Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Taste Of Kolkata In Kochi

The Sarkar brothers, Amit and Sourabh, make authentic North Indian paneer, as well as popular Bengali sweets like rosogollas and sandesh 

Photo of the Sarkars by Albin Mathew

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Amit Sarkar and his wife Neelima would come to Kochi, from Mumbai, to spend their annual vacation, she would say, “There are no good vegetarian restaurants in Kochi. I miss eating paneer.”

Later, when he reached a dead-end in his job, Neelima said, “Why don’t you start a business of making paneer in Kochi?” Amit, a Bengali, grew up in Kochi. Intrigued, he did research and realised that there is a market for authentic North Indian paneer. To arm himself further, he did a six-month internship course on dairy products at Amul, Anand.

In February, 2013, he started Sarkars Dairy Tech with his younger brother Sourabh. Today, the company makes one tonne of paneer every day and sells it to five-star hotels in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The milk comes every day at 3 a.m. in a truck from Hosur, Karnataka. Thereafter, 36 lab tests are done to check whether the milk is acidic or not, good or bad. Once it is okayed, it is put into a pasteuriser which has two chambers. In one, water is heated up. The steam that is generated heats up the milk which is in an adjacent chamber. So the milk is never directly heated. That is how the flavour of the milk is retained.

The cow milk that we get has a fat content of 4 per cent,” says Amit. “But to get good paneer, you need 6.5 per cent.” This is achieved through a milk standardisation process, as well as a natural coagulant, which has been imported from Italy. “I came across it while attending a dairy fest in Delhi,” says Amit.

Soon, paneer chunks are formed. Thereafter it is placed in hoops, which is a type of tray. These blocks of paneer are cut into 200 grams, half a kilo and one kilo packets and neatly packed.

The paneer is then transported in an insulated truck, where the temperature is kept at 4 degrees centigrade,” says Amit. “This is mandatory. Hotels do a temperature check before they accept the paneer.”

As their business develops steadily, the brothers have branched out further. They have opened a Bengali sweet retail shop called Bikash Babu Sweets at Kochi. “We are selling sweets like rosogollas, misthi doi (sweet curd), sandesh, malai pakeeza, khaju and jaggery sandesh,” says Sourabh. “This is more of a passion, rather than a business. We are trying to bring the Kolkata taste to Kerala.”

And on a sunny evening, there are several customers at their outlet. Amit points at an empty tray, and says, “300 samosas have already been sold.”

Both the Sarkar brothers give bright smiles. Their Jamshedpur-based father PK Sarkar came to Kochi, on a work-related purpose, in 1979, and loved the place. Soon, he settled down in the coastal city. “We call ourselves the Mallu-Bong Sarkars,” says Amit. 

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

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