A table for two by the window, a view of the pool below, bottles of spices adorning the walls, soft Indian music playing in the background, and some authentic Maharashtrain cuisine all made up for a very beautiful dinner experience at the Mystic Masala,Vivanta by Taj Blue Diamond.
A few of my European friends suggested I go to the place to check out some authentic Maharashtrian food at the food festival at Mystic Masala. A little surprised (since I know Maharashtrian food is oily and spicy, a definite no for most foreigners) I decided to head down on the evening of 24 Jan 2014 for a quiet dinner with my family. The hospitality and service has always been brilliant, hence I didn’t have to think twice before making this impromptu plan.Being a passionate foodie, I was a little curious to know the idea behind this festival ( It’s Maharashtrian cuisine in Maharashtra, why would people come here when they can eat this at home?) Mr. Aditya Mehendale, the man behind this idea, was kind enough to spend some time with me and answer all my questions.
Mr. Mehendale swears by Vivanta by Taj Blue Diamond, Pune. Any celebration, no matter how grand or personal it is, happens at Taj. “Taj is like family. I love these guys” is what he had to say. On his mother-in-law’s 75th birthday, he approached the management at Taj with his own menu, asking them to prepare all dishes mentioned in the same. The chefs were so impressed by the recipes, they decided to go ahead with a full fledged Maharashtrian food festival. Being passionate about food and cooking, Mr. Mehendale gladly accepted this offer.A connoisseur from royal lineage, Mr. Mehendale is an extremely humble human being. He has been passionate about food since he was a child, and has been cooking (sometimes, along with the Peshwa cooks) since the age of 12. It saddens him to know how Maharashtrian cuisine is perceived to be very limited. The idea behind this particular food festival is to showcase the range of dishes available in this cuisine. He wants people to explore this, and he is releasing a book with 80 non-vegetarian (only) recipes in the Maharashtrian cuisine (the book is expected to release by end of April). Being a part of the royal families of Maharashtra, he wants to share with everyone the Peshwa style of cooking authentic Maharashtrian food. He has taken out time to train the chefs at Mystic Masala, and has had a wonderful experience. His beautiful wife, Dr. Tarita Shankar, joined us at our table for a while. A beautiful couple, they made me feel at home with their charm and enthusiasm. The passion for food and hospitality is seen by the energy they exude. Not wanting to take too much of their time, I thanked them for all the information they had shared with me. One of the secrets he did share before he left the table- “the food can be preserved for 10-20 days, this is the food the warriors carried with them when they went to war. Do you want to know how? Traditional Maharashtrian cooking did not involve tomatoes. And the quantity of oil used was also very little. This helped in easy preservation…..enjoy your food!”
The Head Chef was kind enough to send across a customized menu for tasting, seeing how I was genuinely interested in the food. By the end of it all, I could not help thanking him for his hospitality and the lovely food he had prepared. The menu for the night was as follows-
1. Chicken PickleI am not a fan of pickles, because I don’t usually like the oil and the sourness. So when a bowl of chutney came to our table, I was pretty surprised to know this was dry, and had no traces of oil. The chicken was dry, well cooked, and soft. The pickle was a dry mixture of coconut shavings. It wasn’t sour, which is what I loved about it. If you like traditional oily and sour pickles, you might find this a little bland. But it’s not worth missing out on.
2. Kothimbari VadiThis was a coriander flavored vegetable patty. Unlike a typical patty, it was crispy and had a very strong flavor of coriander. Quite an unusual taste if you ask me, usually you get only a hint of the coriander flavor. By taste, It reminded me a lot of a coriander flavored Dhokla. Light, and with hardly any oil, this is a snack I recommend you must order.
3. Surailchi VadiSoft, steamed, well cooked, with a flavor of the masalas and coconut mixed together, this is a traditional Maharashtrian besan roll. A light snack before the main course, it is definitely a must try if you are going in for the authentic Maharashtrain experience.
4. Sol KadiThis was an interesting mixture of kokum and coconut milk. It came in a champagne flute, looking pretty in pink. The taste was even better. The refreshing taste hits you, and it feels cool as it goes down your throat. A tangy drink, it has a slight hint of sweetness too. A perfect refreshing start I must say. Usually drinks fill you up, and you can’t enjoy your meal. Won’t say this about the Sol Kadi.
5. Prawns Malwani TikkaThey look so appetizing; I could not wait to get my hands on one of the red tiger prawns that were sent to our table. They are covered with a red paste made out of spices and red chillies, and are absolutely gorgeous to look at. The prawns are well cooked, soft, and have a very pleasant flavor (sea food tends to have a typical smell and taste, this was thankfully devoid of those) Do try them out, you won’t be disappointed.
6. Chicken Konkani TikkaOne can never go wrong with this. The juicy well cooked tikka melts in your mouth, and the flavors of the spices reminds me of a barbeque and grill night in a jungle on the way to Goa, somewhere near Sawantwadi (true story) Try it, but it might get you a little too full, so maybe you could order this on your second trip here.
7. Chicken Pandra TikkaThis is a white colored grilled chicken tikka. Do not be misled by the color, since most of the white tikkas are either sweet or bland. This one is spicy, and tastes very unique. I personally have never tasted anything like it. Which is a very nice change since I feel most of the tikkas at a place end up having the same basic flavors. I suggest you try this, it’s unlike the usual tikkas. A little heavy once again, one plate serves 6 tikkas. So order accordingly.
8. Agre Mutton TikkaThe typical mutton kebab, this one is a little dry as compared to the others. It’s spicy, soft, and has a strong tinge of black pepper, this would go well with a glass of beer. Try this if you want a change from the usual chicken. It’s lighter compared to the chicken tikkas.
The starters were accompanied with a salad that was mainly onion mixed with yoghurt. Very refreshing, I would be trying this one at home too. The strong flavor of the onions is nullified by the yoghurt, leaving a cold and refreshing sensation in your mouth.
Here are the chutneys that you could opt for –
ThechaThe flavor of the green chillies hits you absolutely right, this is the kind of chilly that one enjoys. A chutney made out of green chillies, coriander and a slight amount of garlic, the tangy yet refreshing flavor leaves a perfect after taste in the palette.
Garlic-Peanut chutneyAs the name suggests, this is a red colored, spicy, dry mixture of garlic and peanut. The taste will immediately take you back home, where grandmothers would sit all day making chutneys and pickles. I have always loved this chutney, so it wasn’t surprising that I managed to finish 4 tablespoons of it. Try this with papad for an interesting combination.
9. MathaAlso known as butter milk. Or chach. It’s a light drink that goes perfectly with all the non-vegetarian dishes. You don’t feel too heavy; in fact, this actually makes you feel like you could eat more! It’s got a refreshing taste, with a hint of green chilly in the after taste. I could trade water for this, no kidding!
10. PitlaThis is a traditional Maharashtrian dish that is made in every household multiple times in a week, and is best enjoyed with Jowar rotis. This is a thick curry made mainly out of besan, with a whole lot of flavor added due to the variety of spices that goes into it. This one was a little bland, though the consistency was fine. I found it a little average, I have had better Pitla at the homes of a few of my Maharshtrian friends. If you would like to try it, do ask them to add a little extra spices. If you want this bland, then what you get would be fine.
11. Matki MisadI honestly thought I would not get the same taste of the misad I’d get at a local street-food joint, or at home. Well, I was mistaken. The taste, once again, reminded me of the misad we cook at home. The hint of sweetness, the spicy after taste, the well mixed flavors of coconut, rye and coriander were exactly like what you would get in your own kitchen. I recommend you try this.
12. Amti with DrumsticksThis dish was apleasant surprise. Thin with a rye tadka, this was a sweet and tangy curry. Gud (jiggery) and imli were used to give it the sweet taste. The after taste made you crave for some more. Very light on the stomach, this is the first time I have genuinely enjoyed Amti. Do not miss this one.
13. Malwani Fish CurryWell cooked black pomfret with tamarind, this came with a semi-thick brown gravy. The fish was well cooked, and did not have that particular sea-fish smell that I was talking about. Very light once again (surprisingly, since most of the semi-thick gravy dishes end up making one feel very heavy), this can be enjoyed with rice. But if you are not a big fan of tamarind, you might not enjoy the sourness . Personally, I enjoyed it.
14. Sukkey MuttonThis, I was told, was a Kolhapuri specialty. The well cooked mutton pieces came in a thick gravy (something on the lines of tawa chicken) and garnished with coriander. A a slight tinge of garam masala remains in the after taste. The first bite might feel a little bland, but once the masalas dissolve in your mouth, the spices will hit you. It’s brilliant, try it.
15. Navsacha KumbhdaThe name means a gift to the Gods. And why not, this chicken curry is so rich in flavors, it seems fit to be given to the Gods. Out of all the non vegetarian I had eaten there, I personally preferred this one. The curry has a very unique taste, and I suggest you don’t miss out on this.
The main course was eaten with Jowar and Bajra rotis.
16. ModakThese are the tastiest modaks I have ever eaten. Steaming hot and soft, these dumplings are made of rice, and filled with coconut and jiggery and dry fruits. The modaks I have eaten elsewhere are either too sweet, or too hard. This one was fresh, soft, mouth melting, and just the right amount of sweet. Even when it cooled down, it did not lose its softness. Even while waiting for them to cool down, the rich smell of ghee was making me a little too impatient. No matter how much you have eaten, do not leave without trying this out.
17. AmrakhandThis is the famous shrikhand with a flavor of mango. This is light, fresh, and tasty. Life is too short to miss out on desserts. So do have this along with the modaks.
Last night was an exciting dining experience- the taste of Maharashtra, all in one place. I even enjoyed eating vegetarian food after so long. Plus all the food is very light on the stomach. Mr. Mehendale and Mr. Sachin Joshi have done a brilliant job at this collaboration, and the passion for food and cooking was reflected when they seemed so happy seeing people leave the place with a smile on their faces.You may no longer drive down to Kolhapur to taste your favorite Maharashtrain cuisine anymore, all that you wanted is right here, along with much more. So do come down soon, this festival might change the way you look at Maharashtrian cuisine.