Experience Saoji Curries & Gond Thalis At A Tiger Reserve

Thinking of skipping town and flying off to a serene retreat? Move over hill stations and consider foresty escapes or wildlife reserves where you can experience nature up close. When you think of a jungle retreat you may think of long safaris, wooden cottages, bonfires, and wondrous animal sightings. However, in safari trails across India, the food on offer is usually a USP too. Most jungle safari adventures offer local flavours and indigenous food is made with fresh, locally sourced produce and it’s a far cry from what you’ll find at your favourite restaurant.

A brand called Pugdundee Safaris, for instance, serves a variety of regional platters such as Baiga, Gond, Varhadhi, and Bhopali across their seven jungle lodges. Their Panch Gaon Andar menu has been prepared, to keep the essence of local flavours alive. Inspired by the 50-mile menu, this menu sources what is grown and eaten in the nearby villages, which exist around the radius of the lodges. This helps them reduce miles and transport costs by sourcing food ingredients from local farmers, and buying from local markets as much as possible and also offers guests the most authentic versions of local recipes. 

At their Pench Tiger Reserve lodge, for instance, you can savour local dishes such as the Bhojpuri snack Dal Bafouri, a village-style Bhune lahsun tamatar ki chutney that’s roasted in charcoal, Laal bhaji saag made with local Chaulai greens etc. 

Another retreat organised by the brand at the Tadoba Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra offers an authentic Varhadi thali, which is local to the Vidarbha region where the reserve is located; Varhadi cuisine is one of the many local Maharashtrian cuisines which focus on besan, black pepper, mustard, dried mangos etc. This thali features a rich Varhadi Chicken curry, cooked in a traditional Varhadi mix of spices is a popular local delicacy, Nagpuri Saoji Mutton cooked in a fiery Saoji masala, a specialty of the Nagpur region, Pineapple Shrikhand etc.

“This includes a taste of the famous spicy Saoji curries. Also on offer is Maharashtrian Thali which includes the best of the state and Hyderabadi Thali inspired by our next-door neighbour,” the brand wrote on its Instagram.

“The lunch menu is served in traditional hand-made Kansa thalis with the beverage of the day. Maharashtra is known for its unique spices, which many of us find a bit too piquant for our tastebuds. However, they have their significance and reasons to be famous. The robustness is suitable to the local climate, as the hot spices help our body adapt to the heat of the environment.”

Suppose you’re staying at the Kanha Earth Lodge in Kanha National Park. In that case, you can’t miss out on their Gond thalis which was put together by Chef Vijaylaxmi, a Masterchef India participant, who spent months attending village haats to understand the local produce and visiting local kitchens. The menu lines up local numbers like Lamb Booti curry, Brahmkhass Chakri, Bedra chutney, Chokha and Tikar Roti, which is oven-roasted in camel foot leaves and is cooked live.