Makai roti and sarson ka saag — a taste straight from Punjab’s mustard fields

Makai roti and sarson ka saag — a taste straight from Punjab’s mustard fields

Green and yellow mustard fields of Punjab find perfect reflection in this simple, yet iconic combination of ingredients
12 Oct, 2015

RAWALPINDI: If there was ever a dish that could capture the essence of Punjab it has to be the most traditional of combinations: makai ki roti and sarson ka saag.

The green and yellow mustard fields of Punjab find a perfect reflection in this simple, yet iconic combination of ingredients.

Cooked into a smooth, thick paste and topped with white home-churned butter, a plate of saag is incomplete if not accompanied by a thick, yellow-coloured roti made of corn flour.

A popular item across the subcontinent, the dish is especially sought after in winter months and many local eateries begin to offer this dish. It can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

A woman makes the pera for the roti. — Photo by Khurram Amin
A woman makes the pera for the roti. — Photo by Khurram Amin

While the use of spinach leaves to prepare saag means that it can be made all year round, mustard leaf saag is still the preferred choice of people from central Punjab.

Mustard and spinach leaves are married with local herbs and cooked in a traditional base of onions, garlic, ginger and spices to taste.

Makai ki roti and sarson ka saag is a traditional favourite of any Punjabi household

The saag is slow cooked on a low flame for several hours, then pressed with a wooden spoon or whisk and mashed, and corn flour is added to give it a creamy consistency. Once the paste is ready, butter or desi ghee is poured on top and the dish is served with a generous dallop of butter on the side.

In the Potohar region, though the ingredients are the same, people prefer to simply boil and cook their saag.

However, the way the makai ki roti is made is the same in both Potohar and central Punjab.

In Rawalpindi, this popular item can be found at the Kartarpura food street, Bhabra Bazaar, College Road, Shamsabad Food Street and some other areas.

The roti is cooked on low flame. — Photo by Khurram Amin
The roti is cooked on low flame. — Photo by Khurram Amin

“Sarson (mustard) arrive in the market in winter, but we brought ours from Nathia Gali in the off-season to make and serve saag. We follow the traditional Punjabi recipe,” said Naseem Khan, who runs a roadside stall on main College Road.

She told Dawn that most people would place orders with her in advance and would mostly take the food home to eat.

“I use a traditional recipe. I start my day early in the morning and keep working until late at night,” she said.

Ms Khan was forced to earn a living for herself when her husband was bedridden by a debilitating disease in 1996. She has now been running the stall for 21 years, making saag and makai ki roti to earn for her four daughters and three sons.

Mohammad Rizwan, who works at a stall selling makai ki roti and saag in Bhabra Bazaar, said that many people liked to have saag in the summer too.

“Makai ki roti is difficult to make at home so people prefer to buy it readymade,” he said.

Most people who liked saag, he said, came to his stall for Sunday lunch.

“We add spices as per the taste of the customer, as some people like spicy food and others prefer it lightly spiced. Everyone wants butter for the topping as well,” he said, adding that the makai ki roti is prepared in desi ghee.

Mohammad Javed, who lives in downtown Rawalpindi and is a regular customer of the saag stall on College Road, recounted the old Punjabi saying, “You will always find two food items in the house of every Punjabi: Saag and Karri.”

He said that with the passage of time, the younger generation had forgotten how to make saag and makai ki roti.

Published in Dawn, October 12th , 2015


Pawan Oct 12, 2015 10:39am
Wah! Muh wich paani aa gaya. :)
SAEED PK Oct 12, 2015 11:02am
Makai Roti no more, people like to have Paratha (Oily / Gee Roti) and Sarson ka Saag.
Junaid Oct 12, 2015 11:27am
Excellent food. We make this at home almost every week in season where we get fresh Sarson in USA. I pity those many people in Pakistan still believes and strongly believes that " You Can't make Any food good WITHOUT Meat " This is the best food that subcontinent vegetarians can bring....
Satt Oct 12, 2015 11:30am
Khao Makke di roti te sarso da sag,Bhool jao Gosht keema te Kabab.
Bupi Oct 12, 2015 11:59am
It's not of Punjab but whole of North Sub Continent and is loved by all over world due to its taste.
pardeep Oct 12, 2015 12:07pm
Being a punjabi I love it. Best eaten with loads of Ghee and fresh Radish and of course lassi.
pardeep Oct 12, 2015 12:17pm
You wont get this taste in any 5 star hotel. Best is cooked by a Mother in rural Punjab of India. It is best if both makki ki roti and sarson da saag are cooked on wood fire.
m singh Oct 12, 2015 12:25pm
O balle......!!!!!
Junaid Oct 12, 2015 12:44pm
@SAEED PK I think you are wrong. IF you try sarson with Makke Di roti with real white butter then you will never like roti made of wheat ..Trust me...
Goga Nalaik Oct 12, 2015 01:06pm
Let me take a long sigh: Hyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy .....................
shubs Oct 12, 2015 02:21pm
Do Pakistanis even understand what the "subcontinent" is? It consists of the ENTIRE country of India. Outside Pakistan and Punjab, and perhaps a handful of northern Indian states, who knows what makai and sarson are? Punjabis on both sides of the border have this ethnocentric view of the world which borders on comical.
Bahubali Oct 12, 2015 02:28pm
Best food in world. Most delicious nutrient and healthy meal . In northern India this is most popular combo. Especially grandmother cooks best saag in mostly family .
Dr Ahmad - Melbourne Oct 12, 2015 03:08pm
Now I miss Pakistan so much. Wish if saag and mukki roti was here too.
SAEED PK Oct 12, 2015 03:20pm
@Junaid Frankly speaking many of such difficult food items left behind, may be available in village life to some extent. In city life ladies prefer to make wheat roti (paratha of oil / ghee) as it is easy to prepare and wheat is available everywhere.
Shahzad Oct 12, 2015 03:58pm
Where is the recipe?
ariz Oct 12, 2015 04:59pm
come on guys, its not just Punjabis dish. I am pashtoon and we make it too at home. Go to peshawer and you will find it every where. Infact, when I was a kid, we use to go to Shahi Bagh(in peshawer) and to enjoy this beautiful dish. Not sure if it is available there anymore.
Tariq, Lahore Oct 12, 2015 06:11pm
After eating such classic desi (heavy) food please go far a 'marathon run' to keep your arteries flushed and waistlines in tune! Great now n again though!
Arvind Ajimal Oct 12, 2015 06:34pm
On the north-west Indian side if a young educated wife is hesitating in going through all the "mehnat" of cooking saag and baking the Makki rotis as there is definite skill because corn/maze dough when leveled into rotis with "Belan" keeps cracking and breaking, One can always drive along the highway and get best of Makki di roti and Saag. The season starts in November and stays till April. The best stuff is available in big dhabaas from Amritsar--Ambala to Sonipat i.e. enroute Punjab to Delhi and back.
SAEED PK Oct 13, 2015 10:28am
@Arvind Ajimal I am from Islamabad and my forefathers were from Sahowal Gurdaspur. My father used to tell that they eat Makai ki Roti and Sarsoon ka Saaj in village, prepared by grandmother. Nowadays all difficult dishes have been vanished by modern ladies or these are few, like makai ki roti, sarsoon ka saaj, filled vegetables (Karela filled, Tinda Filled, Bindi Filled, Bangen Ka Bartha etc.). All these items are time consuming so not remain regular dishes. However, Sarsoon Ka Saaj is still alive and people used to eat regularly in winter season.