Millets have been an intrinsic part of the culinary fabric of Indian subcontinent for a very, very long time, and records dating back to 3 millennium BC are a testament to that fact. Yet, most youngsters in India today have no clue about millets and how they are nutritional superstars.
A primary reason for this could be traced to the gradual shift by farmers to more popular and lucrative crops like rice and sugarcane over the years, which are highly water-intensive and require a greater investment of time, money and resources.
In comparison, millets have proven to be extremely low maintenance crops which have not only adapted to poor, droughty and infertile soils but also don’t require fertilisers or pesticides for better growth.
With the aim of bringing millets, which were once a central part of Karnataka’s food culture, back to the mainstream, one young man in Bengaluru has come up with a novel idea—a zero-budget restaurant with a purely millet-based menu!
Millet Mama was conceptualised and founded by civil engineer-turned-restaurateur Abhishek B, who hails from the Mandya district in the state. Issues like damming of rivers, farmers switching to water-intensive crops and more importantly, fading away of age-old food traditions and culture, led Abhishek to ponder over the possibility of reintroducing millets and take it to the streets!
Following a lot of research and a visit to his district where he learnt how millets were one of the most sustainable crops for both the environment and farmers, Abhishek opened Millet Mama as a hotel and catering service in South End Circle seven months back, with donations and voluntary support from friends and family.
From traditional dishes like puliyogare, bisi bele bath, idli, dosa and vada that are freshly prepared, to millet-based products like laddus, the hotel opens up many doors of possibilities and scope for experimentation with the superfood that is no way behind when it comes to taste and satisfaction.
While the hotel has its foundational pillars already resting over a fresh mix of concepts like traditions and health, Millet Mama can also be touted as a model for sustainability for everything here is either second-hand or made out of upcycled materials.
“The idea was not only to promote sustainability but also bring to the fore, the creativity of rural artisans. For instance, the lampshades you find here are bamboo baskets woven by artisans from Tumkur. While most of the furniture at the hotel was sourced from the public bathing space in KR market, where these would have otherwise been burnt away as firewood, the bookshelves were upcycled from discarded wooden crates that I’d sourced out from fruit markets. A special mention goes to my artist friend, Srimayi Rao (MetamorphoeniX), who has played a central role in making the restaurant look the way it is today,” says the 26-year-old to The Better India.
As to why he chose millets, Abhishek believes that if the market for the crops is revived, burning issues like water scarcity and farmer suicides can be brought under control.
“If we look back in history, millets had a central and prevalent role in the food culture of states like Karnataka, largely because the belt was relatively water short and these crops fit in that gap perfectly. With the rampant formation of dams and government’s push on Public Distribution System (PDS) and subsidised seeds, the shift to water-intensive crops like rice and sugarcane in a region that was known to be water short seemed possible for farmers and eventually paved the way for lesser and lesser crop production and demand for millets. It has only been in the recent years that the farmers have been suffering miserably, especially with the Kaveri issue on the forefront,” shares Abhishek.
This is where Abhishek’s intervention and operational scale makes a difference.
“I believe that if we can make the farmers comprehend that a market for millets is slowly finding a space and they can reap benefits from millets with a low monetary investment and no water-scarcity concerns, maybe the rate of farmer suicides and heavy debts could be brought down considerably. Also, at Millet Mama, every dish is nominally priced to encourage more urban-dwellers to give millets a chance, and my greater aim is to take millets to the streets that anyone and everyone can have,” he adds.
Despite located in a space that has many prominent restaurants nearby, Abhishek shares that Millet Mama is slowly carving a niche for itself and the response has been really great. In fact, he has begun to receive catering orders for large events like weddings and housewarming ceremonies, where people have specifically asked for a millet-based menu and haven’t been disappointed at all!
The key reason why he centred the restaurant on the zero-budget model and no collaboration with large-scale investors is that Abhishek feels that this leads to a lot of interference as to pricing and functionality. “Because of this, what we have here is a menu comprising entirely of traditional recipes and dishes that are priced for everyone, and I intend to take this forward like that only,” he says.
Another endearing aspect of the hotel is that even Abhishek’s mother is now part of the kitchen and all the millet-based products are made by housewives located in the city itself that are now finding takers from across the state.
According to Abhishek, “This way, the women are also able to find employment as well as a stable source of income through their hard work and knowledge of traditional recipes out of millets.”
With its down-to-earth approach, Millet Mama emulates the phrase in a literal sense with a ground seating arrangement as well. “Besides a hotel, I want Millet Mama to emerge as a space for the youth where they hold discussions on the subject and how with their technical knowledge, they can start businesses or ventures that loops in the rural population like I have. Starting from next month, Millet Mama will launch ‘Meet over Millets,’ which will be held twice a month as an awareness and discussion forum that will primarily discuss health benefits of a millet-based diet and pro-environmental aspects of the crops,” he concludes.
We are definitely planning to try the traditional millet dishes served at Millet Mama and urge you to do the same!
You can look up more on Millet Mama at Facebook. To know more, you can reach out to Abhishek at 7411918648 or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)