Puran Poli with pickles – In Dapoli, women are bringing the home chef revolution to Konkan cuisine
IIn the winding lanes of Dapoli, a small coastal town in the northern Ratnagiri district with an abundance of mango, coconut and banyan trees, there are signs every 300 to 500 meters that say: You will get homemade food here .
The signs lead visitors to small restaurants or roadside homestays, where Konkan women, who previously only cooked for their families, put their skills to good use and give large crowds of tourists a taste. taste of authentic Konkani food, with fresh pomfret or surmay and the rich in kokum kadhi ground.
Over the past decade Dapoli, with its charming views of the Arabian Sea from the cliffs, has become a popular tourist destination as tourists try to look beyond the crowded Alibag for a beach holiday in Maharashtra. Homestays and small resorts have sprung up around the quaint town, with Konkani cuisine being a major draw. And the women of Dapoli seize the day.
“I not only cook meals, but also prepare dry snacks like masala, atta, chutney and various desserts such as modak and shrikhand on a small scale. There are many people who prefer homemade meals these days. So I opened this place a month ago,” said Nilima Sawant, 61, who set up the Nilpari Food and Snacks Corner in downtown Dapoli a year ago.
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The home chefs and their polite puran
Nipari Food has only two tables and a billing counter where Konkani snacks, various types of fathercookies and chocolates are kept.
The only room on the premises has been converted into a kitchen – fully lit and with adequate ventilation. It’s warm with steel utensils, water pots, an Aquaguard and a fridge standing in one corner. Another woman arranges these utensils while Sawant kneads the dough for the chapatis.
Sawant, 61, quit his government job a few years after getting married. But in 2016, life took a new turn. She started running a foster home in nearby Kokumwadi. The owner was an old man, so Sawant took over running the foster family. She says she cooked the food herself for all the guests, about 12 when the house was full.
“It was a 3 BHK house and I used to cook personally for all the guests. They loved what I cooked and wanted homemade local specialties. But when Covid hit, the landlord sold his resort,” Sawant said.
Nilima Sawant has not given up. She knew she had to keep going and August 15, 2022 was another Independence Day for her. She opened her own small catering corner, investing more than Rs 1 lakh, confident that she would break even within a year.
Sawant is not alone. Many people see the potential of this business in Dapoli.
“Many tourists come from Pune-Mumbai to this area. So locals come up with their own small resorts or homestays,” says Vikrant Mayekar, owner of Hotel Amantran, a small resort in Harnai in Dapoli.
Omkar Dabke, a resident who runs a tourism business called Omkar Holidays and also works at a bank, says there are more than 160 resorts in Dapoli and several homestays.
“There is a demand for typical Maharashtrian items such as steamed dishes modak, puranpoli, Sanjane, which you normally don’t get in big hotels. It led to the creation of ‘bachate groups’, each comprising 10-12 women who partner with major resorts to bhakrichapatis, father, etc. says Dabke. “These groups obtain low-interest loans from banks, which opens employment opportunities for women.”
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‘Just how it would taste at home’
Sunita Jadhav was enjoying her plate full of Maharashtrian delights at Nilpari Snacks Corner. She had ordered a thali without vegetables. There was a fried pomfret with a slice of lemon and salad on one plate, and prawns, two chapatis, dal, rice and mango pickles arranged on another. Later, Sunita ordered a steamed modak, specialty of Nilpari, for dessert. She is a working woman, originally from Pune and lives alone in Dapoli.
“I always come here to eat at home. They serve good Maharashtrian style breakfast and local Konkani dishes for lunch and dinner. The food isn’t greasy or spicy, but it’s just what she would have at home,” she says.
In the Harnai Beach area, Sachin Bovne and his family run a homestay where Sudhiksha Bovne and Swanandi Bovne cooked meals. They are sisters-in-law. Gulmohar, the homestay, was started by the family five years ago when they thought of providing meals for guests as tourism was growing.
“It’s a different kitchen for your family and a large-scale kitchen. But there is a good demand for home-cooked food,” says Swanandi. “Many tourists come here and even if they stay at bigger resorts, they come to us for homemade fish fries or curry.”
Sudiksha got married last year and took over the Bovne family business. “My mother-in-law is a very good cook and she taught us. I’m still learning.”
The two women, however, agree that their culinary talent is reaching new horizons with a growing audience. “With this homestay, many more people can come and enjoy our food. They appreciate us and it’s nice that our talent is recognized,” says Swanandi.
On the same road from Gulmohar, Mandangaon resident Vaishali Erundakar opened her restaurant last year. She has worked in the restaurant business for 20 years. The tourism rush in Dapoli brought Erundakar to the region.
“During peak season, one can easily earn between Rs 15,000 and 20,000 a day. Just by cooking at home, women can do business,” she said.
Many village women who do not own a restaurant or host family get jobs as cooks or kitchen staff in Dapoli.
Janhavi Bhogad, who used to be a domestic worker, now cooks at the Amantran Hotel. She makes chapatis and bhakris for which she receives Rs 6,000 per month. “It’s good work and I like doing it better. I make more money cooking,” she says.
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Dapoli’s infrastructure, however, hasn’t caught up with its home bosses.
Mayekar, the owner of the Amantran Hotel, says that as the area is a small beach town, it has yet to reach its potential.
If someone from Mumbai or Pune has to go for the weekend, he always prefers Alibag as it takes more than five hours to get to Dapoli, he says. “The roads are not very good here. There is a lot to be done to develop tourism.
“If road conditions and accessibility improve, more tourists will be able to come here. It can generate jobs,” Vaishali added.
For now, tourism is Dapoli’s bread and butter. And women are leading the home chef revolution that draws people there.
“The money they make from this business goes beyond farming,” says Dabke.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)