How Matka Roti Is Empowering Women Of Nagpur’s Dalit Communities

This nearly-forgotten recipe of glutinous dough stretched on a sizzling earthen pot has foodies queuing up for more.

Nivedita Pawar

Apart from being the centre point of the country (0 Mile Square), Nagpur is also popular for matka roti. The revival of this crisp, filigree-like, comforting bread that is cooked on an upside-down pot, is being spearheaded by a bunch of skilled women who are determined to preserve the traditional art of making matka rotis.   

It’s a whirlwind of activity and 70-year-old Saytabhama Bhagat is busy throwing instructions at a group of women huddled over a live wood fire. Thick smoke rising up the wood-fired clay stove is already blinding me and other onlookers eager to witness the making of matka roti, a fast-disappearing culinary art from Nagpur, Maharashtra.

Making of Nagpur’s Matka Roti

Also known as Randani or Lambi roti, the making of this bread is an interesting and highly-skilled process. The locally-grown Lokwan wheat flour is mixed with water and kneaded for an hour until it turns into a thick, pouring consistency. It is then left to ferment and swell into a slimy mass. A scoop of the slimy dough is then stretched over the arm and draped on a sizzling hot inverted pot (randan) in a single, highly-skilled move. The entire process takes the experts less than 30 seconds. The crisp, perforated, dosa-like bread is a winner on all levels and can be eaten hot or cold.

Elderly Satyabhama who has spent most of her life in agriculture or construction labour is today the proud head of a family business that she runs from her semi-constructed house on Ring Road. A takeaway-only outlet, its highlight is the open kitchen, where you can watch the cooking staff make matka roti, a sight that’s bound to kick-start your appetite.

Satyabhama wears many hats, taking turns as the host, taking orders, and playing cashier alongside a small, friendly staff. The service is extremely quick and you could get as many as 25 rotis for a mere Rs 120. The ladies cook with heart, making an opera of their humongous talent.​

Keeping the art of Matka roti alive

“These days everyone wants to take the easy route and make phulka or chapati. Matka roti takes longer but is very tasty. Not many women are interested in this craft as it’s quite difficult to learn. But I am determined to not let this art die,” explains Satyabhama, while simultaneously supervising the women and attending to customers waiting for their orders. She has even travelled to the United States as part of a contingent to showcase the traditional cuisines of India.

“Making matka roti requires a lot of skill, which comes with practice, especially in preparing the dough and slapping it on the hot matka,” adds Satyabhama. The steps are tedious and that explains why there are only a few remaining eateries that make and sell them. You can munch on the crisp and glutinous bread, but it is traditionally eaten with the fiery Saoji mutton curry or Patwadi-chi bhaji, a curry made of steamed cubes of gram flour,” explains Vinod Dhawle, corporate chef at Haldiram's.

Until the 1980s, very few people outside the Dalit community had heard of this bread, let alone make, also known as Randani Rotis. “The work is hard and so only highly-skilled and not many women got involved in it. The younger generation didn’t want to learn it. But now things are changing and it’s becoming quite a rage here in Nagpur,” adds Dhawle.

While mass manufacturers tried to introduce LPG, the women continue to make the rotis the traditional way, over a wood fire. Randani roti has not just wowed foodies from across the country, but also helped many women like Satyabhama use their skill to generate income, pull their families out of poverty and take charge of their lives.

Image for representational purposes only.

Photo: Shutterstock
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