We all experience those sudden, intense bouts of irrational meat cravings once in a while. But for some of us living in Pune, these pangs often specifically revolve around digging into a mouth-watering mutton thali.
Pune’s love for this beautiful culinary phenomenon, with its array of meaty components neatly laid out in a circular formation, is best illustrated by this one bylane in the old city area of Sadashiv Peth that is speckled with a cluster of non-descript but highly beloved thali joints – fondly called the ‘non-veg galli’ by local residents. Sugran’s Kolhapuri, Gopi, Milan and Ashirwad are some of the best of the lot here, each serving delectable, flavourful mutton meals.
Aware Maratha Khanaval – an iconic, 125-year-old, no-frills establishment on Kumthekar Road – is another place every mutton fiend in the city has to make a pilgrimage to. Ambience here is virtually non-existent and service prompt, efficient and no-nonsense. You have to share your table (along with your love for mutton) with another customer. You could stick to the classics and order the regular mutton thali, or if you are in the mood to experiment, they also dish out a soothing bowlful of hot alani mutton, which is basically a mildly spiced meat broth or a special liver thali.
I’m Lion in Bavdhan is a favourite among local gourmands. They are especially loved for their mutton vade thali, which comprises a relatively mellow curry that can be mopped up with this crispy deep-fried flat bread made from ragi flour hailing from Malwan. Maratha Samrat in Kothrud does a fantastic mutton chops thali – a large plate comes loaded with three giant chops nestled in a fiery curry, mutton fry, tambda and pandhra rassas (a thin spicy red curry and a creamy white mutton broth rich with coconut milk respectively), a tiny bowl kheema, fried papad, and all of these accompanied by either bhakri (the roti’s coarser cousin made from wheat) or some fragrant biryani rice. And, of course, there is solkadi to wash it all down with. Moreover, it is imperative to start your meal here with their inimitable kheema masala papad – think minced lamb mingling with a mixture of chopped onion, coriander, sev and a sprinkling of salt and chilli powder.
Kaveri and Hindavi in Wagholi serve more or less the same elements in their thalis, the former with the addition of thecha and the latter with mutton pickle – lip-smacking! Note that spice levels can be pretty high here – definitely not for the faint of heart. MH-09 in Model Colony dishes out tasty thalis that are easy on the pocket and provide value for money. Purepur Kolhapur, on the other hand, is a chain whose branches have mushroomed in several areas in the city – while the food is undoubtedly competent, the flavours tend to cater to the non-Maharashtrian palate that is unaware of the nuances of Kolhapuri cuisine.