday, and when he did, he would bring back hot puris and aloo bhaji from Satkar. The hot, brown paper-wrapped packages just made our day. We could scarcely wait to feast on the puris, still hot, but somewhat deflated in the 5-10 minute journey home. In any case, the bhaji had onions, green chillies and coriander, all of which I would pick out in those days, so what was the point of waiting?

My father never bought exactly eight puris for four people; he was a generous person and it would seem to us that puris continued to emerge forever, keeping pace with our voracious appetites as growing children. It was a true feast for us!

Eventually, I stopped picking out the onions from the bhaji, and discovered the joy presented by the combination of the raw onions and lime pickle they sent home. Loving that combination--puris, raw onions and lime pickle--has been a lasting Satkar legacy for me.

In time, I would go to Satkar with friends on the way to and from other places, and I have eaten other things there, but I remember nothing as well as I remember the puri-bhaji. Some years ago, I visited Bombay for a visa interview in the Churchgate area and practically ran over to Satkar after that for a nostalgic feast of puri-bhaji. The surly waiter told me it is no longer served there. I was disappointed and outraged.

The news about Satkar moving from its landmark location would make me a lot sadder if they still served puri-bhaji. Without that dish, I guess the restaurant I am nostalgic for has not existed for a while anyway. Perhaps it really doesn't matter where they move.

Unless it is to the location of Sanman. And that's another story altogether.


I want to add a disclaimer to this post. I am not a "foodie," a word whose meaning I only learnt after moving back to India in 2003. Food doesn't have to be special and unique and authentic and exclusive for me to enjoy it, and eating is not performance for me. I like food to be filling and heart-warming, and as I grow older, the simpler the better, actually. I have no patience for conversations about recipes or special ingredients.

So this is not about how authentic the food at Satkar was, it is about how special the memory of Satkar food is to me. Satkar's puri-bhaji memories are also happy memories of my father, and of us as a family, sitting around our dining table in Bombay. 

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