Saee Koranne-Khandekar Highlights Maharashtrian Culinary Gems
Image Credit: Cobbler & Crew

Ask any average Indian what the most famous Maharashtrian dishes are and it is quite likely that you will hear plenty about how delicious Vada Pav, Misal Pav and Pav Bhaji are. These are indeed the dishes this state is most well-known for, but these are not the only culinary gems the region has to offer—and Saee Koranne-Khandekar proved that through her new pop-up at Pune’s Cobbler & Crew. Eponymously called ‘A Journey Through Maharashtra’s Culinary Delights with Saee Koranne’, the three-day pop-up focused on homegrown ingredients and flavours. 

“Maharashtrian cuisine has always suffered from this stereotype of being either a snack-house thing with Vada Pav and Sabudana Vada, or an elaborate feast at weddings served on banana leaves,” she explained. “But there is so much more to it, and like all parts of the world there is an element of seasonality. The state’s topography is so varied that there is a huge range of produce available. And I realised that one way to bring this cuisine to people who don’t have a reference point for it is to change the vocabulary in which we talk about it.”  

A closer look at the menu she curated does indicate this writer-researcher and author of Pangat, A Feast does manage to do that. As the dishes, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian start coming out, you realize that Koranne-Khandekar is weaving a modern Maharashtrian culinary epic with very traditional ingredients and dishes. The meal started out with a palate-cleansing, melt-in-your-mouth Tadgola Ceviche. For the uninitiated, Tadgola refers to ice apples, an Indian summer fruit which you might buy from a thela but never imagine making it to a fine-dining establishment. 

The Famous Maharashtrian Spice Experience 

The simplicity and mildness of this Tadgola Ceviche may have come as a pleasant way to kick-start the menu, but soon, the famous Maharashtrian spice blends and hot, hot dishes come out to greet you. The Kolhapuri Mutton Loncha did complete justice to the region known for some of the spiciest Indian dishes, and the soft pita bread that resembled phulkas came in handy while mopping up the piquant gravy. The Hirva Masala Chicken Wings highlighted the herbaceous flavours of coriander and mint along with perfectly cooked chicken, and the Malvani Shakshouka once again displayed the might of Maharashtrian spice blends. 

But the true spice punch on the menu was delivered by the Bharli Chilli Poppers. In case you aren’t familiar with Bhavnagari chillies, you should know that these Gujarati-origin chillies can easily compete with the Dalle and Bhoot Jolokias out there. It’s not with each bite that you get the hit of heat, but the moment you stop chewing, waves of utter spiciness wash over you. Think about an Indian chilli popper dish, however, and you are more likely to imagine Jodhpuri-style Bharwa Mirchi Pakodas. But with her Bharli Chilli Poppers, Koranne-Khandekar gave us something uniquely Maharashtrian. 

This was because the chillies were not coated with a heavy gram flour batter, but with stuffed with a mild besan stuffing that would trick your taste buds into thinking you are eating something very simple. The nuance, just like the heat, hits you only after you have swallowed the chillies. Koranne-Khandekar does something quite similar with two other dishes on the menu—the Koli Prawn Toast, featuring a shrimp pate prepared using the same spices in Prawn Koliwada, and the Khandeshi Eggplant Toast, which sings with the simple flavours of chargrilled and mashed eggplants. 

Bringing Lost Maharashtrian Recipes In Focus 

But while a few courses clearly played well on the popular starters and snacks from around the state, there were a few dishes throughout the menu that sneaked in references to Maharashtrian dishes that are so obscure or rare that they are quickly disappearing from popular food memory. For example, the Bharli Chilli Poppers were served with a Red Chilli Thecha Sour Cream which Koranne-Khandekar says was inspired from a less-known Maharashtrian chutney called Ranzka.  

“If I just drop the word Ranzka, nobody in Pune would know it. Ranzka is such a home dish that deserves more attention,” she points out, while adding that the same was true for several other elements on her menu. For this author, the Saandan served with Mutton Shikori was the perfect example. While the world is now bowing down to the might of the simple Idli, the Maharashtrian Saandan—a steamed rice flour cake—remains unknown to the extent, Koranne-Khandekar says, that even people from the state don’t make it at home that regularly anymore. 

And yet, the simple, small rice cakes were the perfect partners to the rich and spicy Mutton Shikori. The beverages paired with the menu also highlighted hyperlocal ingredients like Bhavnagari chillies, Hapus mangoes and Karvanda or Karaunda. “Today, you can get blueberries more easily in the cities than Karvanda, so I thought this fruit deserves its time in the sunshine,” Koranne-Khandekar reveals. The desserts, Coconut and Mango Kharvas and Warm Dhondas Cake, similarly bring back the focus on lost cooking methods. The cucumber-packed Dhondas, for example, could easily be on any health-conscious baker’s repertoire, but isn’t because the dishes aren’t that well known. 

When asked why these recipes from the Maharashtrian heartland are getting lost in the mist of time, Koranne-Khandekar says that the simple reason behind this is that most people still aren’t investing in these dishes commercially. “I always feel that the average Maharashtrian doesn’t take enough pride in their food,” she explains. “So, at an average Maharashtrian house party, chances are you will eat chole, pulao, paneer, etc. They are not going to be making a Saandan or Bharli Mirchi. They might think these dishes don’t make the cut, but if you look at the recipes, they are very rich and served in the context of wedding feasts.”  

“When we are entertaining guests at home we should bring back these rare and lost recipes instead of hunting far and wide for an exotic ingredient,” she adds. “This is why I love doing pop-ups because it introduces the food to a much younger audience. I want to take this food outside of the boundaries of this state because I do feel that otherwise we might just end up like frogs in a well. I want to speak about our food beyond Maharashtra so that other people get to know about it. These are flavours that appeal to all Indians, just a few flavours and seasonal ingredients that are different. Just little nuances that set the food apart.” 

And we truly hope she does, because if this menu was anything to go by, we all need to take a page out of Koranne-Khandekar's book and explore more of these rare, lost and simply delicious Maharashtrian flavours.