This Mumbai Eatery Serving Puri-Bhaji Is Over A Century Old
Image Credit: The lunch platter at Pancham Puriwala in Mumbai.

A man named Pancham Sharma came to Mumbai from Agra in the 1840s and set up a stall serving puri-bhaji outside Victoria Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus). Now run by the sixth generation of descendants, the stall has morphed into a two-storey eatery called Pancham Puriwala that feeds hungry Mumbaikars puri and bhaji everyday. Marble tiles and perforated steel seats make up the place, which has no air conditioning till date. It is estimated that Pancham Puriwala serves more than 500 customers each day. 

Pancham means five, and so five puris with potato bhaji was the only meal served at the establishment initially. Even today, a standard plate of puri-bhaji comes with five puris. There are three types of puris at the eatery: sada (plain), masala (stuffed) and palak (spinach). The accompanying curry can be chosen from among bhaji (potato curry), chhole (chickpea curry) and mixed vegetable curry. While some North Indian dishes are also on the menu, puri-bhaji is the bestselling, classic order of most people. 

All the recipes were created by Pancham himself, and are religiously followed to this day. The current owner, Sandeep Sharma, came on board in the 1980s and introduced a few new dishes like kadhi chawal to the menu, so that customers would have variety. In the 1860s, a plate of masala puri-bhaji cost four annas. Now, it costs ₹60, and an elaborate ‘Pancham thali’ is priced at ₹130.

The eatery is mostly thronged with office-goers, college students and tourists. Customers must get to the place by 6pm to be able to grab a table for dinner, as a lot of commuters visit around 6.30pm and after, to enjoy a substantial meal after a day of hard work. The waiters have been trained to deliver plates of food to hungry patrons at great speed. 

Besides the regular food, Pancham Puriwala’s lassi and chaas are also popular. Puris are served with aamras during the summer. The combination is very popular and sells out fast. 

Pancham Puriwala is on the list of many people who visit Mumbai. The budget eatery satisfies diners without burning holes into their pockets. Meals are priced between ₹60-150, making them affordable for most people. The eatery opens daily from 8am until midnight. It’s a place that has no competitors, as it’s the only one of its kind in Mumbai. Late columnist Behram Contractor even wrote that Pancham Puriwala should be included in the heritage list. Be it considered heritage or not, the importance of the eatery within Mumbai’s culinary landscape is undeniable.