Saoji on American platter: Nagpur couple spices up foodies’ lives in USA

Amar Ashok Jajoo | Sep 15, 2018 17:10

To USA, with love: Neeraj (L) and Swapna Sagdeo (R), who basically hail from Nagpur, are tickling food lovers' taste buds in America with Nagpur Saoji food.
To USA, with love: Neeraj (L) and Swapna Sagdeo (R), who basically hail from Nagpur, are tickling food lovers’ taste buds in America with Nagpur Saoji food.

Nagpurians are very sentimental when it comes to Saoji food just as the Lannisters are about paying their debts. Nagpurians, settled in any part of the world, can bond over Saoji cuisine instantly. Such is the love for Saoji that when Nagpurians get settled in different cities of India and other countries, they start to drool even at the mere thought of this cuisine. Well, we cannot say for the rest of the world, but Saoji food lovers in United States of America have a reason to rejoice. Two Nagpurians living in New Jersey, USA, for the last ten years, have started the venture – Nagpuri Saoji – through which they are satiating food lovers’ craving for Saoji food in the US. In an exclusive conversation with Nation Next, Swapna Sagdeo, who started Nagpuri Saoji with her husband Neeraj Sagdeo, speaks about the her venture Nagpuri Saoji, the reason behind starting the venture and tells us how exactly food lovers are responding to the spicy Saoji food in the US!

What made you start ‘Nagpuri Saoji’ in US?

We started ‘Nagpuri Saoji’ out of our own love and craving for Saoji food! While I am the owner of the business, it is because of my husband Neeraj Subhash Sagdeo, that we started this venture. Both of us were born and brought up in Nagpur and have been working in the US for over a decade now. Neeraj’s maternal uncle Advocate Alok Chaudhari and aunt Anuradha, who stay at Bajaj Nagar in Nagpur, being big time foodies, would often take us to places serving authentic Saoji food in Nagpur. Slowly, just as them, we developed an eternal love for Saoji cuisine and we would miss the authentic taste after shfting to US.

Over the years, we tried to recreate the taste here in the US for our own satisfaction. When some of our family members and friends from Baltimore and New Jersey would visit us, they would love the Saoji dishes prepared by us. They would often ask us to think of starting a Saoji food business is US. Neeraj and I started to think that, just like us, there may be many Nagpurians in US who crave for Saoji food and that’s when we seriously thought of starting a venture.

When did you start the venture? How difficult was it?

We started ‘Nagpuri Saoji’ in July 2016 but started serving food in September 2016. On July 4, 2016 (a US holiday), we started our Facebook page. We would often post pictures of Saoji food prepared by us on the page. People slowly started noticing and contacting us.

In September 2016, we decided to host a Saoji food backyard party for anyone interested. Our friends were really supportive of our idea. A group of die hard Saoji fans from New Jersey contacted us and wanted to attend the party. These were the folks, who would cook Saoji dishes all the time. We were informed that some of them even had a partnership of sorts with Kashinath Saoji in Nagpur. We realised what we were up against and decided to give our best.

Towards the end of the party, 45 people (more than half of them being total strangers to us) gave their stamp of approval to Saoji food cooked by us as authentic Saoji food. Delighted by the response, we decided to donate a part of our profits for the sake of farmers in India. Since then, we have been supporting various causes through our Saoji food business. Over the last two years, we have donated around 2000 $ to different NGOs.

Is ‘Nagpuri Saoji’ a proper restaurant or you just make Saoji food on special orders?

Due to my and Neeraj’s regular jobs, we only serve dishes made on order-to-order basis. As of now, we are happy with this business model. For us, maintaining the food taste and quality is more important than expanding. Having said that, over the last two years, we have been asked by many people to start a Saoji restaurant and we are considering the option now.  We are planning to set up a joint in New Jersey.

It takes different types of spices to prepare Saoji food. Where do you source these spices from?

We source all the raw material (spices) from stores in the US. We then prepare all the masala from scratch, in small batches, to maintain the freshness. We then prepare the recipe as per the orders we receive. This process ensures that the taste is always consistent.

Are all the customers of ‘Nagpuri Saoji’ from Nagpur? What kind of response have you got from non-Nagpurians?

Our customers are not limited to just Nagpurians; we have customers who hail from different parts of India. While non-Nagpurians enjoy Saoji food for being spicy and delicious at the same time, for Nagpurians, Saoji food brings back memories from their hometown. Our customers’ satisfaction make us push ourselves harder and work better. Sometimes, we do get to meet our customers face to face in some of the cookouts. A few months ago, we were in Washington DC for a cookout. A man who was visiting his kid in the US was also present during the cookout. After the lunch, the man stopped by and told us, “Aaj khoop diwasanni ghar cha jevan bhetla”. The happiness on his face was priceless! Our customers are our biggest supporters. They have helped us to perfect the authentic Saoji taste with their feedback.

What’s the response to Saoji food by Americans like?

Americans, who have tasted our food, find it unlike anything they have tasted before. They cannot figure out what spices are in the curry. While chilli powder is the obvious find, the complex taste of Saoji beats them. Needless to say, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Some of the American food lovers just love our Saoji food!

If you’re a Saoji food lover in United States of America, feel free to contact Nagpur Saoji to taste the delicious Saoji dishes prepared by them. Nagpuri Saoji can be contacted on: +1-856-626-1562. For more details, you can also visit: 

Happy eating! 🙂