If you want to know more about a place, learn about its cuisine. What they eat, or used to eat in this case. Oranges instantly come to the mind when Nagpur is mentioned. What we don’t talk about more often is Saoji cuisine—the fiery speciality of the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. From technique to spices to variations in food items, this less-known cuisine is as unique as they come.
My introduction to Saoji cuisine happened during a particularly interesting interaction with Executive Chef Vinod S Dhawle, Hotel Le Méridien Nagpur. Tired of eating the usual rice, roti and naan, I asked the chef for some pointers to local food. This is when he led me to matka (or reshmi) roti and kadaknath chicken—two unique Saoji items one must experience.
So, off we went the next day to a lady who is arguably the one responsible for reviving the lost art of matka roti. This peculiar bread has lost its foothold in the food market in the past few years due to the hard work that goes into its preparation. As I stood in her tiny roadside shop, I began to understand why someone wouldn’t want to prepare this roti on a daily basis. Lokwan wheat and water, and an hour of kneading, made for a keswaniviscous dough that her expert hands transferred from palm to forearm to the inverted matka tawa. Thinner than tissue paper, the rotis then took seconds to cook over the hot tawa. The final product was a crispy, net-like roti.
To go with this rare roti was kadaknath chicken. Locally known as kali maasi (black meat), this breed is completely black—plumage, legs, nails, beak, tongue, comb, wattles—even the meat and bones are darker than red meat. This lean, local chicken is full of vitamins, iron and protein. The locals believe it to have medicinal properties.
The last part was my favourite one, eating this scrumptious Saoji meal.