By: Vishnu Makhijani
This is a classic chicken and egg situation: a son seemingly sets out to cure his mother of her obsession with “saas-bahu” soaps on TV and focus on her culinary skills but instead finds his own feet as an entrepreneur!
“The greatest irony of all is that the world believes that TBK was born out of a son’s desire to help his mother realise her dreams. While it may have started out that way, it really became about my mother helping me realise my own,” Munaf Kapadia, founder of the hugely successful The Bohri Kitchen that in five years, hosted close to 4,000 home diners on weekends and at its peak in 2019 was delivering 1,000 biryanis a day across Mumbai, writes in “How I Quit Google To Sell Samosas” (HarperCollins).
“Over the last five years of being CEO of TBK, personally and professionally. I have grown by leaps and bounds. Mom, who has won awards and achieved semi-celebrity status with a growing list of fans in Bollywood (serenaded by Shaan on her birthday!) food and politics, hasn’t changed one bit.
“Today, when I look at Mom, she seems as content and satisfied as she’s always been. I’d like to think that TBK has done something for her too. I hope it gave her a sense of fulfilment and joy. I hope it made her look forward to her days in a way that only having a purpose or being brilliant at doing something makes you,” Kapadia writes.
TBK had come to a grinding halt after a nationwide lockdown was declared on March 24, 2020 because of Covid-19 and “we’re just about getting back on our feet” a year later, Kapadia writes, exuding confidence about the future.
“I do believe that the brand that we created because of a fight with Mom over a TV remote can survive a global pandemic. After all, #BOHRIFOODCOMA (the state in which some guests found themselves in after a meal at the TBK Home Dining Experience) is considered a pretty dangerous affliction by itself.
“Through this book, I hope to inspire you. I hope to make you laugh a little and I hope that you take away this, if nothing else — if I can do it, so can you,” he maintains.
This confidence, in fact, grows out of one of the 10 “Samosa Gyans” that Kapadia offers in the book: More than failure be afraid of not trying your best.
Central to the TBK Home Dining Experience is the Bohra Thaal that Kapadia (then still with Google but quit soon after) and his mother devised. This is how it works: The average thaal is a large steel platter three feet in diameter placed slightly elevated on a square cloth mat called a safra around which seven or eight guests are seated, either cross-legged or somewhere between cross-legged and a padmasana.
Once all the guests arrive, the pre-plated thaal is placed before them with condiments that include pudina chutney, pineapple and boondi raita, aam chunda (a sweet raw mango preserve with chilli powder, kokum aloo, Bhavnagri nirchis, aamba halad (two types of fresh turmeric and black pepper pickled in vinegar) and a bowl of lemon wedges.
The food is served on the thaal course-wise, starting with a kharaas or a savoury item such as TBK’s now famous Smoked Mutton Kheema Samosas. This may be followed by a Nariyal Kebab (tiny vegetarian kababs stuffed with mashed potato, spring onions and desiccated coconut).
Eating the samosa is an art in itself. You bite off the top and squeeze in some lime juice and green chutney to get the full flavour of the smoked mutton kheema — an experience that invariably has guests asking for more!
The kharaas is followed by a meethas or sweet dish (to help balance the gut), for instance, a Malai Khaja, a kind of Bohra Baklava.
Then comes the more serious food like the Raan in Red Masala — a one kilo plus a leg of a goat marinated for over two days and cooked on a high pressure flame for a couple of hours.
The next up is the jaman aka main course — it could be either Kaari Chawal or a Bohra Dam Biryani.
Next up is the hand churned Sancha Ice Cream made in a wooden barrel with a steel cylinder fitted inside, followed by a Gundi Paan.
The aim is to ensure that “when someone is done with the meal and leaves our home, they do so not only with full stomachs but full hearts and minds as well.
“The world’s best brands and businesses are built on authenticity, creativity and their ability to give customers something unique.
“Now, imagine of you knew nothing about our culture and eating practices, and you were taken through the whole experience of eating home-made Bohra fare in the home of a Bohra family as their guests. Wouldn’t that be an experience worth hosting every weekend,” Kapadia writes.
“Since the inception of TBK, we have gone from strength to strength where the brand’s PR, outreach and visibility were concerned. I have made the cover of Forbes India, featured in Conde Naste Traveller and Entrepreneur magazines. TBK is a two-time winner of the Times Food Award. Mom has been recognised as the Best Home Chef of the Year (2018) by the Indian Restaurant Congress. We won the rising star award at Mid-Day’s The Guide Restaurant Awards 2018; Mom was thrilled to receive the award from Shilpa Shetty Kundra, one of her favourite Bollywood actors,” Kapadia writes.
And, with the Home Dining Experience on firm ground, it was time to expand TBK’s reach with a second kitchen at Worli for the delivery business and five cloud kitchens in the suburbs that were each clocking 200 biryani deliveries a day — collectively doing business of Rs 35 lakh a month by August 2019.
On the comeback trail since January, TBK is currently servicing from its Worli kitchen five to 20 pre-orders a day depending on the day of the week. The extensive Ramzan special menu includes an Iftar Meal Box, Haleem with Khammi Roti, Mutton Paya with Sheermal Bread, Raan in Red Masala, and, of course, Smoked Mutton Kheema Samosas.
As Kapadia puts it in one of his “Samosa Gyans”: I might not be a billionaire, but I know I’ve achieved enough to inspire you to get off your seat.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at email@example.com)