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October 2005

Snakes Alive !-The Pishwi is back.

Now that plastic bags have, at last ,been banned by the government of Maharashtra, most of us carry that good old 'pishwi' , for generations the  accoutrement of every proud Puneite.You never leave home without it.

A sturdy cloth bag, generally made of khadi, but now to be seen in all colours and fabrics, of medium size, hung from the shoulder to leave all hands free, every man, woman and child owned one. Sensibly so. It comes into use for carrying notebooks, money, glasses,equipment, and vegetables. No man would be thought sissy for carrying a pishwi isnt , after all, a 'hand' bag. And he would be doing what all real men do in Pune -The bhaji/vegetable shopping on the way home.


So I am glad to see it back again. Mainly because low micron plastic bags are not available for use by the local vendors of fruit and vegetables, shops and stores.Which means they are out of circulation, and are not going to clog our street, drains, open spaces, trees, barbed wires, railroad tracks and the Indian landscape,  which was looking progressively more like a surrealistic wasteland of pink, bright blue and multicoloured plastic blowing in the wind.

Snake gourd makes one feel very smart about carrying the old pishwi. It never did fit in any plastic bag. Snap a snake in two and it fits comfortably along the shoulder strap.


Ingredients for a simple snake bhaji:

  • 1 snake (gourd)
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 heaped teaspoon rai/mustard seed
  • 5 cloves garlic chopped fine
  • 2 green chillies slit and deseeded
  • Salt to taste.


Wash, peel and slice the padwal in half along the length . Take out the seeds, and chop into half inch circles.


Heat a teaspoon of oil in a kadhai / or heavy bottomed pan.Put in mustard seeds and when they pop add the garlic and chillies.


Saute till lightly browned and add the chopped padwal. Cover tightly and allow to cook in its own juices for about 12-15 minutes on low heat. Add salt to taste.


Kayani Ki Kahani-Shrewsbury Biscuits

Pune has always been the retreat of Bombaywalas. For the weekend, for the races, to party and to 'chill'. And anyone who goes away, must come back, most importantly, bearing gifts in hand.

Almost all visitors who come to Pune from Bombay have to take back gifts of one of it's specialities....and what could be more special than Shrewsbury biscuits from Kayani Bakery.

Shrewsbury Biscuits

Packed in familiar ,square, patterned, carboard boxes they are sold out in a few minutes everyday.People fight over them, there are near stampedes in the anxiety to get hold of at least one of those precious boxes.If you pass by at that critical time when the batch comes out of the oven you will wonder what event has occured to create such excitement.

Kayani Bakery was started by Hormuz and Khodayar Irani in 1955.They had emigrated from Iran before 1947, along with a group of people, many of whom settled in Pune and began the business of bakeries.

Kayani still makes a sourdough bread, with a starter made from hops. The yeast, even now, is produced in large wooden vats, and the bread is baked in a huge, wood fired, brick oven. The firewood is from the babul tree, a quick growing, almost weed like tree, and its unique characteristic is that it is smokeless during burning, This makes it a natural choice, for cooking on open stoves, by both city and country dwellers many of whom have no access togas or electricity.

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The famous shrewsbury biscuits are also baked in this oven, morning and evening , one loading being 40 large baking trays. Parvez Irani tells me they make around 200 kilos of these biscuits a day and they are almost always sold out!

Well, quite understandably, they wouldn't share the recipe with me but here is a good recipe for Shewsbury biscuits  that will make between 40-4 dozen .


  • 250 gms butter
  • 300 gms caster sugar
  • 3-4 egg yolks
  • 450 gms flour
  • Grated rind of two lemons (not used in the Kayani type)

Strain the flour through a fine mesh twice.

Cream the butter and sugar with a whisk until the yellow of the butter becomes off white and the mixture is fluffy.

Beat the egg yolks till runny, add to the butter mixture and mix well.

Add the flour and grated lemon rind and stir in with a spoon till it makes a firm but not stiff dough.

Flour a surface and knead the dough gently for a minute or so.  Roll out to 1/4" thick . Using a cookie cutter (I use a glass of the right size if I dont have one) cut out circles of 2 diameter.

Place on a greased and floured baking sheet. Bake at Mark 4 or 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes till very lightly browned.


Kayani's biscuits are a pale yellow and are very buttery and very sweet. I like to use a bit more of the  grated rind of lemon to reduce the sweetness.

Avoid Aroids? Never !

Yam salad-Suran chi Koshimbir


Suran, Amorphophallus paeoniifolius, is a huge aroid, also called elephant's foot, Telegu potato or Zaminkand, and it is often used in Maharashtrian cooking. Known from ancient times as being edible it is mentioned in the Ramayana as surana or vajrakanda. Another Sanskrit name is arasagna.

Suran must be washed and cooked thoroughly to avoid it catching the throat, something that feels highly uncomfortable, like spikes covering the tonsils. This is because it has a high amount of calcium oxalate raphides. Once cooked, though, it is really tasty.

The tubers can grow up to 8 kilo in weight and can be dry stored when dormant.By the way it also has medicinal properties but that's a bit unmentionable in a food article, unless you are like Anthony Bourdain, in which case you'd pounce on this little known fact and mention it a lot.


  • 2 cups Suran
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp Lime juice
  • 2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup grated fresh coconut.Keep 1 tbsp aside for garnish.
  • 2-3 tbsp chopped hara dhania/ green coriander Keep one tbsp aside for garnish.
  • 3/4 cup chopped onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped capsicum
  • 4 chopped green chillies   (optional )
  • A pinch of salt
  • A pinch of sugar.
  • A pinch of Hing /asafoetida
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seed

Wash and peel the yam. Cut into 1/4 inch cubes. Marinate in 2 tsps salt and lemon juice for 15 minutes. Drain and wash well.

Heat the oil in a kadhai and fry the cubes till well done and golden brown. Drain on paper and let it cool.They should be about the size and colour of croutons.

Mix all the other ingredients in a bowl.

Heat a teaspoon of oil in a frying pan, add the mustard seed and as soon as they begin to pop add a pinch of hing ( asafoetida). Pour the hot oil with seasonings over the salad and add the yam pieces.Garnish with coriander leaves and grated coconut. It makes an unusual salad.