Mumbai Food: The Maharashtrian puranpoli gets a makeover
Dahiwadkar's puran polis are ordered in bulk from abroad
In November 2015, when Thane resident Saurabh Dahiwadkar was considering launching a Maharashtrian food business, there were three items that he had shortlisted of which he had to choose one. "I thought of vada pav, but that's ubiquitous. The second was pithla made from chickpea flour along with bhakri prepared using jowar or bajri flour. But, it is a staple in Maharashtrian homes, so why would people buy from me?" he says.
It was the puran poli, the traditional sweet flatbread stuffed with a lentil and jaggery mixture, that seemed the way to go, with no online delivery services available in the city. "Although it's a much-loved dish, I didn't want to present it in the traditional avatar. The idea was to give it a twist, reinvent it, to make it appealing to the Mahastrian youth, who I feel were losing a connect to their roots," says the 26-year-old.
A year down, his online delivery venture, puranpolionline.com, has not only managed to concoct 21 different flavours of puran poli ranging from mango, chocolate, paan shot and blueberry, but is set to launch 15 more by the end of this month. Next up, he tells us, are quirkier flavours like kala khatta, kacchi kairi, coffee, coconut and raspberry. "Most people prefer mangoes because the pulp we use blends beautifully with the flavour of the puran poli."
Rolling out 500 puran polis a day, Dahiwadkar, an engineer-cum-entrepreneur, usually spends his mornings at the Global Engineer Academy, an institute in Dombivli where he teaches the subject, and evenings at the Tilak Nagar kitchen. "I have hired six maushis for the job. These are needy women, some of whom have been abandoned by the family. In fact, all profits generated from the business are used for a social cause, to help debt-ridden farmers in Bhid," he reveals.
The women churn out 500 puran polis a day that are delivered all over the city, mainly in Mulund, Thane and Khopar areas. It took a couple of weeks of training for Dahiwadkar to help the elderly women to unlearn the traditional recipes and adapt to the new ones. "While the basic technique of preparation is the same where we use wheat flour for the dough, the ingredients being used as fillings are different," he says.
Interestingly, the idea to come up with eclectic flavours emerged from his casual visits to neighbourhood icecream parlours that would boast of a range of flavours. "I would wonder if one can have a chilli icecream, why not a savoury puran poli?" says Dahiwadkar, who even has flavours like achari, schezwan and chopped vegetables on the menu.
The biggest challenge for him was to make this revolutionised puran poli palatable to Maharashtiran populace who were used to the traditional flavours. "The problem began at home itself. My parents were staunchly against the idea of me venturing into this, because I had a comfortable, well- paying job," he says. He recalls how his mother did not speak to him for a couple of days to make her displeasure evident. The tension thawed when he made her taste the puran polis. "She had no idea that we were doing the trials, which used to happen at a friend's place. I made her sample some when I felt we had nailed it. She was impressed," he smiles.
A home away from home
Turns out, it's not just Mumbaikars who are lapping up the puran polis. The popularity of the brand has reached overseas, with Maharashtrians settled in the US, Singapore and Dubai, placing orders on the website. "It was through social media and word-of- mouth that I started getting orders from abroad," he says. Dahiwadkar has purchased a German vacuum packaging machine that keeps the puran polis fresh for 21 days in transit. "Just last week, a person from New Jersey ordered 625 puran polis from us. For them, it's a connection to home."