Wearing Warli while wholeheartedly wolfing a wonderful Waradhi thali at the Waghoba Eco Lodge.
I am sure you will excuse this wild effort at alliteration (and also the use of W instead of V for Varadhi 😉), after you see the spread that I have presented below for you, courtesy the innovative Chef Ark and his enthusiastic team at the Waghoba Eco Lodge.
Also, I specifically took the trouble of carrying a Warli art printed kurta because that was the only pattern that I possessed which was ‘Maharashtrian’, even though Warli prints belong to another region of Maharashtra and not the Vidharba region where we were😏
So let us explore the food at Waghoba Eco Lodge, which is served in the cutest ever tiger themed plates that I have ever seen. In fact I must say, they are just paw’some. Want to know why? Well then, simply read on 😋
About Chef Ark –
A highly skilled and equally humble person, Chef Ark Bagchi heads the operations at the lodge. An alumnus of IIHM Kolkata, he also has a degree in Travel and Tourism.
He has worked globally for well known restaurants in New Zealand, USA, Jamaica, Cuba, Mexico, Nepal, Bhutan etc before coming back to India. He is also an avid gardener and has his own little exotic kitchen garden for which he sources seeds from the world over.
Chef is ably assisted by his enthusiastic team, many of whom have been employed from the surrounding localities. It is extremely pleasant to interact with the affable chef whose passion for his craft is palpable and infectious. I had many interesting sessions with him, learning about their food philosophies and ideologies and listening to his engrossing anecdotes.
The local cuisine –
The prominent cuisines of the Vidharbha region are the Saoji and Varhadi. While Saoji food is characterized by high levels of spice and fats, Varhadi is said to be a more toned down and milder cuisine and a suitably modified version of this is served at the lodge. There is also the generic Maharashtrian cuisine.
Timings of breakfast lunch dinner –
Breakfast is served from 8 am – 10 am but guests going on safari have their hamper packed.
Lunch is served from 12.30 pm to 2.30 pm but those who are going on the evening safari have to finish eating before departure time.
Dinner is served from 7.30 pm – 10 pm. For the guests going on the night safari, the logistics are altered accordingly.
The meals –
The food is mainly served in the dining hall which can accommodate 40 people at their beautiful Sagwan (teak) wood tables. The evening starters are at the lounge and on occasion, al fresco dinners are also set up at the deck area and by the poolside with a possible barbeque and bonfire.
At the lodge they serve both local as well as global cuisine and they adhere to the principles of preparing the food using only the freshest of produce. Also, there is minimal usage of refined ingredients, the dishes are untainted by artificial additives or flavors or packaged foods and as far as possible, locally sourced ingredients are used in the kitchen.
Special food requirements in case of food allergies, gluten free meals etc are also taken into consideration and meals are suitably customized on prior intimation.
At the in-house breakfast, there is a combination of a fixed menu and other varying options. There are usually some local snacks like Jowar cheela, sabudana khichdi, poha, kothimbir vadi, batata vada, beverages etc, along with in-house Viennoiserie (breakfast pastries), eggs to order, cereal, fruit, juices and all the usual paraphernalia.
Likewise, the takeaway safari meal again has some local dish along with the usual cookies, muffins, eggs, fruit, juices, beverages etc.
Diksha the young pastry chef whips up quite a few delicious sweet and savory pastries. Hailing from the local region and with no relevant background whatsoever, she is a great example of how Pugdundee provides successful and sustainable training and employment to the locals. Though this is her first job, the opportunity made her discover her passion for baking and the in-house tutoring has now made her an expert and innovative baker.
At lunch they follow a Thali system where the cuisine of the day is pre plated and served. Remember that paw’some stuff which I spoke earlier about? Well the meal is served on a large metal thali (plate) which is etched with the cutest ever tiger paw marks, just like the ones that lead from the entrance to the dining hall 😊 I was as besotted by these plates or Paw’lates, as I was with the food.
Since guests are here usually for a duration of 2-3 days, these thalis are cyclically served so as to not repeat the same ones for the same guests.
Hyderabadi, Rajasthani, Maharashtrian, Varhadi etc are the various thalis that are served cyclically at lunch.
Desserts are interesting with the main sweet usually accompanied by delightful flavors of hand churned ice creams like chocolate, lime, saffron, thandai etc.
I was there at 3 lunches and was served the following each day –
Hyderabadi thali – Mutton korma, mutton biryani, Hyderabadi style vegetable, burhani raitha, plain salan, bittergourd fritters, green salad, homemade cucumber pickle, papad and multigrain roti. And Millet burfi and thandai ice cream for dessert.
The veg thali has veg biryani and a veg side dish.
Maharashtrian thali –
Varadhi thali – This hyper local meal had Garlic chutney powder, carrot onion kosimbir (salad), patodi rassa, kadi, dahi mutton, batata bhindi bhaji, jowar papad, multigrain roti, rice. Veg option had dahi paneer.
Patodi rassa is a very local dish in this region. It basically is a gravy containing patodi. Patodi is a dish of cooked besan (chickpea flour) which is patted into a flattish cake on a ‘pat’ which means mat. The cake is then sliced into pieces and dropped into the gravy (rassa).
Dessert was chocolate ice cream with fried modak.
I loved the garlic chutney so much, that chef packed some for me to take. See how I styled it at home 😀
Most veg thalis have the ubiquitous paneer, which is the demand from most Indian guests.
Apart from these regular meals, the highlight for me was the fabulous crispy snack made from freshly plucked zucchini flowers. Want to know how that came about? Well then you must read about my organic garden visit in the next segment on Things to do at Waghoba Eco Lodge 😀
Dinner usually begins with starters served at the lounge while the guests are relaxing or watching a documentary or playing indoor games. There are normally 2 vegetarian and 2 non veg snacks.
For the mains, they usually serve Asian, Chinese, Continental, fusion or even some other regional Indian food like Bengali, Punjabi etc. This is served at the dining hall and is a sit down meal with table service, unlike the pre set thali lunch.
Of course there are delectable desserts too.
On occasion, Al fresco dinner arrangements can also be made in the deck area or by the poolside, sometimes with barbeque and bonfire.
Teatime – Apart from the standard meals, if guests are around at teatime, then there is a local snack or cookies or cakes along with tea or coffee.
We shamelessly requested for kothimbir vadi and sabu dana khichdi, which they promptly obliged with.
The entire dining experience was a warm and pleasant one and the care, attention, pampering and pandering to my every wish and of course the flavor of the delicious food, will remain in my memory forever.
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.
Dec 2nd – Dec 5th, 2022