Kolhapur is an amalgamation of traditions and progressiveness. It strongly endorses its ‘Marathi bana’ – its festivals, language, culture; yet it is a city with strong business acumen (a skill that the Maharashtrian community is lesser known for), forward thinking youth and rising tourist appeal. I first got the opportunity to visit this city for a research that I was conducting. And it didn’t take very long for me to fall in love with it. Post my first visit, I knew I wanted to come back here.
My relationship with Kolhapur strengthened when I got married. Ever since, I have frequently visited the place – at times for research work and more often to meet family. But every time I travel there, the city welcomes me with open arms.
I once read somewhere – ‘You are what you eat’…It is so true in case of Kolhapur! One can actually draw parallels between the lives and nature of city dwellers and their eating preferences.
- Culture bhel: Kolhapur has a mix of different castes and religions. Contrary to popular belief, Kolhapur does not limit itself to Maharashtrians. You will come across a decent population of Muslims, Marwaris, Sindhis and Iranis as well. Fascinating, as it may seem, they all speak the same language – Kolhapuri Marathi; just like their bhel – different food items mixed in that one tangy tamarind chutney which stands out.
- Live life king size: If you are ever invited for a meal at a house in Kolhapur, be prepared for a full fledged meal with big, round chapatis in large sized plates. Having lived in Mumbai, I am used to having smaller versions of rotis which we call ‘Fulka’…So this was new to me. The gigantic sized plates was also a novelty. Magnanimity is a trait in Kolhapuris. They cannot fathom the idea of serving their guests small portions of food. Bigger plates are symbolic of a big heart; which they certainly have!
- Spice: Similar to its missal and tambda rassa that is tempered with hot chilli powder paste on the top, Kolhapuris can come across as an excitable, fiery lot. Blame it on their loud and deep voices. But, be assured, this feisty appearance is just on the outside. People from Kolhapur are passionate about everything that they do. They will give it all that they have – be it hosting a group of people or discussing their favorite topic or following a sport. It might make them seem slightly intimidating or aggressive, but they are extremely approachable and welcoming: just like their spices – might look overwhelming spicy, but every bite is a gratifying experience.
Food is inherent to Kolhapur – Spicy mutton preparations, mutton broths, bhel, missal and ice creams are a specialty of this region. My primary agenda while visiting Kolhapur is to eat! The city is a gastronomical delight, not just for meat lovers but also for vegetarians. So the next big question is – What should you eat in Kolhapur and where?
Mutton preparations in Kolhapur:
Kolhapur is known for its meat. Mutton (all you can eat) thalis are sold at almost all restaurants that claim to serve authentic Kolhapuri cuisine. These thalis comprise of mutton curry or mutton semi dry preparation, a small bowl of mutton kheema, pandhara rassa (white mutton broth), tambda rassa (red mutton broth), chapatis and salad. They later serve rice mostly with solkadee.
The restaurants popular with tourists are Parakh (given its proximity from the highway) and Opal (an old establishment). I have never eaten at Parakh and I find Opal overrated. My personal favorites are different:
It is a relatively new restaurant located in close proximity to Opal. The exteriors are plush compared to the older, popular establishments. But that doesn’t take away from the authenticity of the food.
The service is quick and amicable. More importantly, the mutton pieces are meaty and succulent. I prefer this over Opal because there is more to eat. The tambda rassa is spicy and the pandhara rassa has a delicate, creamy texture. It is served piping hot! This is your solution to every problem, I can vouch for it! It soothes your mind and the flavors explode in your mouth with every sip that you take. This is my go-to restaurant every time I visit Kolhapur.
Food tip: The sukkah mutton (dry mutton) that they serve is unduplicated. Do ask for it.
This is the newest kid on the block. Located in a building right opposite Rankala, this restaurant overlooks the picturesque lake. However, once you are here, you will not get much time to appreciate the view. Because you will be busy salivating over the food served. Compared to the rest of the restaurants, Thaska has a wider variety. For those who like to get more than expected, this is the place to visit!
Along with the usual fare of mutton gravy, kheema and the broths, Thaska offers egg curry as well. While all these preparations (except for Pandhara rassa) look brownish red, each has a distinct taste from the other.
Picture of Mutton Fry Thali at Thaska – here the mutton gravy is replaced with mutton fry
During my visit here, I learnt of a new mutton preparation called Kharda mutton. Kharda is a green colored paste made out of green chillies, ginger and garlic. Historically, it was an accompaniment with bhakris (millet rotis). It is also called Thecha and is known for its spicy flavor. Thaska effortlessly combines this popular relish with tender mutton pieces and creates magic!
Food tip: A warning for those who have less tolerance towards spices: its not meant for the faint hearted…be careful.
Thaska doesn’t fail to surprise you. Their quest to serve you more than you would expect also extends to their rice preparation. They serve what is called Goli pulao – an aromatic pulao preparation with small, flavorsome meat balls. I have never tasted anything as divine as this. Imagine a sudden explosion of a delish meat ball while you are munching on your rice! It adds a subtle flavor to your food.
3. Anil Bugad’s Canteen, Ichalkaranji:
Ichalkaranji is approximately an hour’s drive away from Kolhapur city. It is known for its textile manufacturing plants. Amidst this growing industrial area, there is a hidden gem! Anil Bugad’s Canteen is absolutely the opposite of Dehati and Thaska when it comes to its décor. It is a hole in the wall, make shift restaurant in an old (almost dilapidated) building.
The first look of the building could leave you with a sense of dread. You don’t know what to expect. You have to climb up the narrow, dark staircase (be prepared to see a few cobwebs on the walls) on to the terrace. My initial resentment while walking up the staircase was hygiene. But once you reach the terrace, you feel reassured. The terrace is clean. There is a basin set up in one corner of the terrace to wash your hands. There are no fancy tables. There are chatais (mats) placed along the terrace and food is served while you are sitting on these mats on the floor (the traditional way of eating food in India).
We got to sit in a small room inside from where I caught a glimpse of the kitchen. It was clean and there were 3-4 men toiling away making hot bhakris (millet Indian flatbreads) to serve with mutton preparations. The best part about this canteen is that you get bhakris off the pan – they are a joy to eat especially during winters.
Unlike the restaurants mentioned earlier, this does not have two separate broths. They serve one (light orangeish) broth which is a mix of tambda and pandhara rassa. Personally, I prefer them separate but this broth is also worth tasting!
I found their mutton more moist and juicier than the other restaurants. The reason for this is because this is one place that cooks its mutton in pure ghee!
Food tip: Bugad’s canteen also serves Goli pulao. So it is a good idea to keep some space for the rice.
Ice creams in Kolhapur:
You can never get enough of the ice creams here! They are milky and creamy unlike the frosted ice creams or frozen desserts that you get in Mumbai. The quality of the ice cream gives you a sense of the rich produce in Kolhapur. They are unadulterated and delectable. During our visits to Kolhapur, we make it a point to eat at least one a day!
The most popular ice cream preparation is called ‘Cocktail Ice cream’. Again, this preparation is not for those with small appetites. The special or large cocktail ice cream has 3 scoops of different flavors mixed with cake, sweet milk, jelly pieces, dry fruits and slices of different seasonal fruits. For some, it might be a meal in itself. But it is worth every bite!
Food tip: For those who cannot stomach this enormous dessert mountain after a heavy meal, they serve mini cocktail ice creams as well!
The oldest and the most popular ice cream shop is owned by Solanki. But I prefer Patil’s which is located in the market area opposite the chowk called Shivaji Putala. They are unbeatable!
Picture of Patil’s special Cocktail Ice cream
These ice cream parlours also serve an equivalent of vanilla milkshake which they call Doodh Cold drink. Do try! It is slightly frothy, diluted, sweetened version of a milkshake. Best to drink on sunny days or days when you don’t have an appetite for a glass full of ice creams.
Kolhapuri Bhel and Misal:
The other two food items that are popular in Kolhapur are bhel and missal. Unlike Mumbai, Kolhapur has but a few chaat shops or thelas and they are not the best either. But they have their own version of bhel! A mix of chilli powder tempered puffed rice with peanuts, onion, sev, coriander and the sweet-tangy tamarind chutney. This bhel is slightly orange in color. It tastes best while its warm and freshly made!
My all time favorite bhel shop is Rajabhau. It is one of the oldest bhel shops in Kolhapur (possibly dating back to 1960s) – a legacy that is handed down through generations.
In addition to their regular bhel, Rajabhau sells an interesting variation called ‘Tea time bhel’. It has layers of puffed rice, onion, sev, corn cripies and the works with excess chutney. It is definitely worth trying!
Food tip: Do buy bhel parcel. You can carry it back to your hometown.
The one thing that I am yet to taste in Kolhapur is its Misal. I have heard of Phadtaree and Chorge Misal shops and intend to visit these on my next trip to Kolhapur.
All in all, Kolhapur is a city of spice and ice! For those who live to eat, Kolhapur is the place to be…Bon Appetit!