Culinary finds from the Konkan for millennials
The go-to shop for kokum, faraal atta and hand-rolled papad is ready with a 2.0 version, thanks to new positioning and a YouTube channel that teaches you the secret to authentic Malvani curry
In 2008, Nayan Khadapkar took a trip to Vengurla in Sindhudurg to sell a family home and buy a piece of land. It was to be a quick trip, but she ended up staying for a few months. The connect she experienced with the women of her ancestral village wouldn't let her leave.
"They were eager to learn, and seeing the poverty they were battling, I wanted to empower them with a skill," says 67-year-old Nayan, who has been a political and social activist all her life, even serving jail time before the Emergency in 1974.
Nayan taught the women to make chips out of jackfruit, available in abundance and until then used to feed animals or as compost. When it was time to return to Mumbai, she identified a group with entrepreneur skills and encouraged them to send her products, so she could find a market for them in Mumbai.
Khalbatta (Mortar Pestle): For making chutney, curry paste. Made by the Vadar community of Alibaug
This is how Kokan Bazar was set up within Shiv Sena Bhavan at Shivaji Park, Dadar. It started with six products sourced from women along the Konkan belt. Today, Nayan speaks proudly of a range of over 50 products that see loyal customers visit her from as far as Vashi and Thane.
Nayan is now ready to let her son, Sanjay, and daughter-in-law Devika, take over. The couple are keen to expand the family's passion project to newer consumers and in the bargain, revive heirloom recipes for the next generation. This, through a YouTube channel that features a confident Nayan executing recipes for Malvani prawn curry, kolambi bhat and kombdi vade. They have also launched an Instagram handle to take the story to the Maharashtrian youth. "It took us three years to convince mom to let us make this a more profitable business without losing the essence of what she achieved over 19 years," Sanjay, 35, says.
Jata (Hand Mill): To grind grains
Next week, the store will sport a new look and fresh packaging for its products. "The flours we sell, are all slow ground on a much lower RPM than the industry benchmark, to retain the nutrition and taste of grains," he shares. The rest of the product range includes hand-pounded spices, curry mixes and red rice grain and poha, ragi pasta, chia seeds from the North East; sorghum flakes from the Western Ghats, cashew and dried fish from Vengurla, organic jaggery from Aatara. They also have an interesting line of kitchen wear, including betel leaf plates and cutlery from Alibaug, cast-iron cookware from Sindhudurg, and wooden toys from Sawantwadi.
Nayan decided to set up a workshop in Lonavala, where all the flours and spices are ground. "We decided we'd grind our own spices and grains sourced from the Konkan to retain top quality. I was worried about losing this legacy, and wondered how it would carry on the after me. I am glad the kids are with me on this one," Nayan says.
Cast iron appe makers: Pre-seasoned, sourced from Sindhudurg
When Sanjay and Devika decided to analyse why the business was not profitable, they realised that procurement cost for most products was higher than other commodity brands. "I asked mom why our papads were expensive. They are hand rolled and made without machine cutting. That's when I realised that we are a niche segment, a lifestyle product platform, not a commodity platform," Sanjay explains.
They realised that raising the price by 30 per cent would need justification. "We have to tell the story, of how the grains are cleaned, pre-washed in the sun, dried, and roasted or slow ground," says Devika, clear that their products are for those who wish to make a change in lifestyle through food, but don't wish to pay a huge premium for it. She says, "We are keen that customers go back to their roots, eat the way their grandparents did."
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