Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Food Travel: Tando Adam Sajji

Sajji in the Making!

Last week, I got the opportunity to visit Tando Adam, a small town in Sind. It was my first time there and the sole reason of making this 400+ km round trip from Karachi was Mutton Sajji; the pearl of Pakistan’s rich culinary heritage!

We left Karachi at around 11am and reached Tando Adam just before 2pm. The route was pretty straightforward and the journey was eventless. First we took the Karachi – Hyderabad Super Highway, then continued onto the National Highway, N-5, and then finally turned right on the Odero Lal Road. Somewhere around halfway we stopped for tea at a truck stand.

After hitting the destination we headed straight to one of the nonchalant Sajji vendors where a number of mutton legs along with a few sirloins (which is called “puth” in Urdu) were geometrically set around the wooden fire. As per the aged old tradition the meat was pierced vertically in sticks pinned on a soil heap. Interestingly, those sticks were wooden, instead of the iron rods used around Karachi’s Sajji vendors, and might be the reason of the difference in taste.

Although Tando Adam is situated in Sindh, and not in Balochistan where the cuisine originally belongs to, however, the town is famous for Sajji, hinting the presence of Baloch tribes migrated southwards over the course of the history.

Sajji is distinctive from other food varieties found in Pakistan because it is prepared without any spices or at times with no additives at all. Slow cooking is the secret of this business and it is best done with mutton using its own fat. The wooden fire first heats up the soil heap heat of which slow-cooks the meat. In all, it takes around 3-4 hours to fully cook a big piece of meat. This is why Sajji vendors start preparations from the morning and then keep the sticks moving to and fro from the fire.

We ordered a “puth” and then waited around half an hour for the food to get ready. In fact Shahid, our host for this trip, telephoned the Sajji-wala when we were having tea break; otherwise it could have taken more time.

While the food was in the making I bought a kilogram of fresh oranges from a street vendor. In the interior Sindh, oranges are sold by weight and not in dozens as the case in Karachi!

Interestingly, the Sajji shop was simpler than I expected. Firstly, it only sells Sajji, i.e. not even essentials like roti, raita, salad, etc! Thankfully, the waiter can do the errand, or maybe that was because of Shahid, otherwise we would have been running around the small bazaar for that! Sitting arrangement was also very basic, consisted of worn-out plastic chairs, and could have been much better, or traditional at-least.

Even then my expectations were high as I heard a lot about the jaunt and the joint from my Sindhi friends. Amid these thoughts and random discussions came the food. For next few minutes it was complete silence, as if the world had stopped for us. It matched the high expectations, and if that mouth-watering aroma is also included then it well exceeded all my gastronomical desires. For mutton lovers no treat can beat that meat!

In addition to the taste, food quality was also exceptional. It was not only farm fresh but also perfectly done; enhancing the taste to the fullest on one hand while keeping it succulent to the core on the other. While doing justice with the delight, Shahid enlightened us that part reason of that rich flavor was the use of a special breed of goat which is called “Kamoro” in the local language. Overall, it was really satisfying, fully worth the long trip.

Making of this cuisine is an art indeed, beauty of which lies in the simplistic and primitive style of cooking. Actually this is a family of chefs who is keeping this unique culinary heritage alive in Tando Adam. And by the time we finished, the narrow street started clogging with connoisseurs from far and near depicting the acknowledgement of their talent. In my opinion, keeping the tradition alive in this rapidly changing environment is no less an achievement and these food artisans deserve due recognition on the national level.

On the way back, Shahid took us to his family farm to elongate his generous hospitality, which itself needs a separate blog!

We returned back to Karachi with stiffed bellies around 7pm, Alhamdolillah!