Radhika Menon and her friend Priya Deepak sell traditional cookware through 'Village Fair'
Photo: Priya Deepak (left) and Radhika Menon. Photo by K. Shijith
By Shevlin Sebastian
One morning, two years ago, Radhika Menon was going through her Facebook timeline. Soon, she saw a post by a friend of hers about a cast iron fish that had been invented by a Canadian Dr. Christopher Charles. The idea is that you drop the iron fish while cooking is taking place, so that the iron seeps into the food. All humans need a bit of iron in their diet. Soon, Radhika saw a comment: “Once upon a time we used to cook in cast iron pots!”
Immediately Radhika typed, “I still do, the way my grandmother did.” Then she posted a few pictures of her cast iron dosa pan and kadai. This was shared in a foodie group. Thereafter, many asked where they could get this.
“It suddenly struck me that this could be a business,” says Radhika at Kochi. She decided to team up with her friend, Priya Deepak and thus was born the ‘Village Fair’.
Today, the duo sells all types of traditional cookware, ranging from clay pots, kadais, tavas, pans, skillets, grinding stones, and traditional stoneware.
The USP is the seasoning. This is being done by a 20 member group of men and women on Vypeen island. In fact, their first volunteeer was Radhika's house help, Lalitha. “She knew how to do it,” says Radhika. “We began with a few orders. When the numbers became big, Lalitha included other family members.”
The group gets the 'raw' utensils from factories and kilns. Then they wash it in cold water to remove all the mud and the grime. Then it is immersed in rice and starch water for four days. Thereafter, the vessels are scrubbed clean and sandpaper is used to smooth out the rough edges. After that it is placed on the fire and cured with vegetable oil. “If it is a kadai oil is applied inside, and on a dosa pan it is on the outside,” says Priya. “We then make one or two dosas to check whether the seasoning has happened correctly.”
The prices range from Rs 1500 to Rs 2500 for cast iron, bronze, from Rs 4000 to Rs 5000, depending on the weight, soapstone is from Rs 1700 to Rs 2000 and clay pots from Rs 680 to Rs 1500.
Asked whether it is a bit on the expensive side, Priya says, “You are paying for the cookware as well as the seasoning efforts. It is not an easy thing to do.”
Anyway, owing to a rising health consciousness, there is a growing demand for traditional cookware. “People have realised that in modern utensils, once the non-stick wears off, food can become toxic,” says Radhika. “The advantage of traditional cookware is that once you buy it, you can use it forever.”
And the food is tastier. “There are far more flavours in the food,” says Radhika. “You have to try it to know the difference.”
Today, thanks to a thriving online presence, the Village Fair has customers from Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and many other cities. Their first international customer was a couple from New Zealand, Tim and Suzie Hunt. “They had come to India earlier,” says Priya. “And they ordered a dosa pan.”
In fact, the dosa pan is one of their most popular items. “Because people like to cook a nice crisp dosa, and it is much tastier than when you use a non-stick cookware pan,” says Radhika.
The duo say they have a lot of satisfied customers. “They call us a God-send,” says Priya. “Our business has grown through word of mouth.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)