What is a qualified engineer in Bengaluru doing taking the spicy flavours of Nagaland to the rest of India, as well as the world?
Building a thriving pickle business is what.
With his venture The Rumbling Spoons, 31-year-old Nitu Viluo has even reached the union territories of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Port Blair, along with 14 countries.
Nitu’s entrepreneurial spirit is filled with pride in his rich Northeastern culture.
“I belong to the Angami Naga tribe and speak Angami, Nagamese Creole, English, Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, some Nepali and Kannada,” the Bengaluru-based entrepreneur tells The Better India. “I aim to offer tradition and neatly wrapped delicacies that conjure a homely feeling anywhere and everywhere.”
Growing up in Dimapur city, cooking always fascinated him. “That simple smile and chit chat over some delicacies are truly priceless,” he says, adding, “Everyone in my family loves cooking. Being the youngest child with two elder sisters, I wasn’t asked to cook a lot. Our parents were working, so my sisters used to cook for us.”
He adds that as a child, he relished traditional Angami dishes like Galho, a rice porridge; smoked pork and escargot — freshwater snail.
After Class 10, he left to complete his Class 12 in Kohima. Thereafter he appeared for his JEE and graduated in electronics and communication engineering from Karnataka in 2014.
Nitu’s learnings from watching his family cook came in handy at the hostel, where he would prepare Naga-style delicacies for his friends. “You meet different people in a government hostel — some prefer pork, some mutton, and others like chicken. So, I would make a simple chicken curry and kebabs that could be enjoyed by everyone,” he recalls.
But after graduation, five years of working landed him in hospital for want of being unable to eat healthy, home-cooked meals. “In 2019, I quit my job in the IT sector to prepare for banking exams. But I was soon hospitalised for stomach issues. After that, I tried to eat healthy food,” he says.
Unwell and away from his family, Nitu missed the comfort of his home, and wanted to bring the flavours of Nagaland to the ‘Silicon Valley of India’. And what better way than preserve these dishes in pickles?
“I figured that by pickling Naga dishes, I would be able to eat them with everything. I first made Naga-style pork pickle in a small batch of 20. I then distributed them to friends and colleagues. Soon, orders started pouring in from corporate offices, especially from people who came from Nagaland,” he says.
The Rumbling Spoons
Nitu admits that his parents were less than thrilled at his decision of taking to pickling. “‘You should not have quit your job to prepare for the exams’, was the response I got from my parents. And when they found out I was going to make pickles for a living, they were not happy. They were worried about my finances because I stayed alone and away from home. But I reduced my expenses and relied on my savings in the beginning,” adds the one-man army behind the pickling, social media handling and marketing of the pickles.
The Rumbling Spoons began with an initial investment of just Rs 500. Asked about the inspiration behind the name, he says he wanted to stand out from the scores of home chefs and others starting their food business ventures. “I wanted our tribal Naga food to be enjoyed by everyone around the globe. After a lot of thought, I decided to call it ‘The Rumbling Spoons’ because it was catchy.”
The USP of the brand is that it is all homemade with no preservatives or MSG. Today, Nitu has 21 types of pickles, including seasonal varieties. Their availability also depends on his capacity and production. Currently, eight types of pickles are available on his website — Pork, Silkworm, Beef, Chicken, Mushroom Kingchilli, Kingchilli and Jhal Chana.
His best-selling pickles are the flavourful Pork Pickle and the unique Oyster Mushroom Pickle. “The mushroom is first cleaned, shredded and then sun-dried for a couple of hours. Later, I fry it in mustard oil. It is also made using five spices (panch phoran) and Kingchillies,” says an excited Nitu.
The silkworm pickle is another chef’s special, cooked in Naga style. “I use dried bamboo shoot, Sichuan peppercorn, fermented bamboo shoot, chilli powder, Kingchilli, mustard oil and salt,” he adds. The recipes for these pickles are all tried and tested by the chef who has documented specific quantities of ingredients, including the amount of water for the right consistency.
Here, he confesses that most of his pickle flavours are spicy — with the key ingredients used in some of his pickles being Sichuan peppercorn, Kingchillies, Nagaland ginger, garlic, dried bamboo shoot and mustard oil. But he customises the orders as per requests.
Nitu sources these ingredients from home. “When I started, I couldn’t find any of these ingredients in Bengaluru, so I would source ingredients from Assam and Manipur. In 2020, a lot of shops came up selling ingredients from the North East but for consistency, I still source most of my ingredients from home,” he says.
He says that a year after the launch, he began getting 100 orders a month. The pickles were popularised through word of mouth and social media.
“Now, The Rumbling Spoons reaches Korea, Japan, US, Australia, UK, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, China and most of the neighbouring countries,” he says with a smile.
“My pickles start from Rs 100 (Jhal Chana pickle) for about 100 gm and go up to Rs 280 (Silkworm pickle). The prices depend on the ingredients and also if it is vegetarian or non-vegetarian,” he says, adding, “I have managed to make a profit of about 15 per cent.”
The journey of this engineer managing a pickling biz, including designing his own label, has been one filled with learning. “I learnt a lot of discipline from engineering. The technical knowledge helps me stay one step ahead in this small business. With my work experience, I now know how to interact with people and empathise with them,” says the chef who was also a finalist on a gourmet cooking show — Naga Chef Season 8.
“I see myself and my vocation growing into something bigger and brighter,” he says, adding that establishing a chain of ethnic food, particularly Naga style, is next on the menu.
“The scope of food in Nagaland and the Northeast region is vast, with many new things to discover. The food sector is also strikingly new to many people who think of it as only a part-time job or hobby. As such, giving opportunity and encouraging entrepreneurial chefs will be a big step forward to keep all food lovers ‘rumbling their spoons’, which echoes far and near,” he says.
You can visit The Rumbling Spoons Instagram page here.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)
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