Udaipur’s kitchen queen: Taking Indian cuisine to foreign tourists
Rajesh Asnani catches up with Shashikala Sanadhya, who overcame several challenges to start a successful enterprise of cooking classes for foreign tourists, which are hugely popular with them
RAJASTHAN: Life put several hurdles in Shashikala Sanadhya’s life, but with courage and commitment, she was able to triumph over every adverse situation. Shashi, a resident of Udaipur, has established herself as the ‘kitchen queen’ of the city. She runs cooking classes where she teaches the art of Indian cuisine to foreign tourists from all corners of the world.
Shashi’s journey encompasses overcoming her husband’s death, her humble background in a small village, poverty, and the language barrier of not understanding English or any other foreign languages.
Today, she serves as an inspiration to many and has gained recognition on social media platforms as well.
Shashi’s path was strewn with difficulties following the loss of her husband. Facing the absence of any support from her family, she refused to give up. Through sheer determination and unwavering willpower, she surmounted those storms and achieved success. Now, people from all over the world travel to her doorstep to learn the intricacies of Indian cuisine.
Over the years, she has taught Indian cuisine, spicy dishes, and recipes to approximately five thousand visitors from more than thirty countries, predominantly couples. She imparts knowledge of thirteen diverse Indian dishes, including masala chai, pakora, chutney, magic sauce, paneer butter masala, aloo gobi, rice, pulav, naan, roti, paranthas, and various vegetables that cater to the tourists’ preferences. What sets her apart is her teaching method.
Shashi initially explains the written recipes and then encourages her students to prepare the dishes themselves, ensuring they internalize the learning and can recreate the dishes in their home countries. While instructing foreigners, she pays special attention to ingredient quantities.
Foreigners particularly enjoy Indian chai, pakoras, chapatis, Indian vegetables, butter paneer, and lentils.
Foreign tourists, who reach her place in Amba Mata through tour operators, local guides, and online bookings, eagerly enroll in Shashi’s classes. During the peak tourist season, her classes are fully booked, and she conducts sessions four to five days a week. Her fee ranges from Rs. 1000 to Rs. 1500 per session, and it takes her approximately 4 to 5 hours to teach the recipes.
On platforms like Trip Advisor, foreign tourists have shared countless comments praising her teaching skills and recommending her to other travellers. Shashi has been imparting cooking lessons to foreign tourists since 2008. After her husband’s death, she faced numerous obstacles, compounded by the responsibility of raising her young children.
She got married at 19 and relocated to Udaipur from Oda, a small village near Nathdwara. Initially, she struggled to communicate in Hindi and predominantly spoke Mewari. In 2001, her husband passed away. As a Brahmin widow, she had to adhere to stringent customs and was confined to her home. For the initial 45 days of mourning, she secluded herself in a corner of her room, refraining from speaking to anyone. In her family, widows are prohibited from remarrying, and she couldn’t wear sarees of certain colors.
To support her children and make ends meet, she started washing clothes and utensils for foreign tourists. During this time, an Irish tourist with a fondness for Indian food visited her. Impressed by her culinary skills, Shashi’s sons invited him home and treated him to a delicious meal. It was then that the idea of opening cooking classes was born.
“Initially, I was unsure if I could pursue this endeavor. However, my sons provided me with the courage and confidence I needed to embark on this journey,” she says. The first couple from Australia, who came to learn from her, initially made her hands tremble with fear. But she gathered courage and taught
them how to make tea, pakoras, naan, chutney, potato paratha, and pulao.
Shashi recognised the importance of learning English to effectively communicate with her students. She also made an effort to learn the names of spices used in cooking so that she could explain them in Italian, Spanish and French. Today, she converses with her students in English and effortlessly translates the names of various dishes like pickles, maida, and naan into different foreign languages.
Shashi takes great satisfaction in promoting Indian cuisine, teaching foreigners, and sharing the country’s rich culinary heritage with the world. The positive response from her students reinforces her belief that her journey has been worthwhile.