Every region of the country boasts of one or two of its specialties as far as food is concerned. Chennai has its dosai and idli, Kolkatta has its rosogollas, Delhi has it's dahi bhalla and what not, Punjab of course has glamorized Sarso-ka-Saag and Makke-di-roti umpteen times via bollywood, Bombay has it's chaat thing going for it, Pune has it's wada pav, Indore has it's farsan, Hyderabad has its biryani, Kashmir has it's pulav, Gujarat has it's dhokla and basically an array of items which other regions have adopted, Rajasthan has daal bati...
The list is endless.
Nagpur has nothing. Well nothing, unless you have heard of Savji Chicken or Zhunka Bhakar. Now here's the thing though. Zhunka Bhakar can be claimed by all of Maharashtra. But i am going to argue it's very Nagpuri. The very "personality" of Zhunka Bhakar is Nagpuri. Now howz that?
Before we go further lets first establish something. A food dish is usually associated with the availability of resources around the region. So Punjab has sarso because it can grow sarso. Bombay became chaat heaven because it has been a very fast city since eons and the notion of chaat suited Mumbai's fast character. The food habit is built around the regions needs,convenience and resources.
Now, the region around Nagpur is suited for a few things including Jowar (or as they call in Marathi - jwaari). It also had chick peas (or besan) going for it. The region bordering Maharashtra and Andra Pradesh produces the chilliest of red chillies. And Nagpur happens to be close to that border. So the third and in my opinion the most important ancillary of Zhunka Bhakar, the "Thecha" also finds its way in here. In fact without thecha, Zhunka Bhakar would loose its most important ingredient( and also motivation for me to eat, personally).
The name Zhunka and Bhakar sound very Vidharbiya. You have strange names in this part of the world. And when someone calls something "zhunka", it's an open and shut case. It has to be from Nagpur area :)
So far so good. Now it's not something i should brag about though without applying a positive spin to the dish. For starters it's not "visible" on the Indian food radar. 99% people won't even know it exists. Yet for me its special. Leaving aside the nostalgia and memories it brings, i happen to love it immensely.
There are 4 things needed to build it. Red/Green chili, Besan (chick peas flour), Jwari and Onion. Thats all. If you have these four, you are good to go.
Now comes the tough part. The preparation. Actually it is not tough at all. And this is my wife's opinion who did not know much about this dish before marriage. She comes from a different eating culture. In fact before marriage, me and my wife belonged to two different planets as far as food habit was concerned. There was no overlap in our eating habits. Our culinary planes were skewed.
And if she says it's easy, than it is. Now here's the thing; although it is easy it needs dedication and fine skills in preparation. Meaning, a small amount of attention to detail can change the taste and aroma drastically. This notion can be argued for all dishes in the world, i guess.
Zhunka Bhakar is this region's fast food. Yet, it needs some amount of culinary skills to get it right. The right texture and softness is important. The color (for me) is very very important. I like a little reddish tinge to this yellow dish. And the Bhakar has to come out exactly right. Else it spoils the deal. It has to have those small tandoor like black puffed circles on the surface while still retaining it's greyish color. It should be "burnt" only so much so as not to loose it's essence of being a circular bread complementing the delicious Zhunka.
Now I am going to also argue that Thetcha happens to be one of the most important ingredient of this dish. If not the most. It completes the dish. Imagine this. You go to a village in Yeotmal district. You park your car at a road side hut. The female of the hut is baking circular Bhakars on a mud stove, while simultaneously blowing the fire of stove with a small wooden pipe. Parallely the cut onion Zhunka is being cooked on the side which is steaming and yellow in color.
As you start eating on the road side cot, Bhakars are being prepared at run-time and served. What would be the only thing missing? Thetcha. In few cases curd. The perfect antidote for Thetcha.
Wouldn't you be green with envy if i tell, i have experienced this version of Zhunka Bhakar at some point?