June 15, 2011

L-R (Kshitish (KJ), Vaibhav, Ashish, Maruti)

It started with a casual conversation, KJ and I were keen to take the gang to our favourite eating joints; KJ — Opal Kolhapur et moi gunning for Amantran Ratnagiri. So we decided to do both these in one road trip and for good measure stop at Chiplun on the way back. So there we were thrashing out our — foodies roadies trip. A couple of quick calls and facebook posts saw Vaibhav and Ashish join us.

Friday 9th June, saw us assemble at Siachen — Parle east. We were waiting for Santy to join us. He was coming back to Mumbai from Bhopal and on his way to Pune. To apn ke saath hi chalna tha. Usko raaste mein drop karke hum log aage jaane wale the. So we waited and waited for santy to arrive. The Siachen chefs had a disappointing day in the office.

Santya in the meanwhile was confronting a crisis of his own. Someone had walked off with his bag!! And he had the Air India staff helping him trace it.Some hectic minutes later, the guy turned up with a sheepish smile and the bag.

Santya arrived in Siachen, couple of drinks later we headed out to KJ’s place at Kharghar. By some quirk of fate, all of us were up and about by six a.m. Saturday, we were off at 6:45…

First stop was a quick cup of tea at Khargar, we hit the expressway, were confronted with some very heavy traffic at Lonavala, but got across to Khalapur for breakfast. Omlette pav for Kj, Rao and me, mendu wada for the less squeamish VV and SR. We hit pune at around 10:00 a.m., Santya got off at Chandni chowk, reluctantly I must add.

Off we went; the Chandaal Chaukdi now, a small chai break at Karad, reached Kolhapur at two sharp. Took us about 25 mts to get to Opal, well they dig roads in Kolhapur too.

Opal is a kolhapuri institution, started many many years ago… ambience is strictly old time and the food is well… timeless. We had some fantastic tambda and pandhra rassa, sukka mutton, mutton fry, liver fry, chicken dry, mutton pickle, bhakri, biryani rice rounded off with ice cream. It was worth the seven hour drive, the traffic jams seemed insignificant in the wake of such awesome cooking. Opal will definitely feature in the “Best places for food” in my list. KJ got a well deserved hug from all of us on for this wonderful recommendation. Two and a half hours of sheer delight.

4:30 p.m. saw us all saddled up and ready to ride. On to Ratnagiri. We took the Amba ghat route. Another first for me and boy did I kick myself for not trying this route before. Picturesque, winding roads and very well maintained at that, pleasure to drive. Ashish had been wanting to drive all day long; driver duty was being shared between KJ and myself. As we got onto the Mumbai Goa highway — we handed over the reins to Ashish. About a km later, it started raining, na, raining buckets — he drove upto Haatkhamba maybe and KJ got back in the saddle. This after a day of pristine sunshine — it was as if the rain god was waiting for him to start driving.

We reached Ratnagiri and around 8 p.m. and shacked at an apartment owned by my father in law. The long day and absence of sleep the night before had just about started to take effect. Somehow we shook off our sloth and headed on to stop 2 of our journey.

A restaurant called Amantran just next to Vihar Deluxe hotel.

Amantran conjured up a sizzling surmai fry, divine prawns tava fry, chicken masala, surmai masala, rice and aamras to finish the meal. Solkadi was exactly the way we make it at home and not the usual crappy stuff one gets in Mumbai hotels. The bombil fry was the slightly jarring point in an otherwise delicious spread. Ab sab ki jaan mein jaan aayi.. a quick nightcap followed ani mag javal javal jhopaychi vel jhaali..

And then the heavens opened up again. It rained right through the night to upto 9 in the morning which was good considering we got up around that time.

Our return journey started at around 10:30 a.m first stop tea with vadapav at hatkhamba naka. Small tapri aur badiya breakfast. On we drove to Chiplun and stopped at another landmark Konkani hotel — Raghuseth More khanaval. They have now started another establishment called hotel Deepak right on the highway. Prawns fry, chicken masala fry, gaavti chicken masala with hot wadas made for a meal straight from heaven. Thodi thodi drinks pun keli saglyaani.

So that was the third and final stop of our gastronomic tour, all 800+ kilometers. Some amazing conversation, great food throughout, generally a feeling of freedom aur kya chahiye. Thank you KJ, VV and AR.

I noticed a car drive up when we were hanging outside Hotel Deepak at Chiplun. Three very old gentlemen stepped out each helping the other. They must have known each other for a long time. I thought of my gang of friends and whether we will be together when we grow really old. And today I heard a beautiful song by Simon and Garfunkel — Old friends/Bookends. .. So here goes enjoy… https://youtu.be/BPTOY8FrvNw