Young entrepreneurs are popularising native pickles, ingredients — all for the love of food and home
Pickles are the easiest way to elevate everyday meals. Commonly found in most households across a majority of states, families have coveted recipes, handed down generations to be made with love and affection.
While many treat it as a private affair, something to be done at home and enjoyed with a close set of friends and family, pickling has caught the interest of young entrepreneurs who are making their mark with ethnic ingredients, innovative recipes — all for the love of food.
“Pickles made me who I am today,” says Nitu Viluo, who makes gourmet Naga pickles in small batches and retails online through his brand, The Rumbling Spoons.
Brought up in Nagaland, surrounded by a family who loved to eat, Nitu shared that over the years, “cooking became a form of stress-buster” for him.
“As such, I have never let go of an occasion where I can cook for my loved ones. Over the years, I came to the conclusion that wherever people go, they will always crave a meal that reminds them of home,” he told indianexpress.com while finishing up a bulk order of pickles received from different states in the country. “I’ve received orders from every state and Union Territory in India, including orders from 14 different countries”, he said.
An engineer by profession, he moved to Bangalore in 2013, in search of better employment opportunities and started working with a software firm, but said that his heart wasn’t in it. “No matter how hard I tried, I always felt like I was meant to do something else,” he added.
On being prodded, he revealed while living in Bengaluru, he carried some native ingredients with him — axone, fresh bamboo shoot, fermented fish and king chillies — that made him miss home. “Also, I just could not find a meal in the city that would satisfy me,” he shared, and added that this made him realise the need for “good quality northeastern cuisine in the South”.
Soon, he started experimenting with food on weekends, and eventually quit his job to set up his business which he says is now “a booming success”. “My secret is fresh produce which includes fish, meat or vegetables and some tried and tested recipes that I have finalised after much trial and error,” he revealed. The young entrepreneur has now set his sights on opening up a full time pickle business based out of Dimapur, Nagaland soon.
With an extensive menu boasting of pork pickle, chicken pickle, bamboo shoot pickle, fermented fish pickle, king chilli pickle, dalle pickle and chicken gizzards pickle, he ensures no preservatives or MSG is used in production. “I make them myself; social media has helped me connect with my audience who often give me valuable feedback. The idea is to make my community proud and to make people know about the beauty and richness of Naga cuisine,” he said.
Similar love for his cuisine, and the need to market it across the country also led Dibrugarh-based Diganta Saikia and his partners, to launch Manxo (meat in Assamese), a brand that offers an interesting collection of items such as smoked pork, smoked duck, smoked chicken, smoked fish and an array of pickles like smoked bhoot jolokia with axone, smoked bhoot jolokia with dried fish, smoked pork relish and smoked chicken relish.
”Our specialty is smoked pork, as we own piggeries in Assam and are familiar with the farming and quality control aspects of the business. We believe in the farm-to-table approach, and our only motivation is that customers enjoy our food with all nutritional benefits intact,” Saikia shared of his venture that took off in 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
But why pickles? “The ease of storage and long shelf life of pickles and relishes is what appealed to me, as did the intense flavours associated with them. Made in small batches, small containers and with a heart of love, Manxo’s relishes are packed with flavour,” he said, as he added: “also, pickles are a great addition to a meal at a quarter of the cost. A tiny bit of pickle is enough for a plateful of food, and perfect for someone who misses home.”
Much like Nitu, he also markets his products on social media that he handles himself “to keep a finger on the pulse of what customers actually want.”
While it sounds delicious, pickling is not easy. From selecting the right raw materials, carefully preparing the mix with specific ingredients, assembling the pickles, adding additional spices and then waiting for the pickle to ferment requires a lot of work and patience.
“But doing all this brings me joy. After all, no meal is complete without a spoonful of a sweet, sour or spicy addition,” said Ankita Baruah, a long-time resident of Guwahati, who also makes pickles at home. Dr Geeta Dutta, Northeast food expert and consultant, emphasized that the region’s pickles are a class apart, “made with fresh but nominal ingredients, they have ample health benefits and can be eaten with, pretty much any meal.”
While these entrepreneurs continue to make strides in the food business, it is wonderful to see them carry forward indigenous fermentation methods and ingredients to the forefront of conversation. With a heady mixture of social media marketing, good quality food and genuine interest in their professions, is what sets them apart from the rest.
May you always find a pickle to eat with when you miss home!