Sunday, August 10, 2014

Konkani cashews in Pepsi bottles

As someone with deep roots in the Konkan and an interest in farming, I read with great curiosity an article in the NY Times about Pepsi trying to sell the juice of cashew-apples from Ratnagiri district... and how the Clinton Foundation is involved! Link to the article is below:

I have never travelled by the Konkan railway, but I know that this is the time of the year when they run packed beyond capacity, as thousands of konkanis who have made Mumbai their home, make their way back to their native villages to celebrate the Ganesh festival that is coming up at the end of the month. There is no shortage of konkanis in Mumbai- my mother being one, too. She was born and raised in a small coastal town called Malvan which is not far from Ratnagiri and was, in fact, once a part of that district. Konkan is the regional name for the towns and villages located south of Mumbai, along the Arabian sea coast in the state of Maharashtra.

I like to think of myself as konkani too, even though my father is not konkani and I have never really lived there. But I have visited many times. And my grand mother- my dad's mother -was from the same town as my mother. So I guess that makes me at least 75 percent konkani; which I feel is enough to make me a bona fide konkani at heart.

The reason I am a proud konkani is - the food. The konkanis are all about their food. Their life revolves around the fresh catch of the day and the availability of fish in the market. And although, fish in coconut curry and steamed white rice is the staple, there is no shortage of delicious delicacies cooked elaborately, using complex flavors and fine techniques, in konkani cuisine. Some of the things that I got to eat in my grandma's home in Malvan- cooked by my aunts- I am afraid I can only taste in my memory now: their taste nearly impossible to replicate authentically in my Mumbai kitchen, let alone in a NewYork kitchen for the time, effort and freshness and purity of the ingredients that is required to do so. But again, a konkani at heart can easily forget everything else as long as there is a small piece of fresh fish sitting pretty on her plate next to the rice… just for the smell of it!

So naturally, as someone with deep roots in the Konkan and an interest in farming- small scale farming that is, I read with great curiosity an article in the NY Times about Pepsi trying to sell the juice of cashew-apples from Ratangiri district - especially the couple of paragraphs below:

"To help improve the farming, collection and rapid processing of the apples, Pepsi turned to the Clinton foundation, which had expressed interest in the company's efforts to incorporate small farmers into its global supply chains. Small farmers supply it with chickpeas in Ethiopia and corn and sunflowers in Mexico.

"We work with them to  improve cultivation and yields and offer them better prices for their nuts as well as create a market for their cashew-apples," said G Ramachandran, general manager of Acceso Cashew Enterprise, the business established by the Clinton Foundation last December to carry out the program in India.

The Portuguese introduced cashew trees in the 16th century in the region around Goa, hoping to stem the erosion of rich topsoil that was being washed away by heavy rains. Now India is one of the world's largest cashew producers. Some three - quarters of the roughly 660,000 tons of nuts grown here come from small farmers with orchards of one to two hectares, or 2.5 to 5 acres." ….Who knew?

Spicy cashews which were long available in India are now commonly seen in Manhattan super- markets labeled as masal and curry cashews. In Mumbai, during the season, I sometimes see road-side vendors selling olay kaju or wet (fresh) cashews sitting like fish - on a bed of ice; when cooked they taste like shrimp. But I am not sure the juice of cashew-apples will become popular among the konkanis - unless Pepsi finds a way to lace it with the smell of fish - just a little bit.

1 comment:

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