Beyond Kolhapuri Mutton... Marathi Bhasha Divas at Purepur Kolhapur, Mumbai

Caveat: very long post with loads of masala

Celebrating Marathi Bhasha Divas through the language of food

Odes have been sung to the 'cosmopolitan nature' of Mumbai.

This extends to all fields. Think of Mumbai and its iconic dishes and you will get what I mean.

Vada Pao. Maharashtrian?
Pao Bhaji? Gujarati.
Bheja fry? Muslim.
Dhansak? Parsi.
Vindaloo? Goan. East Indian. Catholic.
Shrikhand? Gujarati? Marathi?
Bhel Puri? UP
Bombay Duck? Well we don't say Bombay anymore, do we? And it's not really a duck. So persona non grata really

No wonder that the local Maharashtrians feel a bit miffed and crowded out in their capital city.

27th February was apparently Marathi Bhasha Divas (Marathi language day). I don't speak much Marathi despite spending more than a decade in Mumbai. That's the sort of inclusive city this is. So I celebrated this day in the way I know best. Through the language of food.

Righting an injustice called 'Kolhapuri Mutton'

I didn't know much about Kolhapur except the fact we often choose it when we need to study small towns in Maharashtra at work. The vile, odious, red bilge served in Mumbai restaurants under the name 'Kolhapuri Mutton' was another connection. And the famous slippers, 'Kolhapuri Chappals', of course.

Miri's lovely travelogue on Kolhapur, which I recently read, was an eye opener into this landlocked region of Maharashtra. Soon after that a friend told us about a new restaurant at Dadar called Purepur Kolhapur (P K).

P K, Mumbai, is one month old. It is owned by Mr Shashank Katkar. The original restaurant is at Pune. In Mumbai it is located at S K Bole Rd close to the Portuguese Church.

It's a simple, clean, no frills operation. Functional tables and chairs. Air conditioned. Attentive and helpful waiters. A knowledge of Marathi helps. They respond to Bengali Hindi too.

Kolhapuri Bhojan Divas

Four of us landed there. Three Bongs and a half Marathi and half Bengali.

The food was mind blowing. It washed away any memory that we had of the odious 'Kolhapuri Mutton'. Had sceptics such as my friend Soumik and me swooning. In fact we didn't even look up from the food while the gals posed for the photo. Our heart was in the right place.

We ordered a number of ‘thalis’. Each had one main dish. Plus an egg curry or mutton mince sauce. 2 Rotis. Pulao. Curries (rassa) on the side. All for an average of Rs 150 (3 USD)!!!!!! You get a la carte too.

I tried the Gavran Kombda meal (Sunday sp Rs 210, 4 USD). Gavran kombda mean naturally raised chicken as against broiler chicken. It is reared on grass and not steroids. It was the most succulent chicken that I have ever had. Pliant as butter. Very tender. And don't be worried by fiery red sauce. The sauce was quite elegant and sophisticated.

Somik's philosophy in new local places is 'when in doubt, mutton fry'. The mutton fry here was truly good. Soft, juicy bits of mutton with wicked blobs of fat. The only dish that we did an encore of.

We ordered a mutton masala. Most 'masalas' that I have had in Mumbai are vitriolic red, grated coconut monstrosities that lash out against your palate leaving you all sore. The mutton masala at P K  was very different. As evolved as the renaissance of Marathi Cinema. It looked tempestuous and yet left a pleasing feel in the mouth. It was spicy but definitely not hot. It tickled your palate. Made you realise why the spices of India were always so sought after.

We tried something called Chicken Dhangari. The dish is named after the Dhangar tribe in Kolhapur who make it. A hand ground spice mix with a grainy texture. It explodes in your mouth as you move bite by bite towards Paradise.

Here's more on the Dhangars from Wikipedia.

"The Dhangar (Sanskrit / Devanāgarī: धनगर ) caste is primarily located in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The literal translation of the name Dhangar is "Wealthy".[1] The Dhangars of the Northern or Southern India are reasonably considered to belong to the same race.[2] The word Dhangar is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Dhenu' i.e. Cow. They are called by different synonyms like Dhangar, Dhangad and Dhanpal.[3] Dhang also means a hill or a mountain. During the times of hardship some Kshatriyas went to the mountains and hills with their sheep and cows and stayed in the forests: these people are called Dhangars "

All the dishes came with two thin sauces on the side. One was the spicy red 'Tambada (copper?) Rassa'. The other was a whitish taste breaker cum appetiser called 'Pandhra Rassa'. I quite liked the Pandhra Rassa for its calming wholesome taste. My friend Madhumita pulled my leg for praising something which was not 'non veg'. Poor girl found out later that it was made with coconut milk and chicken stock.

The friendly Maratha Warrior

We bumped into Mr Shashank Katkar, the owner of Purepur Kolhapur, on the way out.

I wanted to know why there weren't any desserts here. Well there were gulab jamuns. But no Maharashtrian desserts such as shreekhand, basoondi, sheera, aamraas or kharwas. Shashank explained that he wanted people to leave his restaurant with the taste of the meat and spices as their memories. He didn't want the desserts to come in the way.

I must say that this explanation thrilled Soumik no end. A 'person who understands food' was his verdict. I am sure that the fact that Soumik doesn't eat sweets apart from chocolates didn't influence this reaction!

Shashank explained that this area of Dadar had number of Malwani Maharashtrian joints. The food from the Malwan region of coastal Maharashtra is seafood based. Shashank wanted to highlight the food of the landlocked interiors of Kolhapur instead. He also wanted to debunk the notion that Kolhapuri food has to be 'teekha' or hot. And he has done a very good job of it.

One India

Purepur Kolhapur brought alive the richness of Maharashtrian cuisine. It challenged my preconceived notions of grated coconut, grated peanut, loud colours, whole lentils, overpowering spice which I had associated with this cuisine. It also addressed the wrong done by local restaurateurs who served the very criminal 'Kolhapuri Mutton'.

I must admit that I wasn't terribly excited initially at the thought of going to P K. The feast that followed showed me that we have only the world to gain if we shed our inhibitions, our prejudices and keep an open mind.

Apparently 'Purepur' (pronnounced pur - e- pur) means 'complete' in Marathi.
The Bengali word for which, as Madhumita pointed out, is the similar sounding 'puropuri'.

A wonderful reminder of the message of ' unity in diversity' on Marathi Bhasha Divas.


Happy Spoon said…
Simply Brilliantly Written!!
You have correctly noted that we must imbibe some of the local culture of the place that we live in,no matter what our place of origin is!We do that when we go abroad and we should do that here as well! Every place in every country must retain its local identity!
Lazy Pineapple said…
My hubby is a die hard non veg guy....he would definitely relish these dishes....all of it looked so yummmm

I am from Nagpur and they serve a variety called as 'Saoji' which is really fiery hot non veg and is a speciality of should give it a try one of these days
5 spice said…
Lovely isn't it when we can share each other's food and live happily together?
Fantastic Kalyan! Great fun reading the story you have woven together and with that all Indians!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Thanks for showing the way, pun intended, yummy spoon :)

Lazy Pineapple...problem is Mumbai is so far removed from the rest of Maharashtra. Hope Shashank's cousin from Vidarbha works on this soon

5 Spice, thanks so much. True, at times we just need to chill a bit :)
Miri said…
Can't wait to check out this place - my next trip to Mumbai will definitely have this on the list - plus its very close to where I usually stay when I am in Mumbai - the country chicken looks absolutely amazing!

Thanks for the link to my post! Kolhapuri mutton and Veg Kolhapuri should be banned from menus!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Miri, amen to that
Bong Mom said…
Great write up.Didn't know Kolhapur had so many meat-y dishes. Last year I received a fiery Kolhapuri Masala from Nupur and have been floored by its red fiery taste
spice and more said…
YUM...that all looks and sounds so delicious. It is making me hungry for some nice spicy curry...and it is still only breakfast time here! I think I need another trip to India to eat and eat some more!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Bong mom, I guess 'Kolhapuri mutton' is a bit like 'Bengali Fish Curry'. Hides a rich tradition

Spice and More ... plan quickly :)
akshata said…
Lovely post. The food pictures would whet anyone's appetite :) btw, "tambada" means red in marathi.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Thanks for solving the mystery Akshata :)
raja said…
I like your writing style...simple and unwavering towards the food description....
Dipti said…
Going by your recommendation! Shall try this place tomorrow for lunch!
Kolhapuri food is the only Indian cuisine where stock is used extensively in cooking. The Tambada and Pandhara Rassa are always served in a traditional Kolhapuri meal. The mutton used to make the stock is served as Mutton Sukka. The bread in Kolhapur is fabulous, dense in texture and also goes well, as do chapatis. They also serve a Onion salad, Dahi Kaanda, with the food. Best eaten in Kolhapur, of course. PK does a pretty good job, though.
Shiva Nair said…
Boy the joint is Pune is awesome, never been to their Mumbai location.. Most, well 99% Kolhapuri food outside Kolhapur is nothing but loads of red chilli..well not here.. Out here I assure you, if you are looking out for authentic Kolhapuri, your search ends here.. Would like to add, instead of water, i order Solkadi and that does justice to me, always..