Bun Maska: The Story of a Tea-Time Staple

Bun maska is a simple yet beloved tea-time snack universally enjoyed across India. Made from bread rolls called buns topped with melted butter, the humble bun maska has come a long way from its origins. It's story begins during the colonial era, when the Portuguese first introduced bread to the Indian subcontinent. As they settled in areas like Goa and Mumbai, they brought along their culinary traditions, including the art of baking bread. These initial interactions planted the seeds of what would eventually evolve into the beloved bun maska.

From the bun maska's first appearance in Irani cafes to entering middle class homes and becoming a commercial success story, bun maska's rise represents the changing tastes of modern India. Synonymous with the vibrant streets of Mumbai, the delectable combination of chai and bun muska has become an integral part of Indian culture. Let’s unravel the tale of the fascinating life story behind bun maska - its humble beginnings, cultural significance, regional variations, and enduring appeal that continues to delight taste buds across the nation.

A Slice of History: The Origins

The tradition of bun maska in Irani cafes goes back decades. When the Iranian community from Iran settled in Mumbai in the late 19th century, they opened small cafes and restaurants to cater to the local population. One of the simplest and most popular dishes they introduced was bun maska. It consisted of soft, fluffy buns served with melted butter. Over time, as the cafes became hubs for socialising, especially in the evenings, variations like cheese bun maska and jam bun maska were also introduced. 

As the decades passed, bun maska became a staple in most Irani cafes across Mumbai. The cafes developed their own specialties - some focused more on the soft, pillowy texture of the buns while others perfected the art of melting just the right amount of butter. No matter the variation, one thing remained constant - the comforting warmth of bun maska served with piping hot chai. For many Mumbaikars, an evening at the Irani cafe with friends often revolved around leisurely conversations over multiple helpings of this humble dish.

While the number of traditional Irani cafes is dwindling with changing times, the legacy of bun maska lives on. Many modern cafes and restaurants have bun maska on their menus to pay homage to this classic dish. Whether savoured in a vintage Irani setting or a contemporary cafe, bun maska continues to bring people together and trigger nostalgia for simpler times in Mumbai with its simple yet deeply satisfying flavours. It remains a beloved part of the city's food culture.

Cultural Significance: More Than Just Food

Beyond being merely a tasty treat, bun maska holds deep cultural significance in India. For many Indians, particularly those residing in Maharashtra or frequenting Mumbai's iconic Irani cafes like Yazdani Bakery or Kyani & Co., indulging in this delightful combination evokes nostalgia and memories from simpler times.

These cafes have been witness to countless conversations - from political debates to friendly banter - as people gather and bond over cups of chai accompanied by the ever-present bun maska. It has become more than just a snack; it is a symbol of camaraderie, community, and shared experiences.

If you wish to make your own, here is a traditional bun maska recipe. You'll need the following ingredients:


 For the buns:

- 2 cups maida or all-purpose flour 

- 1/2 cup milk

- 1/4 cup yoghurt

- 1 tbsp sugar

- 1/4 tsp instant yeast

- 1/4 cup butter, melted

- 1/2 tsp salt

 For the masala tea (maska):

- 2 cups water

- 1 inch ginger, grated 

- 4-5 cloves

- 2 green cardamom pods

- 1 cinnamon stick

- 1/4 tsp black peppercorns

- Pinch of nutmeg

- 1 tbsp sugar

- Milk (optional)


Here are the steps to make bun maska:

1. Make a soft dough by mixing maida (all-purpose flour), yeast, sugar, milk, and butter. Knead well until smooth. 

2. Divide the dough into small balls and shape them into round buns. 

3. Steam the buns for 10–15 minutes until cooked through.

4. In a pot, boil water and add tea leaves, cardamom pods, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper. Let it boil for 5 minutes. 

5. Strain the masala tea into a serving pot. 

6. Serve the hot steamed buns with a cup of piping hot masala tea. 

The Perfect Pairing: Bun Maska and Chai

No discussion about bun maska would be complete without mentioning its perfect partner – tea or 'chai'. The two have an inseparable bond that goes beyond taste. While the fluffy texture of the bun provides a satisfying contrast to the hot beverage, it is the combination of warm buttery goodness with aromatic tea that truly elevates this experience.

Whether enjoyed in an Irani café or at home, sipping on a cup of chai while savouring every bite of bun maska creates a momentary escape from everyday stresses. It offers solace and comfort in its simplicity, making it an essential part of Indian tea-time rituals.

Regional Variations: From Mumbai to Every Corner

While Mumbai may be synonymous with bun maska, its popularity has spread far beyond the bustling streets of this cosmopolitan city. Today, you can find variations of this iconic snack across different regions in India. From Pune's famous Vaishali Café serving their signature 'maskha pav' to Lucknow's Tunday Kababi offering 'buttered pavs', each place adds its own unique twist to suit local tastes. Some even go as far as adding fillings like cheese or jam for added indulgence!

These regional adaptations reflect not only culinary diversity but also highlight how food transcends boundaries by adapting itself to local palates while retaining its essence – soft buns slathered generously with creamy butter.

Enduring Appeal: A Snack for All Ages

The enduring appeal of bun maska lies in its versatility and widespread popularity across generations. Whether you're a college student looking for a quick bite, an office-goer seeking respite during tea breaks, or a family enjoying weekend breakfasts together – bun maska caters to all.

It’s simple yet indulgent nature makes it accessible to people from all walks of life. Its affordability and ease of availability further contribute to its timeless charm.

Bun maska is more than just a snack; it is a testament to the culinary fusion that defines India's diverse culture. From its humble beginnings in Mumbai's Irani cafes to becoming a nationwide favourite, this iconic combination has stood the test of time. So next time you find yourself craving something comforting with your cuppa, indulge in the irresistible allure of bun maska. Let each buttery bite transport you back in time as you relish this beloved tea-time staple that has captured hearts and taste buds throughout India.