Everyone loves a good grandmother. Especially when she’s rolling out parathas softer than anything you’ll eat, and her mutton curry makes you weak in the knees like no wink-and-nod from Ranbir Kapoor (or Jennifer Lawrence) can. Every family has degchi-wielding mummies, aunties, a female relative, or kitchen-savvy uncle or daddy. It is no secret that our love for food is developed in the kitchens of our early years as we swarmed together to forge a sense of family.
Even food professionals know this. And a growing breed of them are working out ways to serve the same homestyle recipes at their commecial restaurants without
sacrificing taste or profit.
Bandra West is arguably one of the country’s hippest eat-out zones. Here, tequila-soaked cupcakes are sold next to New York-style deli food, sushi and Mangalorean prawn curry are gobbled up a block from each other. And smack in the middle of it all, Jumjoji (Gujarati for ‘Let’s go eat’) is turning the commercial kitchen recipe on its head. Owner Boman Irani’s menu has dishes sourced from his Parsi kin. Munch on Piroja Irani’s chicken sticks alongside Freni Aunty’s mutton dhansak (a recipe that Freni Aunty discovered in her great grandmother’s belongings in 1954) and Zenobia Zorabian’s lagan nu custard.
In Delhi, Kashmiri Kitchen began as a takeaway joint run by former PR professional Pearl Khan and her mother and now serves close to 80 meals on weekends. "We use ingredients sourced from Kashmir, and stick to the original recipes," says Pearl Khan. It means a lot more hard work in the kitchen than in a regular restaurant. For dishes like goshtaba and rista, Khan needs to procure only freshly slaughtered goat, because the recipes do not allow for more than an hour to lapse between slaughter and for pestle-wielding Wazas (cooks) to begin hand-pounding the mutton. The pounding carries on for two hours, and the cooking process that follows takes another two. Even vegetarian dishes like veth chaman require two hours to prep the tomatoes: boiling, peeling, crushing and then frying. Khan balks at the thought of using restaurant-style short cuts like sauces or purees.
At Pune’s 96K, owner Rahul Mhaske draws on the culinary legacies of a Konkani mother and Ahmednagari father to ensure his state’s food isn’t limited to vada paos and thalis. On the menu is the hard-to-find khara mutton (goat pickle) and masoor amtis made homestyle with kopra and onion masala. Most vegetable dishes and usals have the peanut base, offering a tinge of sweetness.
He and his wife Radha started off by serving their home-cooked food to friends and family at their Wagholi farmhouse before going commercial. "Initially, I found it difficult," admits Radha, a former architect who manages the buzzing kitchen. "But now, we have standardised our recipes without compromising on authenticity." She claims that all the masalas are made fresh, every day, and that all cooks are personally trained by her.
Serving up, scaling up
Homestyle cuisine is often associated with small restaurants or mom-and-pop eateries. Adapting the eccentricities and traditions of ghar ka khaana to a commercial kitchen is often viewed as hara-kiri. That, however, doesn’t stop talented chefs and entrepreneurs from doing it; and doing it right. One of the recent success stories is Zambar, which serves dishes from our South Indian states. After two restaurants in Delhi, which see a handsome average of 2,500 to 3,000 covers a month, they run two more in Pune, which get 60 per cent of that traffic.
Chef Arun Kumar recalls first walking into the Zambar kitchen and feeling “petrified” at the idea translating what he cooked at home, into such a large scale. Despite having no background in commercial operations, it turned out to be much easier than he thought. “After all, the traditional ‘tharavad’ houses of Kerala and the ‘chettiyar’ mansions of Tamil Nadu catered to 50-60 people on a daily meal basis, if not more,” he points out. “More than the numbers, it is the method and the method remains the same, whether for two or 200.”
Uttam Reddy’s Hyderabad chain Rayalaseema Ruchulu serves Amma-style ragi sankati (ragi balls), chapala pulusu (fish curry), gongura mamsam (mutton curry) and jonna (jowar) roti from Andhra’s Rayalaseema region.
Mumbai restaurateur, Riyaaz Amlani and his team are on the cusp of launching Gypsy Kitchen, a recipe conservation project. “The goal is to identify mothers and aunties who are guardians of homestyle cooking, and document their cooking processes and recipes,” he says. He genuinely feels that more people, especially the young, are now interested in eating home food – both their own and that of other regions.
On the menu: memories
Whether they’re unassuming eateries or swanky spaces with ambitious expansion plans, these restaurants are driven by the desire to celebrate homestyle regional cuisines, many of which would otherwise be lost forever. Suzette Martin of Goa’s Mum’s Kitchen is passionate about conserving Portuguese-Catholic and Hindu Saraswat Goan cuisine. “A commercial kitchen is different from a home kitchen,” she admits. “But we work hard at maintaining the consistency and taste of original recipes from mothers across the state.” Apart from delicacies like samabarachi kodi (coconut prawn curry with dried salted mangoes), Martin has a secret up her sleeve. It’s a pork dish she makes only on order, because it needs two days’ notice. “I don’t want to name the dish,” she says slyly. “Or many people will ask me to make it and I wouldn’t like to disappoint them.”
Like Martin, Chef Naren Thimmaiah of Bangalore’s Karavalli restaurant at the Taj Gateway, has special off-menu recipes. These include koovale puttu (steamed jackfruit and coconut cake in a seasonal Coorgi leaf called koovale) and kaad maange curry (wild mangoes with jaggery and spices). “We keep updating ourselves by digging into the region we represent – the southwest coast and hinterland – and learn dishes from the communities not represented earlier like the Konkanis of Mangalore, Syrian Christians of Travancore or Havyaka Brahmins of Vitla,” Thimmaiah says. The recipe for Karavalli’s signature dish, koli barthad (Coorg fried chicken), actually comes from Thimmaiah’s own mother.
My mommy versus yours
The flip side of serving warm and fuzzy homestyle food is that you’ll always compare it to the warm, fuzzy food from your own home and find the restaurant version sometimes lacking. “Comparisons are inevitable,” admits Kumar. “But that helps us through interactions to modify and rectify whenever necessary. We actually reach out to these homes, moms to figure out what is ‘better.’” While Martin claims that her collection of mums’ recipes are 95 per cent accurate, Kumar says even 100 per cent accuracy is possible in restaurant.
But Khan admits that some variations are inevitable. Wazwan is cooked over a wood fire in the outdoors, which is not possible in a commercial kitchen, especially a tiny one.
Despite such restrictions, restaurateurs are now establishing themselves as custodians of home-style cooking, adding their personal touches to tradition. You may be welcomed with traditional jaggery and water at Karavalli or get a wine list to go with your mutton-bhakri at 96K. But you’ll definitely go back for more heartwarming khaana.
Feel at home here
Konkan Café (Food from the Konkan, Karnataka and Kerala)
Mangoes (Mangalorean and Goan food)
Jumjoji (Parsi food)
Mi Maratha (Food from Maharashtra)
Purepur Kohlapur (Food from Maharashtra)
96K (Food from Maharashtra)
Bow Barracks (Anglo-Indian food)
Karavalli (Food from the south western coastal)
Potbelly (Food from Bihar)
Kashmiri Kitchen (Food from Kashmir)
Bamboo Hut (Food from Nagaland)
Yeti (Himalayan food)
From HT Brunch, August 25
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