Saturday, July 12, 2014

Monsoon-pour, food-excursion and tomatoes!

Mumbai news headlines
As a foodie and an amateur cook, getting involved in a food and agri project this summer is a million dollar opportunity for me. Krishi star business is modeled to help poor farmers and alleviate poverty in rural communities in India. With its leading whole-peeled tomato can-product, the company has proven a sustainable business in sales and marketing. Now, it is looking to expand to other products and discover untapped markets. I have a better understanding now, India’s important role in feeding people on this planet. It is the world’s largest producer in banana, mangoes, pulses, and millets. Not only that, India is number two in production of potatoes, eggplant, onion, tea, and sugarcane. It holds the second place of the world’s producer of fruits and vegetables after China. From the APMC market (a giant market where farmers sell their produce), wholesalers/retailers brought produce here and sell them to end-consumers in vegetable markets. As the monsoon started pouring on July 2 , I felt happy for the farmers that it finally came. The rain definitely helps cool down the temperature a bit to a friendly 28C during the day.
Krishi Star whole-peeled tomato product
Back in Malaysia, I have always enjoyed eating ‘Roti canai’ and ‘Nasi kandar’, authentic Malaysian food with Indian origins. Coming to India, I am curious to see how different the taste between Malaysia-Indian and India-Indian food is. There are certainly overlaps, such as biryani and tomato rice, dal, and roti pratha. My favorites so far are the kashimiri biryani rice, dosa, and sev puri. Indian street-food is one area of great potential but also great danger. Yes, one has to be extra careful to indulge in street food in India, for fear of diarrhea or worst, food poisoning. My stomach is strong enough to withstand at least one experience of Sev-puri on a small street off Hill Road. What makes Sev-puri tastes so good, is the addition of fresh coriander leaves and young mango peels, which gives a soury taste at the end. And this balances perfectly with the intense garlic, green, and tamarind chutneys. For a safer alternative, one can always go across the street to a place called Elco restaurant, which is popular amongst the locals for its Panipuri and other street food offerings in a cleaner setting.
Mumbai street-food
Dosa, Puri, and Biryani rice
Ultimate junk-food store!
Traditional Indian chips store
One of my best encounter was what I called ‘the Indian chips store’. To me, it is an ultimate junk-food store, made fresh and traditionally. I first spotted such outlet on Bazaar street, a narrow shopping street, populated mostly by the locals. Here you can find vegetable sellers in every 10 to 20 feet or so. The store is managed by 2-3 young lads with south Indian origins. I nicknamed the store, the ‘Vanakkam’(a popular greeting in Tamil) store, referring to the origins of these hardworking lads. There are various kinds of fried snacks such as potato chips- salted, spicy, and tomato-flavored, peanuts fried with flour, murruku, green pea snacks, sev (from chick-pea flour paste) and many more. I enjoyed seeing new batches of potatoes grated using a traditional potato-grater (picture) into a giant-wok half-filled with hot oil.
Grating potatoes with traditional grater into wok
I shifted my diet to a western one briefly, to minimize my exposure to spicy food. India’s scale of spiciness is definitely not on a similar scale as the Scoville scale. Locals’ tolerance is much higher here. I called Grub’s Corner, a local food delivery service, to have food delivered to my home. I asked for something non-spicy, and the restaurant suggested Manchurian chicken. I went with that and it turned out be pretty spicy!!! This is lesson one. My next lesson was with Knorr tomato red sauce powder, a ready-to-made pasta sauce by adding tomatoes and water. From my previous experience with Knorr, I was confident with my decision. Making pasta for the first time here, I was excited to experiment with Dabur tomato puree (a product category that Krishi is considering as well). Adding sautéed vegetables and freshly chopped tomatoes, the final dish looked no different from any pasta dish that I have cooked before. With the first spoonful of pasta, it quickly satiated my hunger and desire for pasta. Into my second spoonful of pasta, my tongue detected a sudden pain sensation and immediately I recognized the all-too-familiar taste of spiciness! Linking this back to my project, to develop a new food product for a specific market, one has to think of the experience I just had in reverse. In my case, as a foreigner here, I am not necessarily the target consumer of the product. Obviously, Knorr knows well enough the local Indian palate and re-created an Indian version of Italian pasta red sauce product specifically tailored for the Indian palate and consumer experience.

Note to future interns version 2:
1.      A non-spicy dish from an Indian or Indo-chinese restaurant is not necessarily not spicy in lay-man standards
2.      Absolute requirement: Smart phone with GPS (you want to know where the rickshaw is taking you and its also a good source to pinpoint where you want to go especially if you dont know Hindi), umbrella (because it rains non-stop here….!), sandals (to walk in the rain) & toilet-paper/tissue

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