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What makes bun-maska the quintessential bread-butter?

My affair with bun-maska began in Pune, during engineering college. On several occasions, my friends and I would head to Good Luck Cafe to grab a cup of tea along with their signature bun-maska, a dish that probably defines the city even today.

But, before I get into the romance of the affair, let me set some context. Despite being raised in Mumbai, a place that is no stranger to several Irani cafes, I had very rarely tried this delicacy. My travel radius was short during school days, and on the rare occasions that we did step out for dinner as a family, tea and bread-butter of any sort was the last thing on my mind. Chinese was the usual fancy dinner, on occasion replaced with a pizza when we decided to order in for a change.

So, when I moved to Pune, an entire world of food and drink opened up to me. While lunch and dinner had countless options, from burgers to pasta to extensive street eats, the evening slot had a glaring gap. The average college student does indeed take up drinking as a pass-time to fill their evenings, but you can't possibly do that every day and live to tell this tale by thirty. So, the infinitesimally healthier yet infinitely safer alternative to alcohol was tea.

Now, tea has this one intriguing property that coffee does not share in any aspect. Based on the quantity of tea that you consume at one go, you will feel the need for an accompaniment irrespective of the time of the day. That is why the 'cutting chai' is so famous in Mumbai because it

  1. controls your volume intake of tea

  2. completely negates the need for any accompaniment whatsoever

But as college students, we obviously weren't looking to have a quick cuppa and scoot! The entire purpose of that excursion was for us to while away time doing nothing and making memories! And thus, enter the bun-maska!

Now, let's switch back to Good Luck Cafe. The tea at GLC is milky and sweet. No biscuit in India can cut through that flavour like a bun can. It soaks up the milky tea with one dip, and the butter on the bun dilutes the sugary tea just enough to make it palatable. What's more, the butter also adds a creamy edge to the tea, enhancing the experience, in my opinion.

But what makes bun-maska my favourite version of bread butter is something else altogether. Firstly, that bun carries the legacy of an entire Irani and Farsi community, which has been in the business of all-day cafes since the dawn of time. That tremendous weight has made the Irani bun the softest yet springiest piece of bread I've ever eaten in India or anywhere else.

Please don't think I am biased. I've had croissants, and they are light, flaky and heavenly. But a Farsi or Irani bun is another beast of its own making. Add to that the perfect slab of viscous butter that is just a smidge salty, has the right amount of sweetness, and is as smooth as the choicest olive oil out there. You've got a winner on your hands!

Maybe, bun-maska is nothing out of the ordinary, and probably every country has its variation of this simple combination in some shape or form. But, what makes it irreplaceable for our entire generation of Pune engineers is that the bun-maska-chai combo signified the good times in our life. Those were the times when all of us gathered on neutral ground and spoke our hearts out. Those were the times when couples had their first awkward short dates. Those were also the times when people resolved their petty differences and reconciled after long-drawn arguments. It was the literal equivalent of 'let's grab a drink' in the context of our college lives.

To this day, whenever we visit Pune, my wife and I HAVE to visit Good Luck Cafe and have a slice of nostalgia along with a cup of that insanely sweet tea. Times have indeed changed, we've stopped adding sugar to our tea, and coffee has gained prominence in our lives. But bun-maska in Pune is still a checkbox that has kept us grounded over these years.

There is no particular reason that the bun-maska should warrant a full-length post on my blog, but of late, I've been worried. Our last visit to Pune left us a tad disappointed with the GLC that we'd known and loved for years. The place is almost in ruins, the attendance has gone down considerably, and more importantly, the bun-maska has CHANGED. Now, that may be a function of COVID doing its thing or the first signs of a generation fading away; but I'd like to preserve the memory of my bun-maska experience while it still lingers on in my mind.

Who knows, I may grow to hate it ten years down the line, and this very same post could remind me of the good times that we've had - my wife, me and our bun-maska. 🙂


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