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Photographs by Sampath Menon
Photographs by Sampath Menon

Chasing food trucks in Pune

Featuring delights from chicken steak burgers to Belgian chocolate waffles, the city’s many food trucks are a foodie’s heaven

Some years ago, no, I should say many years ago, in fact many, many years ago, during my high school days to be precise I used to be infatuated with a red Herald car parked at Kalamassery junction. Kalamassery junction, if you don’t know, is a busy junction on one of the state highways in Ernakulam and is located right in front of the Apollo Tyres factory. 

Now, if you are wondering what on earth a Herald car is, let me explain. In those days, if you wanted to buy a car, you had three choices: get a bulky, manly Ambassador; a petite, chic Fiat; or a tired-looking, elderly Herald. While Ambassadors and Fiats ruled the roads, one could occasionally see a Herald sputtering along.

This specific, aforementioned Herald that was parked at Kalamassery junction was quite different. For starters, it never moved from where it was parked. It was painted bright red, and had some chrome that caught your eye. And to top it all, it was a topless model stacked with some great street food! Yeah baby! I’m talking food truck here—the earliest version of a food truck that I’ve seen in my life. Thus began my love for topless models, err… food trucks.

Cut to the present day. Since I have been living in Pune for close to a year now, and since Pune has numerous food trucks, and since I don’t have my wife here to tug me away from junk food, I decided that I should visit some of these trucks to see how their food compared with that of their tyre-less counterparts. I searched on the internet to identify a few popular ones. Here are some notes from my explorations.

Boston Food Truck

Anand, owner of the Boston Food Truck.
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Anand, owner of the Boston Food Truck.

The first food truck I checked out was called ‘Boston Food Truck’. This was just a stone’s throw away from where I lived. A white truck with the image of a man waving an American-like flag, it is hard to miss. I’d reached the spot early—around 6pm and hence I didn’t see many customers around. The owner, Anand, was there himself.

I ordered a chicken burger and got talking to him. It’d been more than two years since he opened the food truck. Before that, he had been based near Boston, Massachusetts. He talked me through the construction and economics of a food truck, and mentioned that the kitchen had to have 3mm thick steel walls to keep away the heat (don’t ask me the physics of that). It took him close to 17 lakh to set this one up! He is working out a franchisee model to scale up. 

While we were talking, a pair of hands (belonging to his helper) appeared from inside the truck and extended a basket containing the burger that I’d ordered.

Chicken burger from Boston Food Truck.
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Chicken burger from Boston Food Truck.

The burger looked good, and I lifted the top half of the bun to see what was under the hood. Some mayonnaise, a few tomato slices, pickled cucumber pieces and a chicken patty stared back at me. So far, so good. 

I put the top back, squeezed the burger and gave it a big bite. While I was doing this, I could hear Anand passionately describing the making of this burger. “…we ever so slightly toast the buns; just enough so that the flavours break out…" was all I could make out before the rest of his words were drowned out by my own munching. I took a few snaps of his food truck, thanked him and booked an Uber to get me to my next destination.

Breaking Bread

The Breaking Bread food truck.
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The Breaking Bread food truck.

Breaking Bread is a blue and orange food truck located opposite the Crossword book store in Aundh. The location looked lively, with food joints all around. There was a small crowd lined up in front of the truck. A young man carrying a messenger bag was taking orders and collecting cash from the customers while two men were busy cooking up dishes inside the truck. The menu looked interesting, and I ordered a Piri Piri Burger.

The Piri Piri Burger: My kind of burger!
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The Piri Piri Burger: My kind of burger!

The burger, served on a paper plate, looked massive. The chicken filling spilled out from between the buns, and appeared dark and spicy. My kind of burger, I thought to myself as I tried to get my palm around it. The buns were soft and juicy, all buttered up. 

One bite and the bun melted and a smorgasbord of flavours burst inside my mouth—the salty butter, the sour tomato and the fiery piri piri spices all lit up my taste buds. Having discovered a food truck worth its salt, I left the place a happy man. That was all my stomach could handle for the evening, and so I decided to return to the other shortlisted food trucks another day.

Burgertron

The Burgertron food truck.
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The Burgertron food truck.

It took another week for me to get back on the food truck trail. On a very rainy day, I took a cab to Wanowrie and the next food truck on my list, Burgertron. Though located near a park and some busy streets, the place looked kind of isolated, and was infested with street dogs when I got there. 

I eyed the dogs apprehensively and decided to wait for some time before I went to the truck. I stood on the opposite side of the road, keeping my eyes on the truck and the pack of dogs. Once the dogs moved away, I made my way to the truck and ordered a chicken steak burger.

Chicken Steak Burger from Burgertron.
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Chicken Steak Burger from Burgertron.

Shortly, the burger arrived in a basket. Now I had to balance an umbrella, a camera, a bag and a burger. To make matters worse, the basket was just large enough to hold the burger, and there was no space to slip my fingers in to grip it. In the end, I decided to eat it dosa style, by breaking off bits of the bread and eating them with pieces of chicken. The burger, though, was disappointingly bland. Maybe I should have ordered some other flavour.

Henny’s Gourmet

Henny’s Gourmet.

Now, this place appeared to be the most popular among the food trucks that I read about, and so I had kept it for last. Located in Wanowrie, it specializes in desserts—specifically, waffles with sweet toppings. I walked from Burgertron over to the (slightly worn out) green truck parked by the side of the road. It was however, closed. 

I had read that it opens every night at 8.30pm. I checked my watch—it was exactly 8.30pm. Slightly disappointed, I decided to wait for some time. I ambled over to a café across the street and ordered a coffee. I sipped at it as I waited, and waited, and waited. No sign of the operators. 

At around 9.30, I decided that I had had enough. I gave a call to the Henny’s Gourmet phone number that I had found online. When someone picked up, I asked, “Hello, do you plan to open today?"

“We are already open sir," a female voice responded.

Perplexed, I shot a glance at the truck. It was still dark and the windows were down.

“But... but... your truck is all dark—I don’t see anyone there".

“Oh... we don’t operate from the truck any more. Please walk back about 450 metres, and you will see our shop."

Dang. I quickly paid up for the coffee and walked back as directed. Sure enough, I soon came across the bright, inviting green sign of Henny’s Gourmet. The sweet aroma of freshly baked waffles filled the air. In the cold, wet weather, that smell and the warmth emanating from the shop evoked an awesome feeling in me. 

A long queue of happy people had formed in front of the store. Children were giggling in anticipation and talking excitedly. When my turn came to order, I decided to go for a slice of Belgian chocolate waffle and a mango one. I had to wait a bit before my number was called. I got to the counter, and a sweet lady handed me the pieces of heaven that I had ordered. I dug into the Belgian chocolate first. Bliss!

Waffles topped with Belgian chocolate and mango jelly. Heavenly!
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Waffles topped with Belgian chocolate and mango jelly. Heavenly!

There are a few more food trucks that I will need to check out—Buddha’s Food Palace, L’dorado, JW Marriot and Mexican Rodeo, to name a few. Maybe another day. For now, from among the ones I did check out, I think I will return to Breaking Bread and Henny’s Gourmet for more.

Finally, as a closing note, I would like to mention that this assignment indeed helped me grow as a person. My waist size has increased to 38 from 36. Now to get some new pants!

Sampath Menon is an IT industry veteran, entrepreneur, travel addict, foodie and occasional blogger (he blogs at sampathmk.com).

Comments are welcome at feedback@livemint.com

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