MY FAVOURITE “KOLHAPURI” RESTAURANT
It’s a hot Sunday afternoon in Pune. I am voraciously hungry and am pining for a fulfilling meal. And what can be better than a wholesome authentic Kolhapuri meal to blissfully satiate my pangs of hunger? So I proceed to my favourite Kolhapuri restaurant called “Purepur Kolhapur” near Peru Gate in the heart of Pune City. It’s a Spartan no-nonsense eatery; the only thing conspicuous is the ‘Kolhapur zero-milestone’ outside the entrance which makes it easy to locate. I saw a similar zero-milestone somewhere in Kothrud the other day and wonder whether a branch of “Purepur Kolhapur” is coming up there too!
There are just three main items on the menu – Mutton Taat (Thali), Chicken Taat, (which cost Rs. 75/- each), and Purepur Special Taat for a princely Rs. 120/- (I am told that the ‘Purepur Special’ contains everything the place has to offer!).
There is a flurry of activity and a large stainless steel taat is placed in front of me almost instantly. The Purepur Special Thali comprises the following:
· A large bowl of thick chicken curry with four generous pieces of chicken.
· A plate of appetizingly crisp dark brown pieces of fried mutton liberally garnished with almost burnt deep fried onion strips.
· A Kheema Vati (Katori)
· A vati of Tambda Rassa ( Red Gravy)
· A vati of Pandhara Rassa (White Gravy)
· Kuchumber salad made of onions, ginger, coriander, green chillies and curds
· Lemon pieces
· A fresh piping hot chapatti (You can have bhakri if you want, but today I’m in a mood for a crisp hot crunchy chapatti splattered with pure ghee)
· A bowl of jeera rice garnished with crisp brown fried onion strips and cashew nuts.
I sip the pandhara rassa – it’s invigorating. Next I spoon into my eager mouth a generous portion of mutton fry. It’s not melt-in-the-mouth stuff (I think it is the inimitable Bolai mutton). I chew slowly and savor the sweetish taste of the fried onions blended with the lively spiciness of the crisply fried mutton. I dip a piece of the piping hot chapatti into the tambda rassa allowing it to soak in, place it on my tongue and chew it to a pulp until it practically swallows itself savouring the flavour till the very end. Exquisite!
Now using my right thumb and two fingers, I lovingly pick up a small piece of chicken from the gravy; delicately place it on my tongue and roll it against my palate. I close my eyes, look inside, and focus on the succulent boneless chicken release it’s zesty juices and disintegrate. Yes, unlike the crispy fried mutton which need a vigorous chew to truly relish its deliciousness, the chicken is soft and tender, almost melt-in-the-mouth. I sample the Kheema Vati – it’s totally different from the Kheema I’ve tasted at Irani and Mughlai eateries. The Kheema has an unusual taste I can’t exactly describe – a bit sweet and sour– a counterbalancing contrast, perhaps.
Now that I’ve sampled everything in it’s pristine form, I squeeze a bit of lemon on the mutton and chicken and embellish it with kuchumber to give it the right tang, and from time to time I sip the wholesome pandhara rassa. I thoroughly enjoy the confluence of contrasting tastes. In conclusion I mix everything with the rice and rejoice the riot of zesty flavours. At the end, as I always do after all hearty spicy meals, I pick up a wedge of lemon and squeeze a bit of lemon juice into my glass of water and sip it down. Believe me, it improves the aftertaste and lightens the post-meal heaviness sometimes caused by spicy Indian cuisine.
It's an exciting, invigorating meal which perks me up and the sheer epicurean pleasure I experience makes up for the crowded, hassled ambience and indifferent service. Purepur Kolhapur is worth a visit for the quality and authenticity of its food.
For most of us “Kolhapuri” food has become synonymous with the “chilli-hot” self-styled, purported, ostensible Kolhapuri fare served in both highfalutin and run-of-the-mill restaurants whose menus often feature dishes called “Chicken Kolhapuri” or “Vegetable Kolhapuri” which masquerade as Kolhapuri cuisine. Kolhapuri cuisine is “spicy”, not “chilli-hot”, not “rich” and “fatty” – nothing exotic about it. A Kolhapuri meal, unique in its simplicity, comprises a variety of lip-smacking, earthy, flavorsome, nourishing dishes and is so complete that it creates within you a inimitable hearty wholesome sense of fulfillment, and is a welcome change from the ubiquitous fatty and greasy-rich Makhanwalla, Masala, Kadhai, Handi, Naan, Biryani Punjabi / Mughlai fare you eat day in and day out. There is a world of a difference between pseudo- Kolhapuri and authentic-Kolhapuri food.
I do not know where you get genuine Kolhapuri cuisine in Mumbai or any of the Metros. When we visit Kolhapur, we eat at Opal. I walked all over South Mumbai, experimented, tasted, sampled, but there was no joy. No Kolhapuri Taat anywhere, and even a la carte, nowhere was Mutton or Chicken Kolhapuri the signature dish – it appeared they had put it on the menu just for the sake of it, maybe to gratify the dulled taste buds on the alcohol soaked tongues of inebriated patrons who probably were in no state to appreciate the finer aspects of relishing good food. When queried, the waiters invariably said that Kolhapuri was synonymous with fiery chilli-hot food.
I was disappointed to find not even a single authentic Kolhapuri restaurant listed in various Good Food Guides to Mumbai. If you, dear fellow Foodie, know of an authentic Kolhapuri restaurant, will you be so good as to let us all know?