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This pop-up reimagines beloved Marathi foods as tacos, shakshuka

Food writer Saee Koranne - Khandekar creates an experimental pop-up menu with Maharashtrian dishes by borrowing lessons from Bharatnatyam

The food spread of the pop-up menu by Saee Koranne - Khandekar at NIPR Pune. 
The food spread of the pop-up menu by Saee Koranne - Khandekar at NIPR Pune. 

A typical bar menu is a varied selection of crispy, savoury and fuss-free foods accompanied by a side of fries. Now, imagine infusing them with regional Maharashtrian delicacies such as Kolhapuri mutton sukka . This weekend, a bar named NIPR in Pune is launching a limited pop-up experience where traditional foods of Marathi cuisine have been reinvented as tacos, pudding and shakshuka. 

They have teamed up with food writer and consultant Saee Koranne - Khandekar. On the menu, there’s a Aale-Limboo Gimlet (ginger lemon gimlet), sabudana poppers and crispy masala coconut chips. Lounge spoke to Khandekar to find how she rethinks Maharashtrian food.

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What was the starting point for the pop-up menu at NIPR?
When you think of Maharashtrian cuisine within a commercial set-up, there are just three interpretations—street food with vada pav and chaats, traditional quick service restaurants which offer misal pav, subadana vadas and the likes, and family restaurants that have elaborate thalis. More often than not, the dishes are predictable and have a sort of unchanging rigidity shaped by customs—a thali has to served in a certain manner, for instance. The idea is to bring these dishes outside the stereotypical definitions and make them accessible to not just people who have not tried the cuisine, but also to Maharashtrians who have not eaten or even thought of their own cuisine in formats beyond the traditional. I want to show that regional food can also can be fun and it can be enjoyed with friends over drinks.

What is your approach when you have to reimagine traditional food?
For me, it's a little bit like dance theory. I studied Bharatnatyam for a while, and learnt that there is a certain sequence in which the dance performances are presented. And more often than not, it starts with something basic and proceeds to complexities. One of the pieces in Bharatnatyam is called shabdam. In shabdam, you interpret the same line of a particular verse a few times. Initially, the dancer does a literal interpretation of the verse for the viewer to understand what the verse means. By the third or the fourth presentation of the verse, the dancer starts interpreting it in their way. As a concept, I find this quite interesting. And that is how I approach my progressive cooking (if I can call it that). Initially, it’s important for me to learn the absolute basics of a particular dish and know how it’s traditionally cooked. Once I am extremely familiar with this dish, then I go around breaking rules.

Can you give us an example with respect to the NIPR pop-up menu?
In certain communities of Maharashtra, especially in Pune and the Deccan plateau, there is a preference for balancing sweet and sour flavours. The combination of tamarind and jaggery is almost sacrosanct. Whether it’s a daal, sabzi or even a bharta, a bit of tamarind and jaggery is added. It is called chincha goolchincha is tamarind and gool is jaggery. I wanted to play with that a little bit and we made a whiskey sour cocktail infused with chincha gool. It is sort of breaking the Brahminical bounds in which these two ingredients are typically used, and it's actually going diametrically opposite straight into a cocktail.

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Saee Koranne - Khandekar at NIPR Pune.
Saee Koranne - Khandekar at NIPR Pune.

What about sweet dishes and savouries?
For dessert, we have a colostrum pudding known as kharvas. Traditionally, it’s flavoured using the usual suspects which is saffron, cardamon, and sometimes a little jaggery. I wanted to play with that a little bit as well. NIPR shares one wall with a restaurant which is owned by the same management. It's called Barometer and they are famous for their filter coffee. For the kharvas, I’m doing a filter coffee flavour as a hat tip to the neighbour. It’s a smooth pudding and with a black sesame praline on top.

For the mains, there are bhakri tacos, which is like having a Kolhapuri meal. If you look at a frugal Kolhapuri meal, there’s bhakri, mutton sukka and a salad of red onions tossed in yogurt. To create the tacos, all I've done is just pile everything together in a way that balances flavours and textures. The bhakri is topped with lettuce, some mutton sukka is spooned over, and the final layer is onions with yoghurt. The vegetarian version uses jackfruit. There’s a Malwani shakshuka. In Maharashtra, we have something called a bhujana which is like a shakshuka—gravy topped with a few eggs. The Malwani masala is an elaborate combination of several spices, and some of them are not traditionally used in other parts of Maharashtra. There’s a complex spice called tirphal which is like the Indian Sichuan peppercorn. It has floral and citrusy notes, accented with the peppery heat which leave the tongue with a mild numbing sensation. This is part of the masala mix which goes into the Malwani Shakshuka. It all works very well.

Coffee kharvas.
Coffee kharvas.

The NIPR pop-up with Saee Koranne Khandekar is available on 24, 25, 26 September at NIPR in Pune. For reservations, contact 7887896000; and for home delivery, contact 8378999899.

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