So, who goes to a jungle lodge and focuses as enthusiastically on the food as on the wildlife? Foodies like me of course, for whom seeking out local fare with my palate is as critical as hunting down wildlife with my camera 😀
At Pench Tree Lodge, my efforts were richly rewarded as the chef demystified the baffling Bafla, the beany Barbatti, the palatable Palash and the marvelous Mahua, apart from all the other gems from their very own organic garden.
Join me at the table and partake of newly harvested offerings, as fresh and pristine as the jungle that they grow within.
The cuisine is well crafted to suit a range of palates and I was so delighted with it that I am going to give it its very own story.
At Pench Tree Lodge most of the meals are served at the centrally located dining area which is a cheery, bright and beautiful space adjacent to the swimming pool.
Also once in 3-4 days, there is a special barbecue dinner set up in the organic farm.
Food is not permitted in the rooms and hence there is no In-Room Dining service either.
The meal plans are according to what one has opted for at the time of reservation.
The cuisine –
Chef Pankaj Fuleria is in charge of the kitchen here and he is a wonderful, friendly person. With my eagerness to learn and his enthusiasm to discuss the cuisine, we hit it off really well and he spent a generous amount of time with me, explaining all about their views and innovative ideas.
The cuisine is a gentle mix of Indian and continental and skillfully manages to suit a range of palates. Local dishes and ingredients of Madhya Pradesh also figure, like corn based dishes, millets, a local bean called barbatti, green garlic etc.
The food is traditional but with a few personal touches and twists and also some exotic creations from certain seasonal elements like custard apple and mahua and palash flowers which the chef has experimented successfully with.
The basic concept is that only fresh ingredients are used in the cooking. And when they say fresh they mean literally off the plant. Most of their produce is home grown in their flourishing organic farm and maybe about 20% is procured from the surrounding villages, thus minimizing the carbon footprint greatly. One can even choose to go and harvest vegetables of choice and have them cooked. The thrill of doing that is similar to that of spotting a tiger 😀
Healthy, whole grain, free from all artificial colors and flavors, home made etc are some of the features of their food.
Almost all their pickles, jams, sauces, chutneys etc are made fresh and they minimize the use of ready to use masalas and condiments.
Even their cookies, pastries and packed safari meals are made from corn, millets and other whole grains.
Typical meals –
In a bid to reduce wastage, food is not served on buffet counters but to guests at individual tables where one can take exactly how much one needs.
Breakfast usually offers a range of items like muesli, eggs to order, fruit, fresh juice, in-house whole grain pastries and breads and an Indian local dish like Poha (savory beaten rice), paratha etc.
Lunch is a fixed menu where the dishes vary every day. A fresh garden salad, dal, a non veg dish, a couple of veg items, rice/roti and dessert. The meal is wholesome and truly flavorful.
Dinner begins with a few veg and non veg starters which are then followed by a substantial meal of soup, veg and non veg dishes, light and airy Indian breads, rice and dessert.
The ‘farm’ barbecue – once in 3 days they serve a rustic style dinner at the organic farm in a magical setting that is modelled on a typical local village home, complete with traditional embellishments, bonfires, lanterns, live cooking stations etc. Guests who are here for a longer duration are sure to partake of at least one such meal.
The restaurant –
The dining space is a very daintily done up place which can seat guests indoors on large community tables and also al fresco by the swimming pool.
Being Mowgli country as mentioned in this post, vignettes of The Jungle Book line the walls as a reminder of the earlier fictional inhabitant of this region.
Local handicrafts, portraits of Gond tribes, artistic distressed wood furniture, stone candle holders and other artefacts adorn the indoor space.
There is individual service at each table and the chef usually interacts with the diners at each meal. Also taking feedback from those who have opinions, he keeps the menu sufficiently flexible in order to accommodate requests for certain items if available.
My meals –
Not having found much data on their website regarding their cuisine, I was curious to know what I could expect. Hence I had detailed interactions with Chef Pankaj who was kind enough to indulge me with a few special dishes for my hungry camera. One of these was the Dal bafla, which is a boiled and baked variant of the Dal baati and was served with Panchmel dal, ghee and a tomato relish to die for.
I was unfortunate to be there when the mahua and palash were not in season and the chef’s stories of the desserts, bakes, ice creams, drinks etc that he made out of these, made me really long to go back again. The season is during mid March to May so plan accordingly if you want to experience them … and bring some back for me 😀
The meals that I had are best visualized in the pictures below. My favorites were many but I still dream of the mind blowing green garlic relish/chutney that accompanied some of the starters.
And as if all this feasting was not enough, when I left the resort, Chef Pankaj insisted that I take some of the special multi grain cookies with me, which kept me company on my journey to Nagpur 🙂
Please Note – This trip was made in collaboration with Pugdundee Safaris. The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.
This itinerary was specially curated hence some of the features might have been personalized accordingly. Before booking, please check the facilities offered in your package.
Feb 12th – 15th, 2020