Saoji Curries: Vidarbha’s spiciest cuisine
HYDERABAD: In a large state like Maharashtra, food habits change significantly as you travel across the state. So you have variations like Malvani, Puneri, Khandeshi, Kolhapuri and Varadi in their cuisine where the ingredients, spices and preparations change quite significantly. A niche cuisine from the Vidarbha region which is gaining popularity in other parts of India is the Saoji food.
Primarily known for its non-vegetarian dishes, Saoji food is from a community of weavers known as Halba Koshtis, which had migrated to Nagpur from Madhya Pradesh to work in the cotton mills. Over a period of time, owing to the recession in the cotton business, a few people had set up small eateries around Nagpur to showcase their fiercely spicy food. The eateries soon became a rage with the working classes thronging these places. The most well-known Saoji eatery Yuvraj, now has multiple branches in Nagpur, while there are more than five hundred Saoji Bhojanalayas in the entire Vidarbha region.
Saoji food is traditionally so spicy that it makes your eyes and nose watery, though with its popularity the spice levels have been tempered down by some outlets to reach a larger audience. Masala used is a combination of wet and dry, often having more than thirty ingredients, and the proportion in which they are used provides the balance to the dish. Batlo, a paste of onion, ginger, garlic and cumin is one of the wet components. The fiery chillies used are from nearby Bhiwapur region of Nagpur, whereas black pepper provides for the dark colour in the dish. It is said that some of the spices are boiled first before a paste is made from them. The dish is oily, and traditionally linseed oil was used to prepare the dish.
Each family running a Saoji eatery has its own twist to the recipe, and they are fairly secretive about it. The cuisine utilizes mutton, country chicken and seafood and even animal offals like brain and trotters which the poor weaver community could traditionally afford. Sundari, a popular dish of Saoji cuisine is prepared from lamb intestines.
In Hyderabad, Rubaiyat, Tansen and Serengeti, the Indian restaurants of Ohri’s group have Saoji Gosht in their menu. As per Chef Amey Marathe, the Corporate Chef of the group, the response to this dish from their customers has been very encouraging. Saoji Mutton is also available to be delivered to your home from the cloud kitchen of Pratyush Anand on prior order. No other dishes from this cuisine are available in the city but do not miss them if you visit Nagpur, Chandrapur or any other places in the Vidarbha region.
Sabyasachi is a food enthusiast and blogs at www.foodaholix.in