When we think of Indian food, the natural instinct is to look at the food that we eat and is available around us. This is a skewed mental image of the diverse Indian cuisine. Each part of the country boasts of a rich and delectable fare. Some get highlighted on the food map while others remain constricted to only a few square units. Take the remote villages of tribal communities for instance. Inhabited in the states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, the tribal groups have their own distinct flavours, tastes and preferences. Their method of cooking may also vary. 

Similarly, the Dalit community of Central India has their own specialties which may not have been known to us until now. While some of their cooking techniques still remain a secret of their community, it is the matka roti that has been commercialized today. This special roti is known by several names, including randani roti and lambi roti. Apart from popularizing the cuisine of a rather unexplored community, the matka roti has also served as a precursor in empowering the Dalit women. 

Rolling The Dough of Empowerment

For those untouched by the phenomenon, matka roti is macde from a special type of flour called lokwan wheat which is locally produced in several parts of Central India. The art of making this roti was limited to the Dalit community until the late 1980s when an intervention by a women’s movement brought the women activists from other castes on the same page as the Dalit women. The process of its commercialization outside the community began thereafter when women started preparing the rotis in Nagpur. 

This traditional art was losing its essence on the food map as the newer generations did not possess adequate knowledge to prepare these rotis. Once it moved outside the domain of the Dalit community, several people started seeing a potential in its growth. Gradually, this matka roti paved the way for upliftment and financial independence of Dalit women by serving as an outlet for developing a full-fledged business. 

The thin and slimy mass of these rotis which are subjected to long hours of hanging by the arm after a coarse dough is prepared and rolled, makes them resemble dosas at times. They are also often mistaken for roomali rotis due to their long and stretched textures. These are then cooked on an oiled upside-down matka (pot) and baked until crisp. The matka rotis are generally paired with mango juice, also known as aamras apart from a meaty mutton curry or even steamed gram flour curry. 

Today, you’ll find these matka rotis being prepared in several nooks and corners of Nagpur.