Vaishali is an institution. Ask anyone who ever attended Fergusson College. Lectures began at 7.30 a.m and finished at 10 a.m. After that - Breakfast time! And where else but at Vaishali.
Opened in 1956 by Mahabali Shetty who came from Bantwal in the Mangalore district and is part of the community of Bunts who are now famously the owners of almost every Udupi restaurant in India.
As the Bunts are a matriarchal community, the ownership passed on to his daughter, and has been run by her husband, Mr J.B Shetty, ever since. From the small restaurant it was with 3-4 workers and 9 tables under Mahabali it began to grow to the present size of 70 tables, 33 of which are in the expanded garden which now sport two beautiful full grown rubber trees.
'Jai Malhar' , resident of Pune, says,-
"Vaishali *sigh* my first 'date' was in Vaishali. The waiter drove us away saying we weren't ordering anything and then we walked up the hill and were chased down the hill by a marauding bull. Very demoralizing. It was weeks before I could recover my manly pride."
Which young Fergussonian will not empathise with Jai and his first date? Though most will remember the patient waiters under whose watchful eyes romance flowered. Many sweet nothings have been uttered within the four walls of this famous place between a bite of dosa and a dip of sambar.
But much has changed since those long gone days when Vaishali first opened its doorsin 1956; dating was a no no and boys did not dare to raise their eyes to look at the girls of their dreams. Vaishali was strictly purdah. Girls and family room one side, boys on the other.What is now the entrance was the family room, where girls giggled loudly. Boys sat far away, crooning little love songs from the movies. Everyone sat facing the entrance to keep an eye on who was coming and going. Onion Uttapas were 35 paise, and kachoris, 30 .
Today the purdah has been lifted and college students sit and talk animatedly.
Regardless of the time of day there is always a crowd and you might have to stand and wait for a seat. This is usually found in a couple of minutes because the service is so fast and Vishwanath who handles the seating makes quick and accurate decisions, based on an immediate understanding of age, number and space availability in all the nooks and crannies where chairs are placed in apparent disarray. I am always impressed at his unflappability even when surrounded by fifty hungry diners, but then he has worked there for 18 years, from the time he was brought to Pune after his graduation by an uncle from Udupi district.
One of my favourites on the menu is Onion Uttappa, in honour of which Neelam, one of my friends, named her boyfriend."Uttappa ugh mugh onion special". He was rather large and plump to be honest. Food is churned out at a terrific pace in a kitchen which is crowded and furnace like. The stove over which the sambar boils ceaselessly makes a sound all its own.
Dosas are formed like skirts of whirling dervishes and stuffed in record time, while waiters come and go ceaselessly to and from the service area, laden with trays, and always in the best of humour.
Here are Prachi's (now a resident of New York) recommendations for what to have at what time of day. Even though years from my daily dosa it sounds pretty much like what I'd have chosen.
"Mornings, after climbing the TekDi (hill at the back of Fergusson College) - Upit with chutney.
Lunch/Dinner: Kanda Uttappa. Always ask for the green chutney with it, or an extra mirchi with the uttappa, tastes much better. It's the only place where I'll ever have uttappa.
After 5 pm, Shev Batata Dahi Puri aka SBDP.
In our college days, if someone else was treating you, you added Cold Coffee with Ice Cream to the order. Penniless spongers, we were."
She goes on to tell how involved the waiters got in the lives of their 'regulars'.
Lingappa once famously told me to dump "the boyfriend" I was with, because the guy touched his hair and looked in the mirror at his reflection too often. Later when I took my husband to Vaish, he looked him over and said, "ivanu addi illa. (He'll do.)
Well Prachi, Lingappa, who joined Vaishali in 1968, is still there, and the dosas and Uttappas are now Rs 22 . Mr Shetty who is now 73 years old, comes to taste the chutney every morning and check on every single thing offered on the menu .
Which is why Vaishali is still the most popular Udupi restaurant in town, catering to 4000-4500 customers a day with every sign that the numbers will increase.
Fergusson College Road
Shivaji Nagar Pune 411005
A meal for 2 with a soft drink each costs approximately Rs 60-Rs 100.