A Weekend in Sagar, Madhya Pradesh

A fresh haul of ber fruit

My intense feelings for India have definitely been born out of an intense relationship with the food – whether it’s eating  the incredible street food, developing new India-inspired recipes  for Mint readers, or simply experimenting in the kitchen with the extraordinary variety of ingredients available here.

But I definitely feel the closest connection with the country which has been our home for over 5 years when someone invites me into the family kitchen. To have access to recipes passed down through generations, prepared with love and confidence is a great privilege.  This is the food people crave when they’re away from home, made to comfort and reassure – food that is rarely found in restaurants or cookbooks.  These recipes are among my most treasured – the culinary equivalent of making off with the family silver.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a wonderful long weekend in a town called Sagar, or Saugor, in Madhya Pradesh –  the true heartland of India.  I was visiting the family of my friend Nita, staying in the beautiful  sixties house where she grew up (complete with Enid Blyton bedside reading). We were there for the annual memorial lecture in honour of Nita’s father but we also found plenty of time for sightseeing, eating and cooking.

I’m enormously grateful to Nita’s mum Meena, who, along with cooks Ram Naresh, Rajesh and Suman,  put up with me clicking away and asking all sorts of daft questions.

Meena and Suman

milk from the dairy

vegetables fresh from the garden

Meena’s kitchen is a traditional vegetarian one where the flavours of the neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat all come together.  It was a joy  to watch the timeless rituals –  pails of milk are brought in from the family’s dairy every morning, butter churning and yogurt making –  to taste so many new dishes and learn enough to fill about 20 posts here.

Sagar itself was also a wonderful discovery  – three hours drive south of Bhopal, it’s well and truly off the tourist track.  A major university and army cantonment town, Sagar also was the exact centre of undivided India. The town now sprawls prettily around a lake fringed with temples. Some of the old town is so beautiful I wanted to rush around with a preservation order to stop the inevitable blight of new concrete monstrosities.

But, as always for me, the food was the main attraction.  I met  new ingredients (like chiraunji which tastes a little like pine nuts), learned new techniques  and scribbled down so much I don’t really know when I’ll find the time to blog it all. I learned how to make two types of  Laddoos, Besan and Semolina/Coconut, for which  ordinary sugar has to have some of the moisture removed.

I ate sensational namkeen (fried snacks) made from sago as well as learning how to make Khasta Namkeen.  I watched Meena make shrikhand and sampled some Gujarati delicacies brought by some other house guests, including a wonderfully addictive mango chutney and an unusual bread called Debra


There was a snack called Bakarwadi


But today I’m going to give you a dish that I’m already totally addicted to – Poha. This is a simple, soothing  rice and pea dish softly spiced with green chillies and fresh coriander, then sent soaring with lemon and chutney

Poha is eaten (devoured in my case) with namkeen (as if I really needed any more opportunities to eat deep fried snacks!). As with most Indian home cooking, recipes for poha vary from family to family.  This is Nita’s family recipe as made by  Rajesh – many thanks to him for taking the time to explain everything so patiently.


Serves 2


1/2 teaspoon brown mustard seeds

pinch hing (asafoetida)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

2 small green chillies

1 onion, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon red chilli powder

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander

1 katori (small metal bowl used for measuring – you could also use a cup measurement) of pressed rice (poha), rinsed

2 handfuls of fresh peas

juice of 1 small lemon (nimbu)

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan then add mustard seeds, hing, turmeric and whole green chillies.  Stir for a moment or two. Add the onion and peas with a tablespoon of water then fry till the onions are starting to brown.

Add the red chilli and salt and give it a good stir.

Add the rice and stir for a couple of minutes until the rice is cooked and starting to catch and brown on the bottom of the pan – the slight crustiness is delicious.  Stir in the lemon juice and coriander, adding more of the flavourings to taste.

Serve with namkeen and frothy coffee, some Gugarati Chunda chutney too if you can find it – heavenly.

I have a feeling  Poha is well on its way to becoming one of my family favourites.








46 thoughts on “A Weekend in Sagar, Madhya Pradesh

  1. this happens with me everytime,whenever i think of a blogger i see their post the same day,was thinking today why no post from ur space since a long time,,,now i knw,..;-)

  2. I am afraid Poha is incomplete without curry leaves and sonf (fennel seeds) and you can also put some peanuts (optional).Another ingredient which is a must, is little sugar, which enhances all the rest of the flavors.

  3. Hi Lata – yes I’ve noticed the curry leaves in other recipes but this is the way Rajesh made it. And there are very few things a pinch of sugar doesn’t enhance!

  4. madhya Pradesh is our favourite state and now we have another reason to go and visit it again. Lovely post and mouth watering picks. Will try Poha and see what happens. Birthday wishes too though not sure for when, perhaps a little belated at this point. Marina

  5. Have u been to Jodhpur. Another gr8 place for Indian delicacies.
    Do try to attend a Jodhpuri wedding. Jodhpuris have a unique style of eating especially for weddings and other happy occassions.

  6. I have read the article in today’s Daily Telegraph UK and very unusual for me I had to look at your blogg. I love your writing style combined with the food photos and the local scenery. Great blogg I’m hooked. Carry on blogging.

  7. Pam, i simply adore the riksha photo- so beautiful. and such lovely treats to have with chai. i love all namkeen. and poha for brekkers- bliss. x shayma

  8. I have also just read the article in the Telegraph and was on to your site as quick as a flash. What wonderful and different ingredients and flavors. Just a quick question about the rice. It seems a short time for it to cook through when added to the other ingredients, do you cook it before at all?
    Many thanks.

  9. Wonderful to know that there is another “poha” fan out there. Aunty Meena’s poha is something to die for. She made it for us once when we were visiting Arjun and Nita in Toronto and ever since I always look forward to an opportunity to eat it. You never find it on the menu in any restaurant in the US and for that matter in India as well.

  10. Poha has to be one of my favourite dishes. Totally comforting! Thanks for sharing it with the world.

    Looking forward to reading some more about your experiences with baking using the limited ingredients available in Delhi (quite a challenge, am told).
    I am new to baking myself and along with a good friend Jenny, we have entered the world of blogging too. Would love to hear your thoughts on our baking adventures ….

  11. Typical of Maharashtrian delights Pamela. I remember picking the ber fruit as a young girl from the trees in farms close to our family home. Love Bhakarwadi & Poha. Two must haves in our household most weekends x

  12. Hi Pamela, loved reading this post! 🙂
    I really like your writing style and your enthusiasm for Indian food. I am hooked to your blog, and wait for new posts eagerly as they transport me back to Delhi, my city.
    What i find most interesting is that both of us are in a similar but opposite situation.While you have travelled from UK to live in Delhi, I have made the reverse journey and live in Cambridge now.

    I am writing about my experiences in a blog too. It would be lovely if you and others can visit.

  13. I love your blog. The gujarati way of making poha would have a little bit of sugar and usually potatoes too. I like dhebra and bhakarwadi too.

  14. Happy to have discovered your blog. Sadly, pressed rice will not be available in France. However, it’s good to dream!

  15. Hi Pamela!

    A wonderful post. So glad to know you discovered poha.

    My mom makes a Bengali variation using mustard seeds, a bay leaf and a piece of cinnamon sautéed in oil, caramelised onions, and a small handful of sultana raisins along with the rest of the ingredients. The raisins (may be substituted with currants or even dried de-seeded berries!) in particular add a sweetish-tangy kick. The best thing about poha is it’s so versatile!

    In fact, a great summer cooler from east India is soaked poha mixed with sweetened chilled curd. Drop in some diced summer fruits and it’s suddenly breakfast!

  16. A great writeup on Sagar food , I had tried some of the Desets made in Sagar at Nita’s. I am tempted to visit this place to try other dishes mentioned in your blog !!

  17. Arun – I love Jodhpur and would be extremely happy for someone to invite me to a wedding there!

  18. Hi Shilpa – thanks for your message – I’ll definitely take a look at your blog – good luck with the baking!

  19. Hirsute Hippo – your mum’s poha sounds wonderful – I like the sound of the breakfast version too!

  20. Hi Earlybird – do you live anywhere near an Indian grocer? They would definitely have poha

  21. Hi Barun – I pretty much polished off all of Aunty Meena’s poha single-handedly – so delicious!

  22. Hi Jenny – Thanks. The poha rice is pressed flat and once you’ve rinsed it, it only needs a couple of minutes of cooking – the original Indian fast food!

  23. To: Pamela
    Re: Shrikhand
    In this article you mentioned a special nectar of the Gods concoction,
    namely Shrikhand. I had the great good fortune of having 2 cups of
    this amazing dairy product at the New Delhi Rail Station (Platform 2
    at the 10th kiosk stall to be exact). It was so good I was went into
    a state of bliss and was temporarily transported to the land of sugar plums
    and unicorns. And you said you saw how it was made. Could you, would you, pretty witty please, tell us how it is made and its ingredients. Maybe a general explanation or for a future article explain the exact details.
    Thank you so much

  24. Hi Ames – thanks for your comment. Yes Shrikhand is divine. I’ll try and post a recipe soon – I still have loads to post from Madhya Pradesh – just don’t know how I’ll find the time!

  25. I am from MP and lived in Delhi for past 10 years, and I love poha…..actually MP is a beautiful state and could be extremely exciting for travelers too…Reading your blogs is making me homesick…I am studying in France and it is so difficult to find authentic Indian cuisine here….:-(…love your blog and i love delhi street food so yummy..brings back memories of going to dhaba in winters to drink chai.

  26. @Ames,
    Shrikhand basically is “hung yoghurt” to which caster sugar, chopped pistachio, almond, crushed green cardamon seed and saffron infused in a tiny bit of hot milk are mixed in. Let sit to meld flavors, in fridge. Hung yogurt = Greek yogurt [e.g. Total] or Labneh from Lebanese shops. Or, make your own by placing good full fat 32 oz yogurt in cheesecloth & gently pressing in a ball. Drain. Leave to drain further in fridge for some hours. Then mix in the goodies to your taste & chill again.

  27. This is my NANI MA place i.e. Maternal Grand mother i love sagar vv much,,,,it was long list of things to adore this place….

  28. You can also request a Genealogy Package to receive military records of soldiers from the Second World War (killed in action) Connie

  29. Hey nice to see this blog
    There is much to explore about the diversity of this culture and many more places with significant art forms.

    I invite you to visit this place again
    You will notice no change in its vintage frames..

    Check my blog – ” travelling sagar ”
    Also if you are still in touch check out this page on facebook ” Sagar explore ”

    – resident of sagar

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