Pune’s Century-Old Bakery Culture: Local Experts Share Thoughts
Image Credit: Instagram/Dohiti/Le Flamington

Every city has its signature food. It could be a dish that you find amazing versions of across the city, like Chole Bhature in Delhi; it could be something you find across street corners and elegant eateries, like Kathi Rolls in Kolkata; it could also be a street food that is so affordable that everyone depends on it, like Mumbai’s Vada Pav. When it comes to Pune, you might assume this signature food is Misal Pav or Pithla-Bhakri—but the fact is that Pune’s foodie heart and soul is ruled by one class of food called bread. 

Think about it. What would the city’s Vada Pav, Misal Pav or Pithla-Bhakri be without the Pav and Bhakri in question? What would people visiting Irani and Parsi cafes scoop up their Keema Par Eedu and Bheja Fry with, if not hot and fresh buns? And what would the hundreds of Puneri cafes be without their artisanal breads, croissants and babkas? So, while there are indeed many dishes that personify Pune’s food culture, nothing drives it like the presence of bread.  

To understand what exactly created this over-a-century-old bread culture in Pune, Slurrp caught up with five city-based experts—all of them bakers running thriving businesses that feed this Puneri love for bread and bakeries even more. Here’s what they revealed about the bakery culture that defines this Maharashtrian city. 

How Breadmaking And Bakeries Came Up In Pune 

“The roots of Pune's bread culture can be traced back to ancient times when traditional bread-making techniques were an integral part of the local cuisine,” Chef Danish Khan, Executive Pastry Chef, Conrad Pune. “From simple flatbreads to intricately prepared delicacies, bread held a special place in the hearts and homes of Pune's residents. The Parsi community introduced the delectable Irani bread to Pune's food landscape. Irani pav, a soft and fluffy bun, quickly became a favorite accompaniment to a variety of dishes, while the saffron-infused Mawa cake became synonymous with special occasions and celebrations.” 

Once the British set up their own cantonment in Pune, the city’s bakeries continued to diversify and grow. “There were two bakeries on Sholapur Road – the Government Steam Bakery and Nazareth’s Bakery,” says Chef Vidita Kamat, Entrepreneur & Founder, Mezclaa. “The Government Steam Bakery was started in the late 1850s. All the bread and biscuit needed for the British troops stationed at Poona, Kirkee, Bombay, and Ahmednagar were made in this bakehouse.” Given this, it is quite natural that bakery breads should be such a staple for people in Pune. 

“Being born and brought up in Pune, I often reminisce about the Pav-wallas, the Biscoot-Wallas cycling down carrying baked products in a trunk,” says Taha Khan, Founder & Owner, Le Flamington, Kalyani Nagar. “As a child it was mostly like a Pandoras box for me. The bakes were made with vegetable fat and had a peculiar mouth feel.” For Geeta Pathak, Founder & Owner, Dohiti Bake House, Viman Nagar, it is this everyday association with bakeries and bakery culture that makes Pune what it is. “In Pune, we have always had the luxury to choose from many options because there are so many old and new bakeries,” she says.  

Pune’s Bakery Culture Is A Blend Of Old And New 

So, which old bakeries do Puneris love the most? “There are these old bakeries that maintain the classic form of Puneri bread culture, and once you cross them even today, you cannot resist those age-old goodies,” says Pathak. “Kayani still remains my favourite bakery and the old-school charm at that place is hard to resist. Vohuman Café, Café Naaz are also favourites.” Taha Khan lists Khodayar Bakery and Husseny Bakery as his old favourites. Kamat lists Kayani, Marz-O-Rin, Royal Bakery and Balaji Bakery as her favourites. Danish Khan adds one more to this heritage list with the 88-year-old Ramsar Bakery. 

“These old bakeries that have their own cult following, and then there are these new bakeries coming up and blending into the city’s bread culture,” Pathak says. Pathak’s own bakehouse is certainly one of them, and Kamat lists Dohiti as well as Taha Khan’s Le Flamington as her go-to new-age artisanal bakeries. “Because Pune still has such an amazing bread acceptance, the city has an appetite even today for the best breads new bakeries can offer. So, this is a very interesting time to be in the Pune bakery sector.”  

So, what exactly does the new age of Pune bakeries look like? Prayuj Kshiteej Mainkar, who started The Bread Culture only in 2021 is perhaps the best person to ask. A thorough Puneri who loves Kayani’s Ribbon Cakes as well as goodies from his local bakeries, Mainkar studied hotel management and started his bakery business during the COVD-19 pandemic. “I started a small unit on my terrace and gave out the breads I baked for free so that the business might spread through word of mouth,” he explains. “I then opened up a food truck and I’d bake in the mornings and set it up for sale in the evenings.” 

One great review on Facebook was all it took to make Mainkar’s food truck popular. “Now, we’re at four trucks, one kiosk and two stores across Pune,” he explains. One of the main reasons why Mainkar’s business as well as those by other new bakery entrepreneurs in Pune are thriving is based not only on the fact that Puneris have a deep love for bread, as Pathak explained, but also because the city’s bread consumers also expect world-class products from the new bakeries. 

The Future Of Pune’s Bakery Culture Looks Bright 

“With Pune's residents being inherently curious and open to culinary exploration, the demand for diverse bread varieties is likely to continue growing,” says Danish Khan. “Bakers and bakery entrepreneurs can leverage this curiosity by introducing a wide range of breads inspired by different regions of India and the world.” 

Pathak believes this is certainly something that can and is being done, given the immense journey Pune’s bread culture has already traversed. “Initially the breads made in Pune were not made with yeast, they were made with toddy and even gelatinized potato starch,” she says. “I think in future, we’ll still maintain a balance of old-school and new bakeries, and the new bakeries will definitely look at using healthier ingredients.” 

Kamat agrees. “The future lies in creating innovative baked goods along with traditional bakes, in a consistent format at great pricing,” she says. “Also, since Pune has a great culture in baking, education in baking, its techniques and more can and should be imparted by the industry to the rest of the country.” Both Kamat and Pathak hope that Pune’s vibrant bread culture spreads out and reaches people not only in Mumbai, but also other parts of the country and the world. 

As for future trends that Pune’s new-age bakers and bakeries are likely to influence, two of our youngest entrepreneurs sum it all up. “Petit is the culture,” says Taha Khan. “People are aiming for smaller portion sizes as families turn more nuclear and DINK (dual-income, no kids). Buying will now follow an experiential pattern instead of a volumized quantity pattern.” Mainkar focuses on the other trend that will dominate: “The future of bakeries is going to be all health-conscious products like whole grain, gluten-free and artisanal breads like sourdough and babka,” he says.