What’s cook­ing in Kol­ha­pur?

Mint ST - - TASTE -

The Ma­ha­rash­trian city’s royal past re­flects in its spice-rich and com­plex cui­sine

Un­til a while ago, a small out­let of Pure­pur Kol­ha­pur restau­rant in a Mum­bai sub­urb was my only win­dow to Kol­ha­pur’s cui­sine. Ea­ger to taste more, I planned a two-day road trip to the city in south-west­ern Ma­ha­rash­tra. A for­mer Maratha princely state in Bri­tish In­dia, the city’s royal past re­flects in its cui­sine, es­pe­cially the non-vege­tar­ian prepa­ra­tions.

Though Kol­ha­puri cui­sine is com­monly be­lieved to be ex­tremely spicy, it is not as hot as say, the food from Ma­ha­rash­tra’s Vi­darbha re­gion. That said, it does have bold and sharp flavours, thanks to the home-grown la­vangi mirchi and the spe­cial Kol­ha­puri spice mix used. I was keen to sam­ple what the city had to of­fer.

RITE OF PAS­SAGE

Pour­ing rain made my jour­ney to Kol­ha­pur in­or­di­nately long and by the time I reached the city, I was hun­gry. For din­ner, I picked De­haati, a restau­rant near the old Mum­bai-ban­ga­lore high­way, which had a queue at the en­trance even at 10 pm. Get­ting straight to busi­ness, I or­dered a mut­ton fry thali with rice bhakri.

The thali that comes with tambda rassa (spicy red curry) and pandhra rassa (white curry) are a rite of pas­sage for any food lover vis­it­ing Kol­ha­pur. Pre­pared from mut­ton stock, th­ese are served in un­lim­ited quan­ti­ties. The heat from the tambda rassa kicked in af­ter two spoon­fuls. The pandhra rassa, pre­pared us­ing co­conut milk, helped cool off the heat. The mut­ton fry was well-cooked and sim­ply sea­soned with salt and pep­per. The mut­ton kheema vati was flavour­ful, and un­like the drier and oily ver­sions served in Irani or Mugh­lai joints, it was cooked in a light gravy. For veg­e­tar­i­ans there is the sur­pris­ingly de­li­cious akka ma­soor thali, a len­til gravy made with ghee, which gives it a rich and creamy tex­ture.

For break­fast the next morn­ing, I headed to Ho­tel Bawada Misal in the Kas­babawada area. Open since 1923, it is the city’s old­est misal house and has been vis­ited by celebri­ties like Sachin Ten­dulkar, Su­nil Gavaskar, Jee­tendra and the late Raj Kapoor and Su­nil Dutt. Kol­ha­puri misal has its own quirks, with thin potato slices part of the tikhat rassa (spicy curry), and gar­nished with grated co­conut. It is ac­com­pa­nied by curd for those who can’t han­dle the heat. It was served with sliced bread in­stead of the tra­di­tional ladi pav.

To make room for lunch, I packed in some quick sight­see­ing. My first stop was New Palace. Com­pleted in 1884, the black stone pala­tial struc­ture con­tin­ues to be the res­i­dence of Ch­ha­tra­p­ati Shahu Ma­haraj, with some cham­bers thrown open for vis­i­tors.

Counted among the Shakti Peeths, the Ma­ha­laxmi tem­ple is be­lieved to have been built in the ninth cen­tury and is an im­por­tant pil­grim­age site. The lane be­hind it is full of stalls sell­ing a va­ri­ety of hand­crafted leather Kol­ha­puri chap­pals. There are also stalls sell­ing im­i­ta­tion, gold-plated ver­sions of the Kol­ha­puri saaj, a tra­di­tional neck­lace with 21 leaves.

WHAT’S THE PICKLE?

For lunch I chose the two-storey Ho­tel Gand­har at the Shivaji Chowk round­about. I or­dered the fa­mous mut­ton lonche, a sur­pris­ingly de­li­cious mut­ton pickle of deep-fried pieces in a mix of lo­cal spices, co­conut, sesame and poppy seeds.

Af­ter a brief break to watch the sun­set at Rankala Lake, I took an­other pass at the mut­ton lonche at the Pat­lacha Wada resto bar, where I paired it with chilled beer. Though the mut­ton lonche wasn’t as great as the one I had for lunch, it went down well with the beer.

There was one last stop to make the next morn­ing be­fore leav­ing Kol­ha­pur. From stalls at Pan­hala Fort, be­lieved to be the place where Shivaji Ma­haraj spent the most time other than his child­hood home, I tried Kol­ha­puri bhadang bhel. It’s spicier than its Mum­bai coun­ter­part thanks to the use of gar­lic and chilli pow­der. It was my fi­nal snack be­fore I bid good­bye to the city that had suc­ceeded in sur­pris­ing me.

Though chicken Kol­ha­puri is a fa­mous ex­port from this re­gion, there is much more to be dis­cov­ered.

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