Every alternate Monday, Meena Subramanian posts a new menu on Instagram offering a range of traditional, pure vegetarian food items such Kozhakattai, Poricha Kozhambu, Vayyakai Kara Kari, Vendakkai Pacchidi, Puliyogare, Palada Pradhaman, jackfruit kheer, among others.
The 35 slots for orders are sold off within half an hour, and the orders are delivered by the weekend.
It has been only a year for the Mumbai-based home chef who ventured into the food business by chance.
Meena belongs to Tirunelveli city of Tamil Nadu but she was born and raised in Mumbai. She learned most of the recipes from her mother, grandmother and mother-in-law.
Her culinary skills were appreciated by her nieces, whom she frequently sent thattai and murukku, traditional fried snacks made from lentils, rice, urad dal and spices from her home kitchen. So, in 2018, they suggested she start a business. “Murukku is made by hand and requires special skill. I learned it from my grandmother and I am good at it. But I had old parents and could not pursue the business proposal,” says the 59-year-old.
However, the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 posed another opportunity for her. “I sent homemade food to my son’s friends, and they loved it and their requests for Tamil delicacies became frequent,” she tells The Better India.
Meena says, “They started offering me money and insisted on repeating the food requests and would feel bad if they did not pay.”
This was how Perima’s kitchen was born. ‘Perima’ in Tamil means ‘mother’s elder sister’, and is often addressed by nieces and nephews of the family.
The kitchen accepts orders every alternate weekend and limits them to 35-40 deliveries. The food items change according to the seasons, festivals and availability of vegetables.
Meena says that all her ingredients and spices come from the shops of Tirunelveli, which promises the authentic taste and experience of Tamil cuisine. “The cold press oil, powders, material for pickles and other items are sourced twice or thrice a year as needed. It makes a huge difference in the food quality and taste,” she says.
She explains that once the orders are accepted, she starts preparing for them on Saturday. “I start planning and arranging for the raw materials. Saturday is spent preparing the mixes, masalas and chopping vegetables. The food is cooked on Sunday morning and ready for delivery by 11.30 am,” she says.
The food contains a salad, three vegetables—out of which one is made from freshly ground coconut—rasam, sambhar or kadhi, pickle, papad, buttermilk or curd with rice and a sweet dish. It costs Rs 1,000 for a meal that serves two.
“Dishes like Payasam, Rasam Vada, Tamarind rice, Idlis and Avial are popular among the customers,” she says.
Meena says she accepts limited orders considering the size of her kitchen and for quality control purposes. “I am confident about delivering quality food to 35, as I work alone and do not wish to compromise on the quality,” she explains.
Gulzar Govewalla, a retired fund manager from Worli and repeat customer, says it is the quality that makes all the difference in the food. “I came to know about Perima’s kitchen from Instagram. The food is worth it as Meena does not cut corners and has no inferior ingredients,” she says.
Gulzar admires how Meena prepares all the food from scratch. “Even the banana fries are not from the market and she makes an effort to prepare them at home. The food is served in banana leaves which makes it more authentic,” she adds.
Meena says 30 per cent of her clients are repeat customers and she earns a business of Rs 70,000 per month. Though she has become popular, such was not the case until three months after launching her business.
“Initially, I used to feel sceptical and anxious about who would order food from me. I received six orders a week and gradually increased to 20 in the next couple of months. Eventually, I started serving 30-40 meals, and that’s where I decided to draw the line. Earlier, the slots were filled by Friday and now this happens within half an hour,” she adds.
Speaking from her experience, Meena says that one should always listen to their heart. “If you wish to follow something you enjoy, do not give it a second thought,” she adds.
Check out Meena’s Instagram page to drool over yummy Tamilian cuisine.
Edited by Yoshita Rao