Bakarwadi – the crispy, deep-fried, disc-shaped snack that has fans across India – is believed to have originated in Gujarat. But if you were under the impression that it is a typically Maharashtrian preparation, it is probably because of Raghunathrao Chitale, the founder and owner of Pune’s iconic Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale food and dairy brand.
Raghunathrao, popularly known as Bhausaheb Chitale, died in Pune on March 20 at the age of 95. Even though milk and dairy products was the Chitale brand’s original business, the headlines remembered Bhausaheb as the “creator” of bakarwadi.
Technically, the Chitales didn’t invent the crunchy besan- and maida-based snack. It has been a part of traditional west Indian cooking, particularly Gujarati farsaan, for a long time. But without Bhausaheb Chitale and the rapid growth of India’s packaged food industry, bakarwadi may not have been as popular among Indians both in the country and abroad.
Today, packaged bakarwadi in multiple sizes is sold by many firms – Chitale and Haldiram’s perhaps the best known – but the story of their journey from household kitchens to grocery store shelves across the world began with the Chitale patriarch.
The Chitale story
Born in 1920 in a small village in Maharashtra’s Satara district, Bhausaheb Chitale began his career helping his father with their milk business in Pune. As he came into his own, Bhausaheb expanded and transformed the brand into Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale, which sells a host of Indian sweet and savoury snacks.
“In 1970, a person from Gujarat introduced Bhausaheb to the bakarwadi,” said Indraneel Chitale, one of Bhausaheb’s grandsons. “But the Gujarati preparation was on the sweeter side. My grandfather thought of adding more spice to the recipe to cater to Maharashtrian tastes.”
The current form of spicy bakarwadi, with a hint of sweet and sour, was popularised by Bhausaheb and his brother Rajabhau Chitale, who died in 2010. The family business is now run by their sons and grandsons.
“The Chitale bakarwadis are just right in terms of flavour – they are spicy and crunchy and go well with both tea or beer,” said Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal, a food writer from Mumbai.
From hand-made to automation
In the 1970s, when Chitale Bandhu began selling packaged bakarwadi, workers in their Pune factories manually prepared up to 300 kg of the snacks a day. But with demand constantly on the rise, the company decided to automate the process.
“My father went to Europe and with the help of experts from Germany and Holland, designed a machine specially to make bakarwadis,” said Indraneel Chitale. “The whole process took four years.”
In 1989, the company introduced partial automation for bakarwadi production, and by 1994, the process was completely automated. Today, Chitale Bandhu has three such machines in Pune, which collectively churn out 850 kg of bakarwadi an hour. One of the machines is dedicated to supply only within Pune, where it is often sold out in the first half of the day itself.
“Fortunately we are able to sell everything on the same day as it is made,” said Indraneel Chitale, who claims that Chitale Bandhu is the only company that makes bakarwadi through a fully automated process. “Apart from the milk from our dairy, bakarwadi is actually our highest-selling product.”
Automation has also helped increase the shelf-life of bakarwadi and other Indian snacks so that they can be more conducive to export. “As Indian companies have scaled up, they have been able to adopt automated technologies not only for production but also packaging,” said Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight, a consultancy firm. With better packaging, dry food products are protected from the elements and from decay. “It has enabled Indian snack manufacturers to find their way to customers in much more distant markets within and outside the country.”