Taste of life: How a world war short-circuited Pune’s connection with an Italian masterchef
On January 16, 1940, the Marathi newspaper “Jnanaprakash” reported that three German citizens had fled to Poona from Bombay in the first week of January, and the police had arrested them from a house in Sadashiv Peth where they were found hiding.
An Italian restaurateur was arrested from the Camp area on the same day, the report added. Even though the report did not mention the names of the “aliens” arrested, we now know that the aforementioned Italian restaurateur was Enrico Muratore, who baked his famous confections in Poona for almost 40 years.
In legendary actor-comedian-poet-playwright Spike Milligan’s story about his family’s life, “It ends with magic”, his parents Leo and Florence choose E Muratore as the venue for a farewell dinner. The year is 1900 and Leo, who is in Poona with his wife Florence to serve the British Army, is being sent to the Khyber Pass to fight against the Waziris.
According to Milligan, Muratore’s was “a big stone-flagged room with several punkahs”. Tables had stretched white cloths, napery, vases of flowers and lots of potted ferns. Uniformed turbaned waiters stood in attendance and an effusive Mr Muratore greeted his guests.
In Milligan’s account, an imaginative blend of fact and fiction, Muratore speaks in a thick Italian accent and has a quick wit. “Now-a-we hav-a essspecial men-a-u: fresh prauns (prawns) with-a-new pititoes (potatoes) garlic bride (bread) timitoes (tomatoes) Brussels-a-sprites (sprouts)”, he reads out the menu while Gopal, an Indian waiter, stands behind him. When Florence asks, “What’s the chicken like?”, Muratore shrugs his shoulder and replies, “It doesn’t like anything, it’s dead”.
The guests order chicken madras, omelettes and pastries. They drink Catalan wine and Moet et Chandon, which is on the house. The guests have to occasionally wave flies off their faces.
Milligan was not yet born when his parents visited E Muratore. What happened at the farewell dinner at Muratore is a word–of–mouth story, and such stories, passed down through families, can often be more authentic than written records.
E Muratore was situated on Main Street in Camp when the Milligans visited it. It later shifted to East Street sometime around 1906. The property was owned by Sir Maneckji Mehta and was leased to Muratore. There are several reports in various journals and newspapers over the years which speak highly of Muratore’s cooking and his philanthropy.
After the Second World War started in 1939, the British arrested the Germans and the Italians living in India. Muratore was interned at Fort Purandar.
What happened to him after that, is not known. Around 1942, the British auctioned off his restaurant to Ghulam Hussain Pakseema. Pakseema owned a couple of restaurants in Bombay. Café Chevalier, an Italian restaurant, was one of them, which he renamed as Pioneer Coffee House. By the time he purchased Muratore, he was a well-known socialite who was instrumental in bringing Yoga guru BKS Iyengar to Pune.
Pakseema successfully ran E Muratore till 1947 when he decided to move to newly created Pakistan. Muratore was again left without an owner.
Ganpatrao Sathe, the proprietor of the famed Sathe Biscuits and Chocolate Works Ltd, was trying to work around the shortage of sugar in Pune in 1941. Rationing had started in India due to the war and the quota for sugar in Pune was inadequate to fulfil the demand of the factory. Sindh on the other hand had a huge quota for sugar which was lying unclaimed.
Sathe grasped the opportunity, purchased 10,000 sq. yards of land in Karachi and started Sathe Sindh Chocolate Works. The company was one of the leading manufacturers of drinking chocolate in Asia in the early 1940s. It still exists in Karachi as Sindh Chocolate Works.
After partition, the Refugee Property Exchange Commission handed over Sathe’s factory in Karachi to Pakseema, and Sathe became the proud owner of Muratore. Sathe entered into a partnership with Shankarrao Joshi and LD Bhave (who established the first LPG gas agency in Pune) to run the restaurant.
In 1953, Morarji Desai, the then chief minister of Bombay State, enforced prohibition. Muratore no longer remained a profitable venture because alcohol has a higher profit margin than food. Sathe shut it down in 1954.
The following year, Kayani Bakery started its operations in the building occupied by Muratore. Kwality restaurant and the telegraph office shared the premises. The ovens and the baking equipment in Kayani belonged to Muratore.
And that’s how the magic of the Italian restaurants in Pune ended.