Not a flash in the pan: Gastropreneurs transform Indian kitchens with traditional cookware
Kavya Cherian has discovered that traditional kitchenware such as clay pots, uralis and chombus are where the magic is and she wants everyone to return to culinary memories of childhood.
Once Kaviya Cherian meditated on flavours in the kitchen of her matriarchs. Why did grandmother’s rasam taste so good? Why did the rajma and rice in mother’s kitchen have a typical subtle rustic robustness?
The answers invariably take her back to her most cherished food memories. Chances are that it is near impossible to replicate those flavours. Cherian has discovered that traditional kitchenware such as clay pots, uralis and chombus are where the magic is. She wants everyone to return to culinary memories of childhood.
After completing her Master’s in Actuarial Science in Mumbai, she quit her job in 2019, wanting to start something of her own. She moved back home to Kochi. It was a stroke of serendipity. "My grandmother had cataract surgery recently. While I was helping her in the kitchen, I noticed the drastic difference between the cookware she used and ours in Mumbai," she recalls.
Her grandmother had taught her to cook with traditional vessels. The tastes and textures brought back forgotten flavours. "Grandma would make jackfruit halwa every summer in her heirloom bronze urali. I can never forget the rasam made in her Eeya chombu. The urali is a reminder of summer holidays spent at my grandparents’ house," she reminisces.
In Kochi, Cherian realised that there were many like her who longed to taste childhood dishes once again. She started Green Heirloom - an online platform selling handcrafted traditional cookware for the modern kitchen.
"I started right in the middle of the pandemic last year. Hence, I couldn’t meet my suppliers in person. Communicating via phone calls and WhatsApp messages was a challenge," she points out. The brand currently sources its products from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Manipur and Meghalaya. The cast iron skillets and the blackened clay urali pots are bestsellers.
"The skillet is so versatile that you can place it on a gas stove, an induction cooker or an oven. Take good care of it, and it could outlive you. Clay pots are healthy since they convert acidic foods into alkaline, which makes them easier to digest," Cherian explains.
Home cook Antony Jose uses the Longpi Dutch oven by Green Heirloom to put together his clay pot chicken rice. "This pot is made with a combination of clay and black rock and it adds a rustic earthen flavour to the dish. This chicken rice is served with bok choy, shiitake mushrooms and soy-cured egg yolk. My favourite part of this dish is the crispy rice bits at the bottom of the pot," he says.
Retro is thriving in the scullery. Not just cookware, tableware too is going traditional. With Gonative’s soapstone bowls serving as smoothie bowls, Okhai’s longpi bowls doubling as Buddha bowls, and Ellementry’s range of terracotta serveware, customers are rooting for 'new old' additions to their lifestyle.
Coppre co-founder Seemantini Mihir recommends the use of traditional vessels in the kitchen. Copper for water, kansa for food and brass for cooking is her gastro mantra. The benefits are manifold, promises Archish Mathe of Bengaluru-based Zishta that boasts utensils made of clay, soapstone, cast iron and bronze.
With no chemical additives and the added advantage of authentic tasting food, it’s a win-win recipe for all. "Such cookware lasts for years. It might seem expensive compared to the usual non-stick stuff we buy, but it’s a one-time investment," says Mathe, whose household still uses the same pots and pans, which belonged to his grandmother.
Talking about his soapstone kal chatti, he says that the vessel cooks greens faster while preserving the nutritional values and consuming less oil. It imparts extra minerals to the food as well, he claims.
A melted plastic container in their microwave prompted husband and wife Jagadeesh Kumar and Madhumitha Udaykumar to launch The Indus Valley, their line of natural cookware products. They manufacture neem wood glasses and ladles, copper and terracotta water bottles and cast iron pans.
The cast iron grill pan and cast iron kadai are bestsellers. Malancha Chowdhury, who runs a small home food business in Delhi, says, “I bought a cast iron dosa tawa on a whim and my dosas have never been so crisp. I was then encouraged to buy a black clay urali.
Now my fish curries and rajma have a wonderful flavour. It brings back memories of my grandmother’s home in Lucknow.” With many chefs pioneering a 'gas-less kitchen' trend, age- old kitchen accompaniments such as silbatta, sigri, mortar and pestle, and more are making a comeback. A modular kitchen may be on the wishlist of many, but try treading the nostalgia path.
The taste of the past could surprise you.
Made with red clay or double-fired black clay or even bronze, the urali was a must-have in many kitchens. The earthenware added rustic flavour to curries. The metal ones cooked the food evenly in a healthy manner.
No rasam was complete in Tamil households without this trademark tin vessel. It added its own authentic touch to the tangy gravy and was a prized possession in the family.
Originating from Manipur, this stone pottery threw up Dutch oven, bowls, cups, and more. It is said that cooking in stone is the healthiest way to eat.
If you are a 70s’ child, you would remember how the masala was ground and prepared on these stone slabs
Our grandmothers used these heavy-duty utensils in cast iron and bronze to cook. Naturally non-stick, they did not have harmful chemicals sticking to the surface.