As a child, I was exposed to that section of Marathi food that had heavily influenced the Saraswat cuisine – Amti, Zhunka, Kocholi (what I think is a take on the Khamang Kakdi). After I came to Mumbai, I realised that the versions that I eat are nothing like what they are in Maharashtra. Our amti is darker and spicy and sweet, our zhunka has cabbage and onions, our kocholi has coconut. Later on, I also discovered pithla-bhakri, thencha (a beautiful rendition of garlic and chillies), the original puran poli, all courtesy one of my closest friends’ mother.
Mumbai has a smattering of well-known and publicised authentic Maharashtrian restaurants – Diva Maharashtracha, Aswaad, Prakash, Panshikar and a load of Malvani and Gomantak food joints. I have been to most of these places and enjoyed the various sub-cuisines of Maharashtra over time. Having also travelled extensively to Pune, Alibaug, Murud, Kashid and the likes I’ve savoured the local cuisines! But, when you get all of this and more all under one roof, it is quite a deal.
Renaissance Mumbai at Powai is hosting its Marathi Food Festival till March 8th. It has combined the Malvani, Kolhapuri, Mumbai (yes it has a cuisine of its own), and various other sub-cuisines of Maharashtra. I was invited to host the event and invite some of my blogger friends for dinner. Perzen Patel from BawiBride and Amrutha Langs joined me with their respective husbands and Jahan Bloch from Toxic Baker came with her relative. A small gathering, a lot of food and loads of fun.
As you enter the Lake View Cafe at Renaissance, you first come across a colourful rickshaw bang at the entrance to the cafe. From there on you are taken into a world of food.
From a roll and chaat counter at the entrance to a pickle stand (fresh pickles made in the Renaissance kitchens on sale) on the other side to a live counter where local women from an institute were doling out piping hot chapatis (polis in Marathi) and bhakris, the ambience is intact.
We were served the starters at the table itself – chaklis, bhakarwadis and thencha in cute stainless steel tiffins (a take on Mumbai’s dabbawala system, I presume); komdi-vada (subtly spiced and very tasty chicken curry with the vada that is traditionally made using five pulses) along with a lovely grilled surmai (or kingfish). I’m normally wary of chaat that is not served on the streets, but the ragda pattice, sev puri and dahi puri served to us were spot on! We also had nicely fried and tender komdibhajiya, some chicken rolls, the farsan and were pretty much halfway there by the time we gorged on all this.
The main course, too was a world of contrasts. While the nariyal rice was really delicious with lovely bits of fresh grated coconut and crunchy peanuts, the prawn pulao was quite bland and had absolutely no prawns. In the gravies, I tried the zhunka, which was beautifully spiced and the subtle and absolutely lipsmacking and huge tisrya masala. With this, I tried the tandulchi bhakri (made of rice) and the thencha. The baingan (brinjal) and bombil (Bombay duck) salad was quite a disastrous combination! Finally, we finished off the meal with some really well-made sweets but nothing to rave about (the puran poli looked to dry to even try).
Overall, I think the festival is beautifully curated. The chefs and management have successfully managed to bring the sub-cuisines of Maharashtra under one roof with the right kind of ambience. Whether they have clinched the taste is, well a debate. For the simple reason that a lot of Maharashtrians would not agree that the food here is authentic! But, for the kind of clientele that a 5-star property like Renaissance caters to, this is as good as it gets.