Away from the hustle of Mumbai, shopkeepers pull down their shutters in Agashi, Virar, for a siesta. One shop, however, remains open. “Customers come to us from many parts of the city throughout the day and we cannot afford to lose business. We work round the clock,” says 31-year-old Chirag Gawad, third-generation owner of Agashi Bhujing Center.
The aroma of roasted chicken and spices lingers inside the shop, which mainly offers a takeaway service. It serves bhujing, a unique combination of roasted meat and poha. “Bhujing was invented by my grandfather, Babu Hari, back in the 1940s. He used to sell tadi (palm wine), and his customers asked him to introduce finger food to have with the drink,” says Chirag.The dish began as an experiment with roasted mutton — to it, Babu Hari added spices and poha, the latter to soak up the oil. Thus was made bhujing, derived from the Marathi word, bhujne, which means roasting.
“Initially, we served mutton but today people consume less red meat and so chicken bhujing was introduced,” says Chirag, whose 75-year-old uncle, Sudhakar Gawad, took over the business from Babu Hari, expanding it to a shop.
The family is secretive about the masala that goes into the bhujing. They are also wary of their workers stealing the recipe, something that has happened before. “Many people have tried copying it but without success. We are now very careful as to who we allow in the kitchen,” says Sudhakar.
The recipe has remained unchanged with just the production getting modernised. “We now use a mixer and grinder,” says Chirag, “The chicken and potatoes are first marinated, after which they are skewered and roasted in an open tandoor. We then add our masala and poha and mix it all up. This continues until we meet the demand for the day.”
The shop does not offer menu cards, nor does it serve customers by the plate. “We offer six items and they are all served per kilo. Usually three to four people polish off half a kilo or even one,” says Chirag. The items offered are chicken bhujing, mutton bhujing, chicken boneless bhujing and chicken special bhujing. The chicken and mutton items are also offered with a gravy. The shop makes 200 kg of bhujing on an average every day.
Chirag changed very little when he took over. “I focused on setting up a website for the shop and started exporting the product instead. I have orders going to Dubai almost daily and I recently sent an order to New York! The item was shipped on a Monday and the family had the bhujing for lunch on Wednesday,” he says.
Festival times are busy at the shop. “When people from this area visit their relatives, they are expected to take bhujing and not sweets,” says Sudhakar, “Our bhujing is known as Agashi ki Mithai.”
Bhujing fans are everywhere; Sharad Pawar, president of the Nationalist Congress Party, is a regular customer. “My grandfather passed away before I was born but I am sure he would be proud of what we have achieved with his invention,” says Chirag.
This article appeared in print with the headline ‘The Bhujing Effect’