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HomeFeaturesPuran Poli to pickles—In Dapoli, women are bringing home-chef revolution to Konkan...

Puran Poli to pickles—In Dapoli, women are bringing home-chef revolution to Konkan food

In the last 10 years, Maharashtra’s Dapoli has emerged as a prime tourist destination. And tourists want the authentic Konkani thali.

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In the winding lanes of Dapoli—a small coastal town in north Ratnagiri district with abundant mango, coconut, and banyan trees—there are boards every 300-500 metres that say: You will get home-cooked food here.

The boards lead visitors to small roadside restaurants or homestays, where Konkan women, who would earlier only cook for their families, are putting their talents to use and giving large crowds of tourists a taste of authentic Konkani food, complete with fresh pomfret or surmai and the kokum-rich sol kadhi.

In the last ten years, Dapoli, with its charming vistas of the Arabian Sea from cliffs, has emerged as a prime tourist destination, with tourists trying to look beyond the crowded Alibag for a beach holiday in Maharashtra. Homestays and small resorts have mushroomed around the quaint town with Konkani cuisine being a major draw. And Dapoli women are seizing the day.

“I cook not just the meals, but I also prepare dry snacks like masala, atta, chutney, and various desserts such as modak and shrikhand on a small scale. There are a lot of people who prefer home-cooked food these days. So, I started this place a month back,” said 61-year-old Nilima Sawant, who set up Nilpari Food and Snacks Corner a year ago in Dapoli town centre.

Nilima Sawant in her kitchen | Purva Chitnis/ThePrint

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Home chefs and their puran poli

Nipari Food has only two tables and a billing counter where Konkani snacks, various types of papad, biscuits and chocolates are kept.

The only room on the premises has been turned into a kitchen – fully lit and with proper ventilation. It’s homely with steel utensils, water pots, an Aquaguard, and a refrigerator standing in one corner. Another woman arranges these utensils as Sawant kneads the dough for chapatis.

Sawant, 61, quit her government job a few years after marriage. But in 2016, life took a new turn. She started running a homestay in Kokumwadi nearby. The owner was an old man so Sawant took charge of running the homestay.  She says she would cook food for all the guests herself—about 12 when the house was full.

A Konkan thali | Purva Chitnis/ThePrint

“It was a 3 BHK house and I used to personally cook for all guests. They loved what I cooked and wanted homemade local delicacies. But when Covid hit, the owner sold off his resort,” Sawant said.

Nilima Sawant did not give up. She knew she had to keep going and 15 August 2022 was a new independence day for her. She opened her own small food corner, investing over Rs 1 lakh, confident that she would break even in a year.

Sawant is not alone. A lot of people are seeing potential in this business in Dapoli.

“Many tourists come from Pune-Mumbai in this area. So, locals are coming up with their own small resorts or homestays,” says Vikrant Mayekar, owner of Hotel Amantran, a small resort in Dapoli’s Harnai.

Omkar Dabke, a resident who runs a tourism business called Omkar Holidays and also works in a bank, says that there are over 160 resorts in Dapoli and several homestays.

“There is a demand for typical Maharashtrian items such as steamed modakpuran polisanjane, which you normally don’t get at big hotels. It has led to the creation of ‘bachat groups’, each comprising 10-12 women who tie up with big resorts for bhakri, chapatis, papad, etc.,” Dabke says. “These groups get low-interest loans from banks and that’s opening up employment options for women.”

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Just how it would taste at home’

Sunita Jadhav was relishing her plate full of Maharashtrian delicacies at Nilpari Snacks Corner. She had ordered a non-veg thali. There was a fried pomfret with a slice of lemon and salad on one plate, and prawns, two chapatis, dal, rice, and mango pickle arranged in another. Later, Sunita ordered a steamed modak, a speciality at Nilpari, as her dessert. She is a working woman who hails from Pune and stays alone in Dapoli.

“I always come here to have home-styled food. They serve good Maharashtrian-style breakfast and local Konkani dishes for lunch and dinner. The food is not oily or spicy, but just how it would taste at home,” she says.

Sudiksha Bovne kneads wheat | Purva Chitnis/ThePrint

In the Harnai beach area, Sachin Bovne and his family run a homestay where Sudhiksha Bovne and Swanandi Bovne have been cooking meals. They are sisters-in-law. Gulmohar, the homestay, was started by the family five years ago when they thought of providing meals to patrons because tourism was growing.

“It is different cooking for your family and cooking large-scale. But there is a good demand for home-cooked food,” says Swanandi. “Many tourists come here and even though they are staying in bigger resorts, they come to us for homemade fish fry or curry.”

Sudiksha got married last year and picked up the Bovne family business. “My mother-in-law is a very good cook and she taught us. I am still learning.”

Both women, however, agree that their cooking talent is reaching new horizons with a growing audience. “With this homestay, many more people can come and enjoy our food. They appreciate us and it feels nice that our talent is getting recognised,” Swanandi says.

Down the same road from Gulmohar, Vaishali Erundakar, a resident of Mandangaon, started her restaurant last year. She has been in the restaurant business for the last 20 years. The tourism rush in Dapoli brought Erundakar to the area.

“During peak season, one can easily make Rs 15,000-20,000 daily. Just by cooking at home, women can do business,” she said.

Many village women who do not own a restaurant or homestay get jobs as cooks or kitchen staff in Dapoli.

Janhavi Bhogad, who was a domestic worker, now cooks at Hotel Amantran. She makes chapatis and bhakris for which she gets Rs 6,000 per month. “This is good work and I like doing this better. I earn more money cooking,” she says.

Purva Chitnis/ThePrint

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Road to Dapoli

The infrastructure of Dapoli, though, hasn’t caught up with its home chefs.

Mayekar, the owner of Hotel Amantran, says that since the area is a small beach town, it has not yet reached its potential.

If anyone from Mumbai or Pune has to go for a weekend getaway, they still prefer Alibag as it takes over five hours to travel to Dapoli, he says. “The roads are not very good here. A lot needs to be done to develop tourism.”

“If conditions of roads and accessibility are improved, more tourists can come here. This can generate jobs,” Vaishali added.

Vaishali Erundkar in front of her eatery| Purva Chitnis/ThePrint

For now, tourism is the bread and butter of Dapoli. And women are leading the home-chef revolution that’s drawing people there.

“The money they get from this business is more than farming,” Dabke says.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)

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