This business is changing the way Kiwis see Indian food – Stuff

November 21, 2022
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Rachel Klaver is a marketing strategist, specialising in lead generation and content marketing.
OPINION: The first time Perzen Patel had butter chicken was in New Zealand as a teenager. Before that she’d lived in Mumbai, and the Indian food she ate every day bore very little resemblance to the takeaway curries we often consider “authentic Indian”.
That was back in 2002, when most of our understanding of ethnic food was a Kiwi-extension of what normal day-to-day cooking in different cultures actually looked like.
While Patel’s seen changes for many of us as we have branched out, experimenting with different flavours when it comes to Vietnamese, more traditional Chinese cooking and Malaysian, when it comes to Indian food, Patel feels “we’ve still stuck in a time warp”.
“It’s all still all about butter chicken, tikka marsala and mango chicken, and none of those dishes are even a thing back in India.”
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Patel and her husband, Rashad, launched their curry paste company in 2020.
They’d both recently returned from India where Patel had lived with her husband and his family, and had to learn how to cook authentic Indian meals for her family.
The business was born out of a need for their own family to be able to eat well at the end of a busy workday, without spending hours cooking, and also to provide a simple alternative to the mass-produced curry pastes that often didn’t taste authentically Indian.
“As someone who works full time, I have to come up with a curry paste to make my life easier. And I also had become so frustrated with people saying to me (because I am Indian) ‘Oh I’m making a curry tonight’ and knowing it wouldn’t be authentic. I wanted them to be able to make something that tasted good and was simple. That’s how you change behaviours.”
There was a time where Patel shied away from anything Indian when it came to cooking. While she went to hospitality school and learned how to cook, she avoided cooking Indian food.
“When I first lived in New Zealand I went through a phase where I was ashamed of my food. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I was a continental chef. I’d make pasta and nachos. But then I met an Indian guy, and I moved back to India and found myself living with my in-laws. I panicked. Oh my God! I didn’t know how to cook any Indian food!”
Patel had no idea about how to cook the basics. The shopping experience was also a culture shock.
“I didn’t know my way around Indian ingredients. I’d go to get chickpeas, and they don’t sell them in cans in India. I’d call my mother back in New Zealand, and say ‘these guys don’t understand what chickpeas are supposed to look like.”
Patel asked her mother to help her learn how to cook, and spent many conversations with her helping talk through the nuances of cooking Indian meals. As she did she because to fall in love with cooking the food of her childhood, the food her family had cooked for generations.
The Dolly Mumma range is named for her grandmother, who Patel has many fond memories of, especially when it comes to cooking.
Patel created the recipes and once did everything from making the pastes, to selling them at markets, online and running all the marketing.
As the business grew, her husband Rashad took over making the pastes and selling at markets, leaving Patel to be the face of the business and run the marketing and product development on top of a full-time job and raising a young family. “He quit his job to run the production and sales sides. Which is amazing because he didn’t even know how to cook rice. But here he is, cooking all of our products.”
Patel was originally against selling at markets. It was suggested to her while she worked with the Auckland Council food incubator.
“I didn’t want to. I just wanted an online shop. But my mentor told me to give it a go, and at least get some feedback if nothing else. Added to that was my discovery that having a beautiful Shopify site doesn’t mean you’ll get sales.The online growth was going to take longer than we expected. So we tried the traditional farmers markets and they’ve been really great. They’ve become our bread and butter as we’ve grown.”
The focus at the markets is not to try and get people to buy the pastes, but just get them to try them. “This flicked the switch for me. I’d have a goal such as, I’m going to get 300 of the 500 people here to try our pastes. We let the product do the talking.”
The range itself is unapologetically authentically Indian.
“We’ve not altered the pastes for a Kiwi palette. We’ve just focussed on making them super versatile. We did start with products that we personally use every day such as an “Indian every day” paste.”
However, while there are no plans to ever introduce a butter chicken paste, the Patels did introduce a cashew korma, and a tandoori paste, as they knew that people understood these and recognised them more easily.
“We wanted them to start with something they knew, so they’d taste it and then see how much more flavour it had than a standard supermarket paste, so they’d understand what we’d created.”
Patel knows her stand on not selling butter chicken paste, and keeping the range authentic may cost her sales.
But for her, it’s important to represent an authentic Indian food experience. She likens it to the current turmeric latte trend common in cafés.
“It’s easy for us as Indians to snigger at a turmeric latte in a café, and know it’s not what we’d do. But I believe it’s our job to build the bridge, to stop and share the real way of making a turmeric hot drink, and creating a dialogue. Then the other person can start to see and understand.”
You can listen to more of Patel’s story and her own discovery of Indian cooking on this week’s episode of the MAP IT Marketing podcast.
© 2022 Stuff Limited

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