My love affair with Shabri started at the age of three. Living in Pune at the time, Shabri, a restaurant offering typical Maharashtrian fare, was a favourite with my parents and naturally, soon became a favourite with me. My earliest memories of food are inextricably linked with our frequent meals at Shabri. I distinctly remember the wonderful smell of roasted papad wafting from the kitchen even before it arrived. That smell has stayed with me ever since; till date, I associate the smell of papad with Shabri. I remember eating from a thaali and the food being spicy, but apart from that, not much else.
The taste of the food at Shabri still brings me that same happiness and there has never been another restaurant with which I share such a deep emotional connection
We lived in Pune for a year, after which we moved to Mumbai when I was around four. Needless to say, my memories of the food at Shabri, apart from the smell of roasted papad, grew hazy and I had all but forgotten about it until, at age 18, I joined a college in Pune for my undergraduate studies.
On one of my visits to the city (my college lies on the outskirts of Pune) I remembered the restaurant of my childhood and yearned to taste its food again. I wondered why I hadn’t gone there yet and dragged my friends along, insisting that we must go here, mostly because I wanted to relive my childhood memories.
On arriving, I saw that the Shabri of my childhood had changed quite a bit; from being a small, simple ‘family restaurant’, it now had a fancy exterior, fancier interiors and a long waiting list. One thing that hadn’t changed, however, was the delicious taste of their food. We ordered their traditional thaali, which is extremely popular and typically consists of staples like Bharleli vaangi (stuffed brinjal), jawarchi bhakri(jowar bhakri), varan bhat, zunka bhakar, thalipeeth and usal along with the lighter but equally delicious items like pithla , koshumbir (salad), thecha (green pickle) and kothumbir vadi. Accompanying these are drinks like kokum sherbet (a Konkani sherbet) and sweet dishes like puran poliand fruit salad. Since we were a large group, we managed to taste everything and for me, it was like a rediscovery of the tastes that dominated my childhood. Despite being half-Maharashtrian, I had never been exposed to typical Maharashtrian food, so for me, Shabri became my go-to place for Maharashtrian cuisine. As it turns out, it is the go-to place for most people who want to try authentic Maharashtrian cuisine and has been feted with many awards that acknowledge its delicious jevan (Marathi for ‘food’).
After I’d had my first taste of Shabri as a grown up, I knew that this would never be my last visit. In my four years in Pune, I ate at Shabri multiple times, each time relishing the dishes with new fervour. After leaving Pune, I have sorely missed the food at Shabri. For me, Shabri was a lot more than just an eatery with excellent food; it was a reminder of days long gone, of being a child, of spending my early years in ‘Poona’, as we used to call it then and of being carefree and happy. The taste of the food at Shabri still brings me that same happiness and there has never been another restaurant with which I share such a deep emotional connection. Though my visits to Pune have reduced, each time I visit, I never fail to drop by (if not eat)at my favourite restaurant, if only to make sure that it’s still the same as I left it and that its food will always be there for me.