Unity in Delicacieshttps://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/art-and-culture/unity-in-delicacies-6074963/

Unity in Delicacies

The Aajeevika India Food Court brings popular as well as little-known dishes from across India.

Traditional metal craft at the mela.

The best compliment that Pratiksha Prakash Chanankar and her team of five have received is that the mere taste of their food was enough to transport one customer to Goa. “This gentleman, who had our fish fry, said, ‘If I stand here, then I’m in Delhi, but when I stand before your stall, it’s like I’m in Goa.’ That was among the nicest feedback we’ve received from any of our customers,” says the 49-year-old entrepreneur from Bicholim, Goa. She’s a participant at the Aajeevika India Food Court, India Gate Lawns, Delhi, besides the stalls that represent 19 other Indian states.

The food court is part of SARAS (Sale of Articles of Rural Artisans Society) Aajeevika Mela, an initiative by the Ministry of Rural Development (MRD). “These are all women who knew they could cook and sell their food, but what they’re learning here is how to present and serve their dishes and interact with customers. Most of them are buying fresh produce every day, and they tell us that they have also learned how to procure raw materials and bargain a good price for them. They have that confidence now,” says Aakriti Gupta, thematic anchor at the Kudumbashree National Resource Organisation, which has collaborated with MRD and the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) to set up the food court. Kudumbashree, the State Poverty Eradication Mission of Kerala, has been organising food festivals under the name Cafe Kudumbashree India Food Court, since 2011. “Everything is provided free of charge. The entrepreneurs only have to spend on the raw materials. Everything that they earn goes to them 100 per cent,” says Gupta.

Sonadevi, a 32-year-old from Panchkula, Haryana, says that on Saturday, her stall earned Rs 35,000, while on Sunday, the earnings went up to Rs 40,000. “When we had participated in a food court in Kerala earlier, the most that we earned on a single day was Rs 25,000. Of course, the demand there was for non-vegetarian food, while we served only vegetarian food, so that definitely made a difference,” she says, “We didn’t initially offer churma here, since both Rajasthan and Punjab were offering it. But one of our customers insisted that we do so, saying that Haryanvi special churma is different and that made us realise that we should play to our strengths,” she says.

The states being represented at the food court, besides Goa, are Kerala, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Sikkim, Telangana, Tripura, Maharashtra, Punjab, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Haryana, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.

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Gupta informs that while the food stalls of Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan are doing very well — unsurprising, given the location of the mela — customers have also been keen to explore little-known dishes from other parts of the country. Evidence of this is available on a large board, covered in sticky notes, near the exit. While most have been appreciative of the diversity of food available, certain dishes such as the vanasundari kozhi (a spicy chicken preparation from Attapadi, Kerala), Hyderabadi dum biryani (from Telangana) and fish fry (from Goa), have been especially popular. “While the main idea is to help rural women entrepreneurs learn how to do business, the underlying theme of the food court is diversity,” says Gupta.

The SARAS Aajeevika Mela is at India Gate Lawns, New Delhi, till October 23