Known for the Mahalaxmi temple, chappals, the famed Shahu Maharaj and of course the unique Pandhra and Tambda Rassa; this place is all about being royal and treated royal. Kolhapur has attitude all over, their language is filled with it.
A quick business trip and fortunately I get to go to an old and popular restaurant called Opal. I was scared to go at 1430 hrs on a sizzling summer afternoon but the ambiance made me comfortable immediately. Set in the basement with air-conditioning and with the welcome of flavours of Kolhapuri Masalas; it was the perfect beginning.
The service of the place is prompter than I could imagine. There seem to be people waiting outside for their chance to be served; so obviously they want people to finish sooner and hence lightning fast service. I have seen such service in Thali based restaurants where the menu is fixed, to make things easier. Similarly, here too they had very limited options.
Settled down quickly and straight to the ordering. It was mutton masala, pandhra rassa, tambda rassa with Chapati and jowar bhakri.
Plate was served before I could place the order and no sooner that the order was placed the food had arrived in like 30 secs. Accompaniment of raw onions mixed with curd was also good to have.
The first bite of the chapati with the mutton masala and I knew that I had selected the right place for having Kolhapuri food. I need to bust the myth around Kolhapuri food a bit, it is not hot; but it is spicy. When you have the first spoon of the rassa, you get all the flavours of mutton stock, coconut, black pepper, bay leaf, cloves etc. So, the fact that you cannot eat Kolhapuri food because it is hot is actually a myth. The food is spiced aptly and flavorful. It is actually the Udipi restaurants which have killed the Kolhapur style authentic cooking. I find a menu item called “Veg Kolhapuri” in most of the Udupi restaurants, it means just a mashup of vegetables with a lot of red chillies thrown in.
The rassa or gravy are almost like spiced mutton soup without pieces of meat. Both are made up of mutton stock and with a lot of spices and almost watery. This is what makes them unique. The black pepper and the coconut are the strongest flavors coming out of the rassas.
Mutton Masala again was perfectly spiced onion gravy and 6-8 large chunks of goat meat. The way I like the mutton cooked is that it should melt in your mouth and that is exactly what I found there. The meat goes extremely well with the chapati followed by a sip on one of the rassas. It took me 30 minutes to finish my lunch and did not know how the time went by. It was pure mediation. my mind did not waver and focus was entirely on the food in front of me. I remember taste and smell, so this will be there on the top, till I find something better. Is this not meditation?
The bhakri though did not seem to be cooked in the traditional manner on coal, but that was the only piece of the experience that did not fit the bill.
Unfortunately, I was alone and could order only so much. Next time would like to go with someone who savours flavors and also try the mutton sukka and the mutton fry; maybe also give the chicken a try. Will try a thali restaurant there too, heard a lot about Patlacha Wada and Gandhaar for their thalis. Hopefully the next time is soon enough.