Gourmets in the city never had it so good with several authentic cuisines at their fingertips
What is going to be your choice of cuisine on weekends in Thiruvananthapuram? Would you like to sink your teeth into a lasagne dripping with cheese or pamper your taste buds with a honey-soaked Russian Medovik? There are choices galore with Thai, Creole, Mexican, and Sri Lankan, in addition to a plethora of meat-based dishes and desserts like kunafa sold under the generic name of Arabic cuisine.
The lockdown resulted in a mushrooming of home chefs across the country. Armed with FSSAI licenses and confidence, many of them satiated hunger pangs of people stuck at home without domestic help or restaurants to fall back on. Several people turned to their culinary skills to put food on their table too. With successive lockdowns spelling the death knell for small-scale businesses, many women found that their home-cooked dishes had takers in plenty.
Thus it was that homemakers Sanda Thoma and Anna Shankar, chef Priya Roy, entrepreneurs Susan Jaymohan and Kasthurika Rajasegaran found themselves starting cloud kitchens.
Rumanian Sanda was a busy homemaker and mom when her husband Younis Khan’s company folded up. In August 2020, Sanda began baking apple pie as a favour for a friend running a restaurant. What began as a hobby developed into a successful enterprise when she enlarged her menu to include lasagne.
“Although there are places that offer Italian cuisine, authentic Italian food was rare. When I launched Mama Rosa in August 2020, I began with the lasagne. Soon, I added quiche and fresh pasta with meat ragu,” says Sanda, a resident of Kovalam for seven years.
The response was overwhelming. “My menu is limited but, often, I am over booked and have to turn down orders. Now my husband and daughter Irene pitch in to help.”
Everything is home-made, right from the pasta, the sauces and the chocolate. All the ingredients are sourced from the city itself and Sanda has a devoted clientele.
The world on your plate
Saturday Night Diner has something new on your plate every Saturday — Mexican, Italian, Korean, Creole, French, Thai, German…
“I was a little worried when I offered Korean Bibimbap comprising Korean rice with Gochujang sauce, kimchi and cucumber salad, topped with sesame vegetables and a choice of grilled shrimps, chicken or tofu. I was taken by surprise when I had nearly 50 orders for it,” recalls chef Priya Roy.
After working in cruise ships and upmarket hotel chains in India and abroad, Priya had become an entrepreneur. But the lockdown forced her to down shutters temporarily. “That is when a friend suggested that I monetise my passion for cooking. I had the experience and the confidence, but I was not sure what to cook, how it would be accepted and how profitable it would be,” recalls Priya.
Her first customer was her neighbour Anitha Jacob who insisted on paying for a lasagne Priya had baked. With her family’s backing, Priya launched Saturday Night Diner in January 2021. The first Saturday was a disaster as orders came pouring in, more than she could manage. “It was a nightmare as my oven could not cook so many dishes at the same time. However, the positive feedback helped me stay on my feet,” admits Priya.
Since then, it has been smooth going. Customers are more when she offers familiar food like Peri Peri chicken or stuffed chicken breast. Nevertheless, Priya is not complaining. She plans to continue even after the lockdowns are lifted.
Sugar and spice from Russia
Feast on Medovik or Sharlotka, a classic Russian apple pie made by Anna Shankar, who hails from Moscow. Anna explains that the pie does not use butter. Instead, it has fruit, sugar, eggs and flour. “While, the traditional one uses only apple, we also make one with seasonal fruits. I bake both,” says Anna, a resident of the capital city for eight years.
Anna and her husband were running an Ayurveda wellness centre at Kovalam when the pandemic forced them to halt, temporarily. Then her husband passed away and Anna was at a loose end. That is when Anna’s friend suggested she begin an outlet for her bakes, which had always been a hit.
“I started Annushka Russian Bakery in Kovalam in May 2021. My speciality is traditional Russian cakes like Medovik, quite new to the city. My customers have welcomed it, as well as my Russian pastries, with open hands,” she says.
Her customers don’t mind travelling to Kovalam, about 18 km from the city, for her cakes; many of them cannot stop at one helping of her bakes.
In the case of Susan Jaymohan, her son Suraj Rajan is the driving force behind The Weekend Lunch Club. Specialising in Thai cuisine, Susan has a menu for the month and serves lunch and dinner on Saturdays and Sundays. She serves Chinese too but Thai is the bestseller.
“It’s simple and the use of coconut milk, tamarind, chilli and spices would be familiar to Malayalis. But some ingredients like dry shrimp, fish paste, Kaffir lime leaves and galangal give it very different flavours; one has to acquire a taste for it,” says Susan.
She points out how the popular Som Tan Papaya salad is just grated green papaya with dressing. “Malayalis usually make a thoran with it. But the dressing changes the taste completely. It is the same with the red and green chilli sauce that are a must for many Thai dishes,” she says. Begun in February 2021, Susan says she is relieved by the demand for Thai food. She plans to add some popular soups and starters to her menu.
Homesick for comfort food, Kasthurika Rajasegaran, born and brought up in Sri Lanka, decided to cook a few of her favourites once she settled down in the city after her marriage. Her in-laws enjoyed the food and so did her mother-in-law’s friends who encouraged her to cook and serve her cookies and patties. Participating in a flea market in the city proved to be a morale booster.
“I made Black curry chicken, sambol, a cherry cookie that is made with local cherries in Sri Lanka, signature biscuit cooking, very different from what we get here, and meat patties,” she says.
In September 2020, Kasthurika launched Kassi’s. With the demand for her short eats going up steadily, Kasthurika plans to introduce lunch and dinner on select days.
“Ambul Thiyal, made with tuna, is one dish that should do well here. It is made with kodampuli, called goraka in Sri Lanka,” she says.