Almost every self-respecting Sindhi household has its own Rohu or carp recipe. But if you want the king of carp, go to Abdul Jabbar Mallah in Sanghar who has been making it as Fish Sajji for 20 years. They say Benazir Bhutto might have had a penchant for it.
“Bilawal House Karachi managers regularly took away sajji on many occasions during the days of Benazir Bhutto,” says Jabbar. He is only too pleased to talk about his customers. “Last year, the during election campaign, when Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Jam Goth, sajji was part of the reception.” Recently, when former president Asif Zardari visited Badin, Jabbar was invited to cook there. He was also working behind the scenes at the reception in Badin given to former premier Nawaz Sharif.
Sanghar is famous for the freshwater Rohu, locally known as Kuriro, that is farmed from Chotiari Dam. Sajji is a way of roasting that is equally applied to chicken, as in the Baloch tradition.
People eat fish sajji all year round, but most people make an event out of it in winter, an excuse to enjoy its smoky taste. It is usually on the menu at gatherings and at political receptions. And when this is the case, Jabbar is inevitably asked to come with his culinary skills.
His secret? Two and a half hours of hard work. He takes a three- to four-kilo Rahu piece and marinates in spices before roasting it over wood and coal. An eight-spice mix is used: chaat masala, fish masala, white cumin, cardamom, black pepper, coriander, methi and garlic.
Once the sajji is roasted, he uses Imli ki Chutney or tamarind chutney for some extra kick.
His fish sajji is popular across Pakistan but he also has clients in some Middle East countries as Pakistanis work there. Muhammad Malook Liskani, for example, travelled 45 km to Sanghar from Nauabad to organize a special party as his guests from Karachi had all asked for sajji.
“My guests have tasted sajji before but they insisted on it again,” he said. “We even send it as a gift.”