The house is quiet on a cool Saturday afternoon, and my eight-year-old self is feeling a bit peckish. I tiptoe past my napping mother into the kitchen, and begin opening, as quietly as possible, a large steel dabba packed with an assortment of farsaan.
The kitchen is dark, so I rely on my nose to find the rare treat I seek. I am pleased to catch that whiff of intensely savoury bakarwadi. With its heady bouquet of garam masalas, toasted dry coconut, a solid punch of hing, thick sev, crushed curry leaves and much else rolled into a crunchy, besan-maida crust. The outer crust itself has a good crunch, not too brittle, that holds together the ever so slightly soft masala layer within.
I pick two, and it’s instant gratification. This isn’t any other bakarwadi, mind you. A really special one from the iconic Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale shop on Pune’s Bajirao Road probably brought back by a kind relative travelling from Pune.
There are a few things in life you can take for granted. For me, the Chitale bakarwadi is one of them, with its distinct, unwavering taste that has barely changed over the last few decades. This says something about the fierce lifelong loyalty that the Chitale brand is capable of evoking, especially seeing as I have never set foot in their Pune store in my entire life.
Raghunathrao Chitale, 95, the man who was credited with developing what is arguably Maharashtra’s most popular bakarwadi version, passed away in Pune on March 20.
The Chitale group of companies has always been a very collaborative venture run by four generations of family members since the 1940s. What started as a small dairy business in Sangli in 1938 by Raghunathrao’s father, Bhaskar Ganesh Chitale, has now diversified into five companies, Chitale Dairy, Chitale Bandhu, Chitale Foods, Chitale Agro and even an Information Tech firm Chitale Digitals. But it was Raghunathrao — he set up and was at the helm of the Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale venture — who was responsible for churning out some of its most popular goodies: the bakarwadi, amba burfi, shrikhand and pedhas. From the business’ humble beginnings in 1950 with a small manual unit run with the assistance of domestic help to reportedly producing a whopping three tonnes of bakarwadi a day on, the venture has indeed come a long way. It was perhaps Raghunathrao’s and his family’s absolute insistence on quality that ensures this unflinching bakarwadi love till date. In what was probably his last media interview to Loksatta’s Vasanti Vartak about three years ago, Raghunathrao shared this lesson he learned about quality from his father: “The day you are tempted to dilute milk with water, shut down the business, and go find yourself a salaried job.”