Bun Makkhan And Mattha: A Timeless Breakfast Ritual In Kanpur
Image Credit: Pahalwanji's Special Mattha

If you took a walk in the early hours of morning at the iconic phool bagh on MG Road or Mall Road of Kanpur, you will notice a bustling crowd gathered across from the park on the other side of the road. As you get closer, you will see a queue of eagerly anticipating patrons waiting for their plateful of bun topped with freshly churned makkhan, coupled with a glass of refreshing buttermilk from Pahalwan Ji Ka Special Mattha. For many, this post-walk ritual kick-starts their day with a wholesome and delicious breakfast before getting on with their busy day ahead. For generations, this family business has been a cornerstone in Kanpur, spreading the delight of freshly churned butter across the city.

Pahalwan Ji Ka Special Mattha started off as a stall outside company bagh, or the famous phool bagh of Kanpur, over 60 years ago and later branched out to currently own an outlet and two kiosks on the lanes of Kanpur. It is a family-owned and run business that was started by Mr. Shaligram Shukla ji in 1962 outside Nana Rao Park, which is also called Company Bagh or Phool Bagh in Kanpur. His son, Mr. Devidyal Shukla, who was a professional wrestler and fondly referred to as 'pahalwanjee', took over the business from his father and has now handed it over to his son, Bipin Shukla, a fine arts artist, who currently runs this age-old business while pursuing art for passion simultaneously.

"Our legacy spans over three generations, selling bun makkhan and mattha. From loyal patrons visiting during my grandfather's era to their children frequenting our stall under my father's management, and now their children arriving with sons and daughters, this has fostered a profound sense of community that I aim to perpetuate for many more generations in Kanpur. Our long-standing association with the family supplying milk, continuing for 40 years across three generations, has inspired their own dairy business growth. Cultivating this interconnected community alongside our business is not only a source of pride but a truly fulfilling experience," shares Bipin Shukla.

One might wonder: What's special about the bun and butter? The creamy white butter is made from scratch, freshly churned on the spot, and slathered over varieties of buns or bread that are freshly made in their in-house bakery. And the mattha, or the savoury buttermilk drink, is as fresh as it can be, as opposed to the store-bought ones we might be accustomed to in the cities. The drink, seasoned with roasted cumin, coriander powder, and black salt, is served with a blob of butter, and it is as fresh as buttermilk can be.

The butter is stark white in colour, creamy in texture, and light on the palate. And it is not greasy or heavy on the stomach unless you overeat a portion or two, which can likely happen due to the fresh taste that's on offer here. You can choose from an array of breads, like multi-grain bread, milk bread, or brown bread. They have many savoury and sweet buns that can be buttered and drizzled with some honey if need be. Multi-grain, pineapple, pizza bun, masala, and tutti-fruitti sweet bun are some of the varieties that are a big hit with the white butter.

The buns are sliced into three parts before the dollops of butter are slathered on them to infuse the rich flavour of fluffy butter better. The pizza bun was seasoned with oregano and other spices to impart the pizza flavour, but the addition of fresh butter lends a different taste altogether, so you might not miss the cheese that is otherwise topped on a pizza. And the pineapple bun makkhan with a dash of honey was an interesting combination. It almost tastes like an old-fashioned pineapple pastry that most of us might have eaten in the early 90's, when the local bakeries made it without adding flavouring agents like pineapple essence. The bun is soft, with chunks of pineapple, and not too sweet. And with the creamy butter and honey topping, it is just as good as a pastry or dessert can get.

"At first, it was just my father and me handling the kiosks. Now, we've expanded, employing over 25 individuals who are growing alongside our business. Initially, our offerings were limited to bread slices with butter, but over the last decade, we've diversified, crafting an array of buns within our 2500-square-foot bakery. My chef continuously creates something new for tasting, and I share these samples with people who visit, family, and friends to gather feedback before incorporating them into our outlets and kiosks," says Bipin Shukla. 

He says, "I am an artist in the field of fine arts, having ventured from Chennai to several countries, including the UK, for my work. I've also served as a professor at a local college here in Kanpur. Art is my passion, but selling mattha in Kanpur has become a fulfilling profession, supported by my family. My sister, an emerging fine arts artist; my little brother, who is studying in college; and my school-going son actively contribute, assisting us regularly in our kiosks and outlets. Occasionally, on weekends, we inspire visiting children to create art, displayed at the kiosk outside Company Bagh."

Whether they are prominent industrialists, local politicians, celebrities, or cricket personalities, the delight of bun makkhan captivates many when they're in Kanpur. The unwavering quality of butter, bread, and buttermilk keeps Kanpur's regular patrons returning week after week to this kiosk. Madhu Agarwal, a Kanpur resident, shares her lasting connection, saying, "I've been visiting this place with my husband for the last 42 years. We take our daily walk at Company Bagh, and at least once a week, we enjoy a breakfast of mattha and bread makkhan here at Pahalwanji's.'