These tuktuks in Kerala dish out tapioca and more

Amma Ruchi, with its bright autos selling fresh home-style food to Kochi’s office-goers, is Kerala’s answer to food trucks

By 9 pm, traffic on the Salem-Kanyakumari Highway is a high-speed blur of lights and motor vehicles. Outside Kochi’s Kalamassery metro station, Priya Babu stands by a yellow and green three-wheeler, dressed in a bright pink chef’s coat and green apron. The little vehicle is an ingenious combination of autorickshaw and food truck, outfitted with a stainless steel kitchen, in which Priya cooks nine thattu dosas on a skillet. Beside her are large steel vessels, filled with sambar and coconut chutney.

As she methodically flips dosas, her aunt, serves them, five a plate, to waiting customers. “The food is tasty, that’s why we are here,” says a group of students as they wait for their dosas. At ₹30 for a set of five, it is also economical.

Priya is at this location practically every night, from 7 pm to 2 am in the morning, as are nine other women residents of Koonamthai’s PA Beerankutty Road Lane II, off the National Highway. They are all part of Kalamassery Municipality’s Kudumbashree project ‘Amma Ruchi’, of which Priya is the president.

These tuktuks in Kerala dish out tapioca and more

The project, mooted by Koonamthai-Milma Ward councillor Jaleel Pamangadan for the area’s women belonging to the Scheduled Castes, was inaugurated on December 30 last year, and the women started the business on January 2. They drive the vehicles and sell food prepared by them, at locations between Edappally Toll and Premier Junction in Kalamassery on the National Highway. The standardised menu, primarily, is typical Kerala comfort food — it includes kappa-meen curry (tapioca and fish), puttu-kadala (chana) curry, boti, fish fry, parottas, chapatis and dosas, as well as the universally popular desi Chinese dishes, fried rice and chilli chicken. Since it is early days, they can choose the dishes they sell; for now they cook at their homes.

These tuktuks in Kerala dish out tapioca and more

A couple of days later I meet Priya, Asha Salin, Leela Raju, Sindhu Suresh, Greeshma Arun and Sanitha Sajeevan at Koonamthai Anganwadi, which is on the lane they live on. The women, aged between 28 and 52, are neighbours; their educational qualifications range from Class V to Class XII (Intermediate). The others are Vasanthi Shaji, Suni Shibu, Shinju Babu and Divya Raju. Nine of the women have autorickshaws, while Divya is to be in-charge of the central kitchen where the food will be prepared.

Four of the nine three-wheelers are parked in a line outside their houses. The e-vehicles, fabricated by Lifeway Solar Devices, are mounted with solar panels to power the lights. All the women had to get a three-wheeler driving license before they bought the vehicles. “It is not as easy as it sounds,” says Asha. Two-wheeler and four-wheeler license are prerequisites for this, so she had to learn how to drive a four-wheeler. “I already had a license,” says Leela who used to be an autorickshaw driver. The rickshaws have been bought, and outfitted, with a bank loan and another from Kudumbashree totalling ₹4 lakh each.

The ideation
  • Councillor Jaleel Pamangadan got the idea of vending food through three-wheelers when he was on a trip to Bengaluru.
  • “I saw food being sold on a Royal Enfield motorbike. There isn’t much space on a motorcycle to do that, but it was done efficiently,” he says. “That set me thinking about using a small vehicle, preferably a three-wheeler that women could use for the same purpose.”
  • Back home, he pitched the idea to the Kalamasserry Municipality.
  • He then got in touch with Lifeway Solar Devices, which made a prototype of the e-vehicle. “I thought of e-vehicles as it would significantly cut down their expenses and be sustainable too,” he says
  • The project is part of National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM)

This is the primary occupation for most of these women, but some, like Greeshma have other jobs. She works at a cable company keeping accounts from 9 am to 5.30 pm; then sets out after work with the rickshaw to her spot at Pathadipalam. “It is so hectic, I barely manage a couple of hours of rest. By the time we get home it is past 2 am, it’s almost 5 am by the time we go to bed. This would be impossible without the support of our families,” says Greeshma.

“It has almost been two months since we launched, and we have all lost weight because there is so much work and no rest or time to eat,” says 34 year-old Asha, as the others burst out laughing. The last month-and-a-half has been tough, but they are slowly finding their balance.

These tuktuks in Kerala dish out tapioca and more

The menu is tried, tested and more importantly, familiar. Priya, Sindhu, Suni and Shinju attended a month-long training programme by Kudumbashree in Thrissur. “It helped ready us in terms of how to prepare food on this scale,” says Priya. Asha chips in, “We cook like we do for our families, we take a portion out for our use. Anyway we are cooking, this way we save time.”

Prices are standardised — one dosa costs ₹6, a chapathi ₹8 and one parotta is ₹10. The prices of fish dishes depends on the variety of fish used — ayala (mackerel), mathi (sardines) and kozhuva (anchovy). A meal costs around ₹150.

Since most of these women set shop after six, office-goers returning from work are regular customers. Leela, however, begins at 3.30 pm, since her spot is at Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT). “I start with bhajjis, and later my husband or son-in-law bring the dinner items,” she says. Since she starts early, she is done by midnight.

“As of now we are neither making a profit nor a loss,” says Asha. The women are buoyed by the flow of regular customers and positive feedback. The late hours by the roads don’t scare them. “There are enough policemen on the roads and people are decent,” says Priya, “What is there to be afraid of?”

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 6:38:40 AM |

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