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Asma Mariam rustles up an order at her home in Crawford. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU

Asma Mariam rustles up an order at her home in Crawford. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU  

Hyper-local cooking aided by social media takes off in Tiruchi, reviving interest in traditional recipes

Cloud kitchens — eateries that take online orders and don’t have a dine-in facility — have led to the growth of home-based chefs who cater to small groups of people.

While the metros have spun this out into pop-up dining experiences and food workshops, in smaller cities like Tiruchi, pre-order cooking is more about exploring dishes that are exotic yet homely in taste.

“I cook to share my joy in well-made food with others,” says Asma Mariam, who, with her son Armaan Salik, co-founded the Facebook-based enterprise Mariam’s Kitchen two years ago. “It’s not the profit or the business, it’s just the pure happiness of making tasty food that keeps us going.”

For Edamalaipattipudur resident Aarthi Rani Venkatesh, who describes herself as a hobby baker-cum-homemaker, fancy cakes have helped her to find a niche clientele in the city. M Asha, who once made and marketed her own spice mixes, has switched over to bespoke catering from her home in Shanmugha Nagar, UKT Malai. All these chefs have cashed in on the trend towards hyper-local cooking in Tiruchi, and in many cases, also revived interest in traditional recipes that commercial kitchens have long done away with. They all rely on self-clicked pictures on their Facebook pages rather than formal advertising, to keep the buzz going.

We take a peek into what is being served up by these pre-order cooks:

On a food safari

Mariam’s Kitchen

Cuisine: Mughlai, Chettinad, Malabar

A family legacy of cuisines has come in handy for Asma Mariam, a former teacher who is now enjoying a new career as a pre-order chef from her apartment in Crawford area. Most of her preparations reflect her multicultural roots. “My great-grandfather, leather exporter N M Khaja Miyan, was married to Malayali lady, so our everyday menu is partly Malabari and partly Mughal-style dishes. Up to the 1950s, our home recipes used to include dishes like roasted meat and puddings to cater to British guests to the family’s tanneries,” says Asma.

Keen to give her two sons something tasty and healthy to eat, Asma developed a passion for cooking that has now blossomed into a gourmet enterprise.

Starting with their signature Mughlai biryani (mutton, chicken and fish) her son Armaan Salik, assistant professor at Jamal Institute of Management and an ardent foodie as well, helped to bring his mother’s talent to the fore by formulating a menu of around 30 other dishes that pay homage to the family’s vast repository of recipes.

Mariam’s Kitchen functions through a Facebook page, with at least a day’s advance notice required for most dishes. Among other requested items are kofta (meatballs), khorma (gravy) and finger food like fish fingers and cutlets. Regional dishes made within the family circle, like ‘Delhi Stew’ and Thaali Salna are also on the menu.

While the weekdays are usually a little quiet, biryani orders fill up the weekend’s schedule.

“Even though Tiruchi’s eateries have oversold the biryani, we still feel ours is different, because we try and bring out regional variations more clearly,” says Armaan, who is mulling opening a standalone takeaway restaurant in the near future. Asma stocks up on exotic spices like saffron during her trips to Dubai, where her husband is working, and prefers to maintain a small clientele. “I’m confident of serving up to 15 people. Big orders could compromise on the taste,” she says.

Prices (approximate): ₹399 and above for 3-4 people


Aarthi Rani Venkatesh with Thoothukudi macaroons. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU

Aarthi Rani Venkatesh with Thoothukudi macaroons. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU  

Baked fantasies

Cake Veedu

Cuisine: Novelty cakes, Thoothukudi macaroons and cashew stick candy

Aarthi Rani Venkatesh started ‘Cake Veedu’ from her home in Stalin Nagar, Edamalaipattipudur two years ago, after seeing how commercial kitchens play fast and loose with the rules on health and hygiene.

“I became addicted to baking after seeing innumerable online video tutorials. But after the novelty wore off, I decided to specialise in cakes that were both good to look at and also had a healthy choice of ingredients,” she says.

Considering that most of her clients are young children, she prefers to use fresh cream rather than fondant paste for icing to keep sugar levels under control. “I try to use organic gel dyes that are safer for consumption than chemical food colouring,” she says. She also avoids oil, baking powder and baking soda in her cookies.

Aarthi has made it her new year’s resolution to stop baking with refined flour (maida) and instead, switch over completely to wheat. “Since I don’t use softening agents, my cakes tend to be more dense and chewy. Improvers make sponge cakes taste like mattress foam,” she says.

While cake orders (minimum 1 kg) keep her busy in Tiruchi, Aarthi also bakes and holds workshops in Thoothukudi, her hometown. The most popular request is Rasmalai Cake, a decadent dessert for which she makes all the components of the milk sweet as well. Her cashew macaroons (which went through 40 trials before she got the right combination of ingredients) and Nei Kucchi Mittai (candy sticks made with cashew powder, ghee and caramelised sugar) are best-sellers there.

Prices (approximate): ₹800 (for 1 kg cake) and upwards



Taste of home

Home Kitchen

Cuisine: Traditional Tamil non-vegetarian

Soft-spoken M Asha reserves her fire for dishes like Vanjaram Meen Kuzhambu, Iluppur Podi Salna, and Graamathu Naatu Kozhi Kuzhambu, that she cooks up with great skill at home.

Since she started out with her Facebook-based eatery four months ago, Asha has been busy with orders. “Either due to their busy schedule or old age, many people have stopped cooking at home even in small cities like Tiruchi. At the same time, there’s a growing awareness about artificial preservatives and chemicals in restaurant food. I cook for my customers just as I would for my family – only the freshest of ingredients and no shortcuts,” she says.

After nearly 15 years of observing her mother-in-law making biryani, Asha finally learned how to prepare the ceremonial rice dish on her own. “Biryani has its own charm, and is a filling meal in itself. We also offer Khushka (a delicately spiced fried rice) with a variety of side dishes and gravies,” says Asha.

Asha gets the biryani going at her backyard kitchen. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU

Asha gets the biryani going at her backyard kitchen. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU  

Minimum serving quantity starts at 1 kilo, which serves 10-12 people. “Even though the costs seem high, many customers realise that pre-order chefs actually provide a little extra food to suit the size of the gathering. This is especially true for fish, where a second helping in a restaurant can double the cost,” says Asha, who also provides wheat flour rotis and parathas in bulk. She takes orders for up to 80 people.

Asha is hoping to open a mess for office-goers and professionals soon. “A taste of home is what everyone yearns for after a busy day at work. I hope I’ll be able to fulfill that dream soon.”

Prices (approximate): ₹1000 and above, for 12-15 people


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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 11:37:26 PM |

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