Five food entrepreneurs reviving regional cuisines

Preserving culinary heritage requires sourcing the original recipes, cooking techniques, and historical information about a cuisine. Here are five entrepreneurs who took on the challenges and made a profitable business by reviving their regional cuisine 

Rashmi Pratap and Partho Burman
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Five food entrepreneurs reviving regional cuisines

Five food entrepreneurs reviving regional cuisines

If there’s something that we all need daily besides oxygen and water, it is food. Food is nourishing, therapeutic, and medicinal and affects our mood. Every state and region in India has its traditional cuisine distinct from others. 

Most of the regional cuisines use local and seasonal ingredients and are healthy and flavorful. One of the fallouts of rapid urbanisation is the standardization of food habits. Today, food spread in most urban households across India would be similar. 

Due to the paucity of time, unavailability of many ingredients, and dying down of traditional recipes, food habits are losing regional distinctions. 

Amid all this, some entrepreneurs are working towards reviving their regional cuisines and popularising them among the younger generation. 

It is not an easy task. Preserving culinary heritage requires sourcing the original recipes, cooking techniques, and historical information apart from stories around the cuisine. 

The first challenge for them is to source the traditional and original recipes (if they have not been lost already) and the second is to find the right ingredients and cooking utensils. The third is to present the cuisine to make it appealing to the people. And the fourth is to make the business model work by pricing and presenting it right.

From housewives to software engineers and social workers to advertising professionals, a diverse group of people are working towards restoring the glory of cuisines of yore. Here are five food entrepreneurs reviving cuisines specific to certain regions of India:

1. Himanshu Sud: Himachali cuisine   

It was in 2009 that Himanshu Sud quit IT giant Wipro, where he was working as a software engineer. He had explored various cuisines and decided to set up his Wake and Bake Café in Shimla. It opened in November 2011, serving French and Italian food in an informal setting. 

“But the majority of visitors asked me: Where can we experience the authentic cuisine of Himachal?” Himanshu says. 

So in 2014, the food entrepreneur decided to start his second restaurant -- Himachali Rasoi – for reviving and preserving Himachal Pradesh’s traditional authentic cuisine.

Himachali Rasoi: How a software engineer is reviving the traditional cuisine of Himachal Pradesh
Traditionally, Himachali Dham is prepared only by Boti Brahmins. Pic: Himachali Rasoi

The cornerstone of Himachali cuisine is Dham, which is first offered to the Goddess and comprises mah ki dal or black urad dal, chana dal (split Bengal gram), chane ka khatta (made using whole black gram and spices), yoghurt-based chickpeas madra, kadhi, rice and boondi (tiny gram flour balls, fried and soaked in sugar syrup and mixed with nuts). 

It is prepared only by Boti Brahmins, who have preserved the secret recipes of the dham for centuries and have passed them on to their younger generations by word of mouth. 

To master the traditional recipes, Himanshu began travelling with the Botis to various parts of Himachal where they went to cook. 

Today, Himachali Rasoi is synonymous with Himachali cuisine and is visited by almost every tourist to Shimla. 

More here: Himachali Rasoi: How a software engineer is reviving the traditional cuisine of Himachal Pradesh

2. Anuradha Joshi Medhora, Royal Malwani cuisine

Growing up in Indore, Anuradha inherited her love for food and cooking from both her maternal and paternal families. However, she studied business and not culinary arts though she was always passionate about cooking. Before starting Charoli, she worked in an ad agency and was also involved in her family’s garment business.

“The transition from business to Charoli was organic because I would cook for friends over the weekend. And that food was not commonly available. My husband suggested I do Malwa royal cuisine pop-ups,” she says.

White maharani spread
Malwa's royal White Maharani Christmas spread. Pic: Charoli

One thing led to another and today, her Mumbai-based cloud kitchen Charoli recreates traditional recipes from the royal kitchens of Malwa. From Murgi ki Kadhi to Gulab ki Kheer, Charoli has resurrected a dying cuisine which has Rajput, Maratha and Persian influences. Her venture has been profitable from day one. 

Here’s more: How this advertising professional-turned-chef is reviving the royal cuisine of Malwa

3. Manzilat Fatima, Awadhi cuisine

Manzilat Fatima, the descendant of Awadh’s last Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, is mainstreaming the royal Awadhi cuisine through her eponymous restaurant in Kolkata. The cuisine travelled from Awadh (present-day Lucknow) to West Bengal after the Nawab was dethroned and spent the rest of his life at Metiabruz, then a suburb of Kolkata.

The art of cooking has been passed down to Manzilat by her mother Begum Mamlikat Badr, who learned it from her grandmother Farrukh Ara Mehdi Begum, Meher Qadr's wife. Meher was born to Birjis Qadr, the eldest son of Wajid Ali Shah. 

Manzilat, who is a qualified lawyer, uses 167-year-old recipes to keep alive the Awadhi culinary heritage which includes chicken lazeez shami kababs, Kolkata shahi mutton biryani, mutton Awadhi gilauti kabab and a range of pulaos, gravies and desserts. 

awadhi cuisine dishes
Some items from Awadi cuisine. Pic: Manzilat

Manzilat is a profitable venture earning Rs35 lakh in annual revenues. Customers have to make bookings in advance and walk-ins are not accommodated at the restaurant. 

More on Manzilat here: Manzilat: The food entrepreneur keeping alive Nawab Wajid Ali Shah’s culinary legacy

4. Aruna Tirkey, Jharkhand’s tribal cuisine 

Aruna's restaurant Ajam Emba in Ranchi serves the state’s traditional tribal food, keeping alive one of the oldest human concepts - living in harmony with nature.

The idea of Ajam Emba was born when Aruna Tirkey, 47, a member of the Oraon community, won the first prize for tribal cuisine in a cooking competition organised to commemorate International Indigenous Day. This motivated her to revive tribal cuisine by popularising it through a restaurant.

Some of the unusual local food items that find a place in the Ajam Emba menu are ghonghi (local snails), jirhul and kudrum (both wildflowers), phutkal (a leafy green), mutton handi, and getu (a boneless freshwater fish). 

From ragi momos to snails, how tribal food is becoming the ambassador for Jharkhand’s indigenous culture
Handi mutton with khapra roti (thick rice crepes made without oil). Pic: Ajam Emba

These foods also have high nutritive value. Food is served in earthenware and donas (leaf plates) made of Sal leaves. The Sal leaves, which hold spiritual importance, are also used for storing herbs and dried leaves. Aruna is keeping the culture thriving at Ajam Emba as she celebrates different tribal festivals along with the staff members and customers. The restaurant also hosts foreign tourists regularly.

Ajam Emba’s detailed story here: From ragi momos to snails, how tribal food is becoming the ambassador for Jharkhand’s indigenous culture

5. Sumitra Kalapatapu, Andhra Brahmin Cuisine

This 60-year-old food entrepreneur is popularizing the little-known but extremely rich and versatile Andhra (or Telugu) Brahmin cuisine.

Her journey began when a food blogger she met at a wedding in 2014 suggested that she host a dine-in at home with the Andhra Brahmin cuisine, which was not to be found anywhere in Bengaluru where she lives. One dine-in led to another and she has hosted over 700 curated experiences so far. She is also an Andhra Brahmin food consultant for some restaurants and curates pop-ups for star hotels.

How home chef Sumitra Kalapatapu is popularising the little-known Andhra Brahmin cuisine
A traditional Andhra Brahmin food spread. Pic: Sumitra Kalapatapu

“Most people are under the impression that Andhra food is biryani and only non-vegetarian,” she says. But contrary to common perception, Andhra cuisine involves a lot of vegetables. 

"And if you see the actual Andhra Brahmin cuisine from West Godavari district, there is no use of garlic and onions at all,” she says.

Three distinctive characteristics of the Andhra Brahmin cuisine are the heavy use of chillies (both green and red), tamarind and mustard paste (ava pettina). Sumitra is now planning to write a book to save the recipes for posterity.

Read more here: How Sumitra Kalapatapu is popularising the little-known Andhra Brahmin cuisine

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