How Kovai Trans Kitchen, a restaurant run entirely by transgender people, drives change

The restaurant in Pollachi hopes to integrate those from the community into mainstream society

Published - May 05, 2022 04:47 pm IST

M Sree Veena Yazhini

M Sree Veena Yazhini | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

It is almost 1pm and the lunch crowd is trickling in. Seated at the cash counter at Kovai Trans Kitchen in Pollachi, M Sree Veena Yazhini welcomes diners for a meal of mutton or chicken biryani. The restaurant, that was opened last week, is run entirely by transgender people and is among the first of its kind in Pollachi. “This is my first step,” says Veena. “I want to help people in my community. Since most of us are good at cooking, I decided to give the restaurant a shot.”

Veena does the cooking herself and has transwomen K Praba and M Jessina, also residents of Pollachi, working for her. “I’m a trained psychologist,” Veena tells us. “But it irks me that people still associate us with begging. Which is why I decided to switch fields entirely and work with fellow transpeople.”

The biryani at Kovai Trans Kitchen is mild and flavourful at the same time

The biryani at Kovai Trans Kitchen is mild and flavourful at the same time | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Cooking is a craft handed down generations in the transgender community in the region. “Our ancestors, whom we consider our gurus, taught themselves to cook as a means of living,” says Veena. “They taught this skill to anyone who approached them.” The practice of a senior transwoman ‘adopting’ a younger one as her daughter ensured that mothers taught their daughters and granddaughters.

“Our ancestors, whom we consider our gurus, taught themselves to cook as a means of living”M Sree Veena Yazhini 

In Coimbatore, for instance, senior cook Madhanamma is a name to reckon with in the wedding feast scene. “She has trained so many people. I have seen her measure all the spices and salt using just her hands. She is legendary. I learned from my grandmother ‘Karumbukkadai’ Selvi who trained under Madhanamma,” explains Veena.

There are certain rules to making the perfect biryani, according to Madhanamma’s school of thought. “She cooks massive quantities on a wood-fired stove and arranges all the ingredients next to her in order. This ensures that the dish comes together evenly,” explains the 30-year-old, adding that she too does the same. “Selvi nani amma has taught me a certain way to hold the ladle and stir the rice without breaking the meat,” she says.

The biryani at Kovai Trans Kitchen is mild and flavourful at the same time. The salna that is served with the dish elevates the meal: it is a steal at ₹100. “I want to keep prices low so that people from all walks of life can enjoy a meal here,” says Veena.

Just then, Praba packs lunch for a customer, hands over the parcel to him with a nod. “After everything I’ve been through in life, all I want is normal interaction with people. A life in which people see me as just another person working at a restaurant,” she says.

This is what Veena hopes to achieve through Kovai Trans Kitchen. “We want to merge with society, and tasty food is a sure-shot route to do so,” she smiles. “I soon plan to introduce lunch and dinner. My dream is to see this place bustling with 20 to 30 transgender people, going about work with a spring in their step.”

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