As Nature Bazaar takes place in Kisan Haat, Dastkar’s chairperson Laila Tyabji unwinds with a puran poli one afternoon

Just as she is about to dig into her momos she has ordered from a stall a mother-son duo runs right outside Kisan Haat, the venue of the ongoing Nature Bazaar, she is informed of our arrival. She leaves the plate of chicken momos untouched and comes down to the food stall area. “I will eat it later. You must try it as well because they are so different from the momos that you usually get. Especially the chicken momos…a very different flavour,” says Laila Tyabji, Chairperson of Dastkar, the NGO that organises Nature’s Bazaar.

Though an avid meat-eater, Laila settles for puran poli, a classical Maharashtrian dish. “I love meat. I am not fussy about the cuisine but about the quality. Also because I travel so much I eat whatever is available. Dastkar was in Odisha post 1999 cyclone and we went to the house of a bell metal craftsperson who hosted us for lunch. He served us a delicious shrimp curry. So I asked him where he got such juicy shrimps from and he revealed that they were from the river which was full of dead bodies. I have cast iron inside,” remembers Tyabji, who has been a crucial part of the crafts movement in the country.

Childhood memories of having puran poli made by her grandmother’s gardener’s wife visit her as she tucks into her puran poli — a flatbread with sweet dal filling — served with aloo subzi, giving the traditional recipe a twist. “The trick is to not make the bread too sweet but it should still be juicy which it is,” she says.

Expressing disappointment over the absence of Bundu Khan’s biryani, she says, “He was such a big hit in our South Asian Bazaar that we had in August but unfortunately he couldn’t make it this time as he couldn’t get a visa.” The activist reveals that it has been a little difficult to convince caterers to come to Kisan Haat as it is a relatively new venue and they don’t want to run any risks when asked about the shrunken space of the food stall area. She agrees that compared to those times when Dastkar was held in the sprawling lawns of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), it has become a bit smaller.

But there have been interesting entries as well like that of Jugmug Thela, a mobile tea and coffee kiosk run by a group of young professionals. “It was difficult convincing them but they finally agreed,” says Laila, sipping on their lemon ice tea. Besides masala chai, which is Jugmug Thela’s signature item, the mobile kiosk also offers things like Vietnamese hot coffee, home-made cakes, granola bars etc. Rajasthani food, kaathi kababs, rajma chawal, bhel poori and refreshing drinks like kokam soda and mattha are some of the highlights among the fare available at the venue.

The new space, where Dastkar has been holding its various activities since 2012 — after it signed a 15-year lease with Delhi Tourism — has been able to add not just new entrants to the food stall area but also to craft groups like a new group of copper people and Mata Ni Pachedi of Gujarat and even new buyers. “We have lost some and we have gained some. We have been able to tap into the entire belt of Gurgaon. There is also a feeling of excitement among various crafts groups now that they have a permanent space to showcase,” she says, adding that the space might allow her to experiment with regional cuisines. “I am experimental when it comes to food. At home we cook a mix of Hyderabadi and European food but every week my daughter and I try out a different restaurant in the city,” says the activist and scholar.

Shifting to a new space has also meant an addition to Dastkar’s public outings with events like Winter Weaves, South Asian Bazaar, Basant Bazaar etc. “We have grown in a very organic way. We are a 30-year-old NGO which started with 15 crafts groups and we are now working with 350 craft groups. I think people no longer have to make a choice between a Levi’s jeans or a bandhni top. They realise the two can go together.”

(Dastkar’s Nature Bazaar is on at Kisan Haat, Andheria Modh till October 27)