Amid the bustling streets of Mumbai is an eatery where one can see the flour dough balls being rolled and flattened, deep fried into hot oil and emerging crispy fresh onto one’s plate! Pancham Puriwala is a century-old eatery, located outside Victoria Terminus, now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the central train station of Mumbai.
It is said that a gentleman named Pancham Sharma had come to Mumbai on foot from Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the 1840s, before train services had started in India. He then set up a puri-bhaji stall outside Victoria Terminus; today, his quaint little shop has grown into a two-story non-air-conditioned eatery with plain stainless steel bench-like seating.
The waiter said that a standard plate of puri-bhaji is served with five puris. The first owner, Pancham Sharma, started this tradition, as his name was Pancham, meaning five! Anupam Sharma, 6th generation owner of Pancham Puriwala, continues this tradition today.
The menu serves a variety of North Indian dishes, but when you come to Pancham Puriwala, relishing their puri-bhaji plate is a must! They serve three versions of puris – sada (plain), masala (stuffed) and palak (with spinach greens) – along with a variety of curry accompaniments to choose from like bhaji (potato curry), chole (spicy chickpeas curry), mix-veg curry and many other vegetarian side dishes.
They also serve puris with sukha-aloo-bhaji (dry and spicy mashed potatoes) for people who want their meal on the go. All tables carry a bowl with pickled green chilies that go well with the puri-bhaji meal.
The interiors are not fancy, but they attract a lot of customers. It is packed with office-goers, college students, busy businessmen, tourists and puri-bhaji enthusiasts. If you reach here by 6pm, you might get a table to yourself, but a little later than 6:30pm, and the place gets fully packed with peak hour commuters who pop in for a sumptuous meal after a hard day’s work. The waiters have mastered the art of quick service to feed the flurry of hungry Mumbaikars! The puris are fried fresh throughout the day, and because the turnover is quick, you always get served, piping hot puris.
The owner says that the shop is busiest during lunchtime on a working day. Even though puri (also spelled as poori) – a deep-fried Indian bread – is the star attraction, people prefer wholesome thalis (an assorted platter of dishes) with rotis and desserts for lunch. Their lassi (a yogurt blended sugary drink) and chaas (a savory version of lassi blended with grounded cumin and spices) are popular. During summers, puri with aamras (mango pulp) is the most delicious and fast-moving item on the menu. Keeping up with the times, they have also started home delivery services for the Fort area.
So, if you are in the mood to explore a budget eatery in the by-lanes of Mumbai, then Pancham Puriwala won’t disappoint. Prices of the meals range between Rs.60 to Rs.150, depending on your appetite. A decent meal for two would cost you somewhere between 250-300 rupees. The menu is simple, and the preparations are tasty – but ordering packaged water would be your best bet.
It is open daily from 8am to midnight. Although the best way to reach this place is by the Mumbai Local, it is wiser to save directions on your Google Map App because it is easy to miss the eatery. Car parking is still a problem, and on a weekday, you might have to drive a bit to find a safe parking spot.
Pancham Puriwala is a not-to-be-missed part of Mumbai’s culinary history with its authentic North Indian heartwarming food.
It has made a fan following in print, audio-visual and social media simply because they have mastered the art of making golden brown, soft and crispy puris!