Nothing invokes the sunshine vision of a coastal holiday like a platter of fresh, glistening ringlets of calamari, doused in a complimentary sauce or fried crisp and served with oodles of tasty dip. And, luckily for inland Pune, there are a big bunch of places around to serve this delicious fruit de mer in innovative avatars.
For many, the actual flavours of the squid rings are the indisputable hero of the dish, with only a creative dip alongside to enhance it. The Frozen Monkey does its panko-crusted crispy calamari with a zesty tartar sauce and refreshing house salad, while Playboy Beer Garden has a similar panko-crust version with a chilli rouille (infused with garlic, saffron, olive oil and chilli). The Flying Saucer Sky Bar does a calamari fritti with a tangy lemon mayo (besides the mind-blowing calamari salad with peas, asparagus, shaved fennel, eggplant, olive, basil and creamy-salty parmesan in salsa verde), and the calamari fritters at the Felix Bar, Holiday Inn Pune, come with an unusual mushroom-basil pesto. The Flour Works serves its fried calamari with sweet-chilli sauce (of honey and paprika, among other things), even as the ring-fried calamari at Atmosphere 6 are served with either a honey-chilli or a chilli-soya dip; Malaka Spice has a gorgeously crisp, golden platter with a delicious, seasonal mango dip.
Dezio serves up a very mild, enjoyable fritto misto, mixing golden-fried calamari with prawns and a classic tartar sauce. The same fritto misto over at Prego in The Westin also comes with prawns and zucchini, with tartar sauce and Italian lemons. The fritto misto at The Fishbowl in the Hyatt come with a nose-tickling garlic-wasabi mayo (besides its Cajun-marinated option with a lemon-garlic aioli). And, if you would like to swing it a tad healthier, Swig does it grilled, with a spicy paprika mayonnaise.
Also healthy are the Japanese types at the city’s premier specialty restaurants, such as O Hotel’s Harajuku – where you can sample achingly fresh, raw ika (squid) sashimi, or ika nigiri sushi with its vinegared rice covering – or Miyuki at the DoubleTree By Hilton Hotel Pune Chinchwad, where it is served stuffed with seasoned crabstick or fried and sprinkled with salt and jalapeño.
If indulgence is all that is on your mind, the Drunk Calamari at The Ship is beer-battered, golden-fried and alongside a sweet chilli dip, while the similarly beer batter-doused squid at the Greek-themed Euriska has the piquancy of a spicy tomato dip with a classic aioli. Interestingly, Krustys does its beery version with a lemon-caper mayo.
For a hit of desi flavour, the squid koliwada at Fish N Bait packs in familiar masaledaar fires (there is also oriental-style squid in burnt garlic, chilli-garlic, black pepper, dry red chilli and hot bean sauces), and Café 1730 puts out a Goan masala squid served with salad, besides a grilled, rich butter-garlic option. Nisarg has a creamy butter-garlic version as well (with extra sauce!), as well as their simple salt-pepper squid.
But there are plenty of others who choose to take it ahead to another level, frying the ringlets with a host of ingenious ingredient combos. At The BlueFROG, the pan-scraped Kerala calamari are tossed in a fennel powder/saunf, garlic and curry leaf marinade and served with hot curry foam (the eatery also pulls off a pizza with calamari, fish, prawns and green chillies in hot cheese). At The Little Door, the Calamar Au Pesto are sautéed in olive oil with garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and an aromatic basil pesto. 212 All Day Café and Bar pulls off calamari rings tossed in lemon-butter, while Pan Asian themed Jimmy Hu does squid in a silken chilli-bean sauce. The 11 East Street Café offering is flash-fried with paprika and garlic, while Shizusan’s crispy squid pepper-salt is a divine tower of crunchy seafood drizzled with earthy elements such as garlic, fresh chillies and spring onions – just another level. The Tex-Mex spin at Chili’s sees country-fried calamari whipped around in a roasted jalapeños and peppercorns spice, served with a cilantro aioli. Yolo Gastro Bar marinates its calamari in spicy buttermilk overnight, before breading them with Cajun-spiced crumbs, deep-frying and serving with a chipotle tartar, while Arthur’s Theme’s Alfredo sees marinated ringlets cooked in tempura batter and enriched with the omni-beloved richness of cheese powder, cut by a sharp chilli-garlic dip.
Oh and yes, if you thought the only thing the city is really missing is a good squid ink pasta – Stone Water Grill does a grilled jumbo prawns and squid ink tagliolini (al dente, naturally) with a hot-rich mustard butter.
There is enough and more to explore, so get your dose of this wondrous magic ingredient right away, with a crisp, dry white wine whenever possible!
Shweta has been writing about food for a few years now and has dabbled in TV, print and online journalism for over almost a decade. She has written on and edited for topics ranging from the environment, culture and lifestyle to politics, business and, of course, food. She has written for publications under the Times Group, Fox Life India and NDTV. When she's not devouring a good book or spending vast swathes of time on the Interweb, she loves to set off on all manner of culinary explorations.