Monday, September 14, 2015

Everything Yummy About It

Nandini Das' idea of providing homemade food, through yummykitchens, has struck a chord among busy professionals in Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram 

One day, a man called Nandini Das, and said, “Maam, I am calling from the Kochi International Airport. My name is George Brody. I live in the US. My wife came across your website, [] and we are impressed. We need breakfast and lunch for the one-and-a-half months we will be in Kochi.”

And that is how Nandini began providing meals to Brody, a chairman of an IT company. Her USP is simple: she provides home-made food made by ordinary housewives who have a passion for cooking.

So, if you want Punjabi food, it will be made by a Punjabi homemaker. The same is the case for Malayali, Gujarati, Jain and other types of cuisine.
Among her collaborators is Geetha Shenoy, a retired Assistant General Manager of a nationalised bank. “I love cooking,” she says. “And it keeps me engaged.”

Nandini has told her eight-member team that the only way people will come back is if quality is maintained. “Thus far, we have 90 per cent repeat customers,” she says.

Her initial target was the IT crowd. She felt that since both husband and wife are working, they would like to eat home-made food. “But now most of the calls are from elderly couples, whose children are living abroad,” says Nandini.

Another group is the floating population of North Indians who have come to Kochi on transferable jobs. “After a while, they crave north Indian food,” says Nandini. “They like dal thadka, vegetables, paneer, and chicken tikka.”

One fan is online writer Sindhu Deepak. “The charm of the dishes is that it feels like food prepared in our own kitchen,” she says. “There is less oil and flavouring.”

Nandini also has an irresistible one-liner which makes it difficult for customers, especially working women, to say no. “I always tell them that having my food is cheaper than paying a maid,” she says. Indeed, the prices range from Rs 50 to a maximum of Rs 145.

So far, she has a menu of 120 dishes. One of the popular items is a Konkani sweet dish called the Jambul. “It is made of semolina,” says Nandini. “This is cooked in a mixture of milk, water and sugar. Following that, it is ghee-fried. Then it is coated in sugar syrup, with sprinklings of cardamom.”

And thanks to the multi-cultural nature of our society, the Malayalis are eating Punjabi and Gujarati dishes, and sometimes, the North Indians have the Malayali menu. “Within a family, the parents will have a South Indian thali, while the children will have the Punjabi menu,” says Nandini.

To have breakfast or lunch, Nandini prefers if the orders are given the night before. “We take the same amount of time, as any housewife,” she says. Once the food is ready it is delivered to the home through a special delivery team.

At Sindhu's home, in the suburb of Vennala, she has ordered food for her guests. And it arrives promptly at 12.45 p.m., in plastic containers, by two young men, who are wearing white T-shirts and red caps.

The food consists of rotis, baigan ka bartha, Dahi Wala chicken, chana and boondi raita. The dessert is a mouth-watering kulfi. The food is simple, but the taste is delicious. “Nandini told me that the home-makers are not making these dishes to make money,” says Sindhu. “They have a joy in cooking.”

And it is a joyful period for Nandini as her business picks up steam. A home-maker, she felt a vacuum when her daughter Krishna got married. Her son Achuth Govind is in Class 12, while her husband is busy in his IT business.

One day, while reading an article about a Bangalore-based entrepreneur, who started a business in homemade food, by collecting extra food from housewives, it struck Nandini that she could tweak the idea and provide a menu-based home-cooked food in Kochi.

And what has helped is the catchy name for the venture. “The name Yummykitchens was given by my son,” she says, with pride in her voice. “My future plans include expanding the business to other parts of India.”

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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