Oh dear! I really shouldn’t be allowed online unsupervised. Not for the reasons you’re thinking. (Ever considered getting your mind washed out with soap?)

Cue to a boring Sunday afternoon, when I suddenly felt like eating chikkis. Specifically coconut chikkis, from Lonavla. I mentally list all friends who have access to them, and consider going on Facebook to schmooze. Then, I idly type in ‘Lonavla chikki online’, and to my delight am directed to the unexpectedly slick ‘Chikki Store’ website. (I also find a song called ‘Chikki Mukki Chikki Mukki,’ but that’s another story altogether.)

The site proudly flaunts a queue of bright shopping bags, more reminiscent of Hermes scarves and Louboutin shoes than peanut candy. There’s also a ‘hand holding world’ stock web image, presumably a metaphor for how far their reach is. Started in local 2009, the Chikki Store aims at providing a national and international platform for traditional Indian sweets.

Right now they concentrate on chikkis from Maganlal, who reportedly introduced the peanut-jaggery version to Lonavla more than 125 years ago. They offer almost 20 varieties online, peanuts, chocolate, coconut and sesame, as well as more exotic versions blending almonds, cashew nuts, dried fruits and saffron. Unfortunately, in a fit of over enthusiasm I whip out my credit card and order two kilos. It arrives neatly packed and labelled just two days later. Trust me — two kilos is a lot of chikki!

We’re munching through the first box at the office, when we begin to wonder how many other local specialties like this are available online. As people yell out things like ‘muscoth’, ‘dholdhol’ and ‘sabudana chivda,’ I rapidly google, making notes and calls. My fashonista colleague is furious with this ‘food obsession’, and tries talking us into spending our time online on more profitable things: shoes, clothes and accessories. But we’re undeterred. We realise we’ve just stumbled upon a new era of food buying for India.

As one colleague tells me she just received an order of Rajasthani sweets, another talks about how they once ordered huge quantities of delicious chivda from Mumbai. The trick seems to be to deal with the original supplier, or a website specialising in food, because it’s important that contents are fresh. The chikki store, for example, has a policy of “packing only on order”, so you don’t get saddled with dated, pre-packed stock.

Non-Resident Indians seem to be a big customer base for food parcels. ‘Oye Chotu.com,’ (described by a happy customer as a ‘Jhaakas…fantastically fabulous website’ offers to deliver sweets, chutneys and spices to 17 countries. Predictably the U.K., the U.S. and the U.A.E., are on the list, but so are Finland, Japan and Switzerland. Shipping costs between Rs. 325 and Rs. 450 per kg, and as they helpfully remind you, “Oye oye please order more than five kilos to get the best shipping rates.”

If you’re in the mood for Muscoth halwa, log on to http://www.thangaiahsweets.com/,offering to ship kilos of their halwa abroad, with the promise that it will stay fresh for 30 days. While Thangaiah Sweets (Thisaiyanvillai) seems to be the only place that ships halwa from its website, the other big players are also online. AJJ, advertising the fact that they use coconut milk instead of oil, with their faintly frightening slogan ‘It will tempt you to eat forever’ and SJ, whose site quotes the delightful saying of their founder “First you rob human heart and the money will follow”, adding, “There are millions who have lost their hearts to the taste of our Muscoth Halwa.”

For a one-stop shop, checkout a portal like Native Special (http://www.nativespecial.com ), which brings you macaroons from Thoothukudi, seerani sweets from Sattur district and Palani panchâmirtham, a preserve made from tiny plantains, in a village in the Palani Hills.

V. Parthiban, a spokesperson for Native Special says they travelled extensively to first identify the best suppliers for each products, and then convince them to start shipping their goods. “Most of them are very welcoming. It’s good for sales,” he says, adding that they do the packaging for the less market savvy. “They put the product in a bus, we receive it in Koyambedu in the morning, then package and courier it.” Parthiban says they began with five or six orders a month, and are already hitting about 300 a month now.

Ah! The seduction of easy Internet shopping.

Keywords: coconut chikkis

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Shonali MuthalalyMay 11, 2012