Pancham Puriwala: Is This Mumbai’s Oldest Restaurant?

This might come as an absolute suprise to most people, but the other food bloggers don’t really like hanging out with us, which is why we spend most our free time roaming the backstreets of Fort looking for good bargains on camera accessories; and finding none. On one such lonesome adventure, we happened to come across a very ignorable eatery called Pancham Puriwala, at the mouth of a lane opposite the great Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus. We paid it no attention until one nameless member of our entourage pointed out that it’s one of the oldest, if not the oldest restaurants in the city.

Because our progressive company policy mandates that we take every opinion equally seriously, we decided to humour him. When we first took a seat, we were a bit unsure about the place, it didn’t look all that old, the signboard looked generic but modern, and the steel benches, while uncomfortable and creaky, appeared no more than twenty years old. We were just about to bail, when a very nice waiter told us to scoot in to the end of our table, even though we were the only people there. It seemed to be that Pancham Puriwala is a sort of working class eatery, with communal tables. Not wanting to offend our blue-collar comrades, with whom we strongly identify, we stayed on.

One of the first things we noticed was a bowl full of pickled green chillies on each table, which our team historian dated to the mid 1950s. We called for a Masala Khichdi, and a  Masala Puri Bhaji, and as our order was being processed, we decided to do some real journalism and asked the manager a bit about the place. Pancham Puriwala started as a humble puri-bhaji stall way back in 1848, making it a 170 years old, which if our calculations are correct, makes it decades older than CST itself.

Perhaps the great men who built the station ate lunch there every afternoon? We’ll never know for sure, but it’s amazing to think how beautifully woven in the fabric of Mumbai’s history this little place really is. Pancham Puriwala gets its name from its founder Mr. Pancham Das Sharma, who left UP in the 1840s and made the long arduous journey (according to legend, he walked) to the big city to find his fortune. They have a tonne of accolades stuck to the walls, including one from Burrp, which clearly proves beyond reasonable doubt that they’re at least 170 years old.

By the time our food arrived, we were genuinely terrified of what to expect. What if it wasn’t any good? What if it was just regular old puri bhaji and dal rice? Fortunately, our fears never transpired; the food was amazing.

Masala Khichdi

Rs. 85

The Masala Khichdi was a revelation, at least as far as dal khichdi goes. It was spicy, creamy and very delicious. Given how piping hot it was served, the deliciously sour kadhi that accompanied it, and the fact it’s a just a little over 80 bucks, it was really, really good.

Masala Puri Bhaji

Rs. 60

We called for the Masala Puri Bhaji because it’s one of Pancham’s signature dishes.  It would be easy to overlook a dish as humble as puri bhaji, but we’re happy to say that Pancham Puriwala has perfected it. The bhaji, a simple potato stew, was spicy, earthy, and extremely complex. The ‘masala puris’, one of their signature items, had a spicy masala on the inside, that gave them a character of their own, and added another dimension to an otherwise seemingly generic meal. We loved it.

A simple, refreshing rose-flavoured lassi, from a time before terrible milkshakes in free glass bottles

The Decree: We don’t often go overboard with praise, but Pancham Puriwala deserves to be a lot more famous than it is. We would be hard pressed to find any establishment that serves food which is as good, at such a low price, and if they did, we doubt they’d be from 1848. You should definitely pay them a visit, it’s almost worth the fact that they make you parcel your own food when you ask for a takeaway. So is this the city’s oldest restaurant? We might never know. It never shows up on any of the ‘oldest restaurant’ lists online, and the only reason we found it was because we have nothing better to do on the weekend. If you think you know an older restaurant, or one even nearly as old, let us know, and we’ll go there and make bad jokes about it.

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