Monthly Specials: A Round-Up Of Regional Riches Retailed Online
There are several things that one wouldn’t expect to find on Amazon.in. At a wedding I attended, the groom’s brother decided to become the ghodi and wore this as headgear instead of a safa. He told me that he bought it on the digital superstore. If you, like me, think a somewhat realistic soft plastic horse head is a slightly strange thing to find online, then check out this and this.
Reusable sweat pads and weird musical instruments aside, what I truly did not expect to find on Amazon.in were excellent sattu from a specialist shop in Bihar called Sattu Shop which sells under the brand name Sri Gulab; kuttu-giri (buckwheat groats) and faffar-kuttu (black buckwheat) from Chhatisgarh; kumol saul soft rice from Assam; chakodi (a fried rice batter snack from Andhra Pradesh); teppal (also known as Indian Sichuan pepper); nagkesar, an ingredient in the Maharashtrian spice blend known as goda masala; Marathi moggu, used in bisi bele bhaat; nippat, (a spicy fried snack) from Karnataka; ker sangri pickle made in Sojat in Rajasthan; bibda papad aka jwariche bibade, made from fermented jowar in Khandesh; and many more typically hard-to-find regional Indian ingredients, spices and snacks.
Even if we did get most of these in Mumbai, we would have to spend a few days hunting them down in markets and shops across the city. The best part about online shopping is that I can not only avoid traffic, in some cases, I don’t need to wait to travel to replenish ingredients such as the kumol saul rice that are impossible to find here. I can pick up products that don’t need refrigeration – anything except for fruits and veggies – while sitting in my pajamas on my bed at 1am, and look forward to receiving them at my doorstep a few days or weeks later. For the last six months, my home-cooked meals have been richer and more varied thanks to online shopping.
While Amazon.in has the most diverse range of culinary treasures, there are dozens of other e-tailers that ship regional Indian foods to Mumbai. Some of them are online supermarkets like BigBasket.com, from which I have bought ragi poha, which is exactly what it sounds like – beaten red finger millet, much like rice poha. Until I found it, I did not know it existed. After I did a little research, I learned that it’s used in Tamil Nadu to make a dish called kezhvaragu avul, which apparently means ragi poha. The uncooked poha is also used to make puttu and payasam; I also came across a recipe that involves soaking it in yoghurt to make dosa.
Ragi poha and jowar poha, both from Bigbasket.com, have been my breakfast ever since my order reached. Other items I bought from the site are puliyogare gojju, the paste used to make Karnataka’s tamarind rice (sourced directly from the popular food store Ace Iyengar in Jayanagar, Bangalore) and Amritsari wadiyan, sun-dried, spice-spiked lentil dumplings. I typically get mine from Ochiram Passari in Khar, but Bigbasket.com provides me a way to get it when I’m feeling too lazy to make the trek.
Even if we set aside the convenience factor, there are several reasons to buy regional Indian foods online. The obvious one is that it gives us an education. I stumbled on bibade and kumol saul while browsing. The information became a springboard to understanding the role of fermentation in making light and airy papad and investigating how and why a variety of rice is soft enough to eat raw after a brief soak.
Another reason is that we can track the sources of these ingredients or items. For example, the shop in Bangalore that sells vangibath masala or the farm from which Indian kuttu or buckwheat comes. By the way, buckwheat is not a foreign grain; it originated near the Himalayas and South-East Asia is where it was first domesticated and cultivated. In other words, it fed our ancestors before it went into a crepe.
In some cases, as with sattu, ker sangri pickle and nippat, I satisfied a craving for meals I had had years earlier and foods I had tried during travels. In different parts of the country, sattu contains different pulses and grains. In Bihar, it’s made from roasted channa; in Punjab, from roasted barley; in other regions, from corn or millets. The one that Sattu Shop sells on Amazon is from Bihar and has a touch of cumin. It’s the kind that goes into litti chokha of course, but for me it’s what my maternal grandma used to make (sans the cumin) an iced, slightly sweet, creamy, smooth sharbat with every summer.
Ker sangri pickle I tried most recently in Jodhpur and liked enough to bring a few kilos of back. Nippat, an addictive fried snack made from rice and dal flour, along with coconut, peanut, channa dal and spices, I grew up eating every summer in Bangalore through my school years. I don’t visit the city very often anymore.
My curiosity piqued, I looked around a bit more and discovered websites that don’t just have local Indian foods in their product list, they specialise in them. ExoticflavorsofIndia.com has categorised its products into sweets, namkeen, dry fruits, bakery, tea and coffee and more. A drop down menu also lets us select items by state; at the moment they have 13. On offer are laung sev, Ratlami sev made with garam masala, and Ujjaini sev (a thin variety originating in the eponymous city) from some of Indore’s popular namkeen stores; patisa and besan pinni from Amritsar’s sweet shops; stickjaw toffees from Ellora’s in Dehradun, and khakhra from Induben Khakrawala in Ahmedabad.
Delightfoods.com promises not to give us generic foods off supermarket shelves but to source them from local stores and homes. Their selections include a cousin of the puran poli, shenga (peanut) holige from North Karnataka; Thoothukudi macarons from Dhanalakshmi Bakery in Tuticorin; and vadu mangai pickle from Thankam Food Products in Pallakad.
Bangalore-based Giskaa.com has a warehouse in Guwahati. The company says it is “an exclusive online shop for eco-friendly and natural lifestyle products from all over India”, but owing to its base in Assam, it has loads of goods from the state, including ingredients that I wouldn’t know how else to source (unless I ask friends like Gitika Saikia or Aditya Raghavan to bring some back for me during one of their trips to the north-east). Giskaa makes available to us smoked bhut jolokia and dalle chillies in oil, vinegar and chhurpi and a variety of spices, powdered and whole. They also stock fermented bamboo shoot, a staple in the region, and fermented soybean, also known as axone or akhuni, made in Nagaland; and a similar product from Mizoram called dried mizo. (This sounds like another fermented soy paste, doesn’t it?)
These are but a few of the websites selling regional ingredients and foods online, a few more are listed below. If I have to select between a thokku and a thumb piano, I’m always going to put my money where my mouth is.
Their inventory includes 300 brands including canned Kashmiri foods from Ahad Sons in Srinagar; dried herbs and spices from ZoEi Enterprise in Mizoram; and pork pickles from Arohan Foods in Guwahati.
They list retailers by city or town, and source from over 80 at the moment, including Shiralkoppa in Karnataka (for red chilli thokku, a pickled chutney); Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh (for prawn yormii, a speciality of the Apatani tribe; and Neemuch in Madhya Pradesh (for giloy or guduchi tea).
They currently source from 16 cities to provide us with savoury, sweet and syrupy regional fixes. Among their suppliers is Lonavala’s Maganlal Chikki and Kolkata’s Ganguram from whom they get chandrakala and nolen gurer gujiya. They also work with four home cooks who specialise in product categories, such as Jyoti from Madana village in Maharashtra who makes chakli, shakkar pare and anarsa.