A taste of Southern Indian cuisine in Seychelles: 'OM Food' a business born from a young bride's determination to adapt to new life and culture
Getting busy in the kitchen as a young bride moving from Chennai, India to Seychelles nurtured her passion to have her own cooking business making Indian snacks and southern and northern Indian dishes. (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency)
(Seychelles News Agency) - Fresh out of college back in the early 1980s, starting a family was not the only adventure awaiting a young Indian bride, Bharati Jothinathan Naidoo, as getting married also meant moving to a new country.
Married to a Seychellois of Indian origin, Naidoo moved from Chennai, a city on the eastern coast of India previously known as Madras and often described the ‘gateway to South India’ to the tiny Seychelles archipelago of 115 islands in the Western Indian Ocean, at the age of twenty in 1981.
Coming from one of India’s largest cities, she soon found that settling down in another country can be a daunting task, as it is not only a matter of adapting to a whole new way of life but also to a completely different culture from the language right down to the cuisine.
“The change was very difficult in the beginning because I didn’t know the language and everything seemed new to me as a young girl from Chennai. But the people were very friendly and very nice, and I got accustomed to the people over here. Of course with the help of my husband who got me going, it got better,” Naidoo told SNA in an interview.
The change for Naidoo was even more difficult as she not only moving from the city described by travel guide ‘Lonely Planet’ as the capital of South Indian cuisine, but being a vegetarian she also had to settle in a country where fish and meat are part of the staple diet.
“I'm a pure vegetarian, I used to find it very difficult to get anything vegetarian over here [in Seychelles] because everything had fish, chicken, egg, beef, pork and all that,” Naidoo added.
It was while trying to adapt and creating her own brand of vegetarian food to eat, that the idea of creating her own business was born.
“Having nothing to do at home, I used to bake cakes, make ice creams, chilli cakes [gato piman in the native Creole language] and all that,” said Naidoo.
|It was while trying to adapt and creating her own brand of vegetarian food to eat, that Bharati Jothinathan Naidoo had the idea of creating her own business. (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
With enough time on her hands what started out as a hobby for Naidoo developed into a full-time job and this is how her business OM [pronounced as the Indian chanting sound ‘om’] Food got off the ground with the help of her husband who also has his own business.
“Om is a chant; people meditate on that. It is a prayer for us…so I liked the word just OM. It is easier for the Seychellois people to pronounce it and to remember,” explains Naidoo.
Undeterred by some difficulties encountered at the beginning, like getting raw materials and access to foreign exchange, the determined lady tried to be innovative and did a lot of research to get new ideas that could work for her.
“I always liked cooking, and I like to browse on the internet, to see new recipes. So that's the time I said [to myself], why can't I do it? I had the idea but to implement it took about 2 to 3 years.”
Naidoo had to travel to her homeland in India to purchase some of the things needed to get the business off the ground and OM Food finally became operational in 2005.
It’s at her home located at St. Louis, a central district on the main Seychelles island of Mahe that a variety of Indian snacks including some that are well known and appreciated locally such as ‘pti mimi’ [potato sev], ‘samoosa’ and ‘gato piman’ [chilli cake] are made.
|Bharati Jothinathan Naidoo employs a staff of six including three Seychellois. (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
To cater for the taste of the Seychellois people, Naidoo even agreed to make adjustments in the way she prepares some of her snacks, for example, making the more Creole version of the chilli cake using flour and lentils instead of chana dal, [a bean that comes from India}.
The name of the business ‘OM Food’, leading people to think that there was more to it than Indian snacks also led Naidoo to venture out into providing Indian cuisine, starting out with vegetarian food, to a wide range of southern Indian as well as some northern Indian cuisine which also include chicken, mouton, fish, prawns and eggs.
The culinary features of North and South India cuisines tend to differ as in the South there is a tendency to use a lot of coconut in the cooking process while in North India there is more use of onions and tomatoes. The way of preparing the food and the taste also vary.
|OM Food gets most of its ingredients locally while those not available in Seychelles are sourced from Dubai and India. (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
All of OM Food’s snacks and food are prepared according to orders placed by various shops from all over the three main populated islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue, where they are later sold to the general public.
The most sought after snack is the famous ‘pti mimi [pototao sev] while the best-selling dishes mainly available for islanders on mainland Mahé include her chicken biryani, chapatti and chicken curry.
In her kitchen, the Indian-born business woman employs six staff of which three are Seychellois nationals, where they use a mixture of ingredients some of which can easily be found on the local market while others are preferably imported from Dubai and India.
|The famous ‘pti mimi [pototao sev] is one of the most sought after snack. [pototao sev] (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
“[The Seychellois workers] understand all the names that we say; the names of the sweets and snacks but for them to cook, I don't think they will be able to do so because [our way of cooking] is a long and tedious process. Seychelles cooking is very simple,” comments Naidoo.
Looking into the future, after spending nearly 35 years in Seychelles the owner of 'OM Foods', Bharati Jothinathan Naidoo, mother of two children born in Seychelles already has plans to have an outlet in the town centre with increasing demands for the business to offer a day-to-day take away service.
“My main problem is in town I don’t have space. I have a space booked, but I think it will take two to three years for them to [finish] the building,” revealed Naidoo.
|The owner of 'OM Food' Bharati Jothinathan Naidoo (middle) pictured with her husband [2nd from right] and some of the staff. (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
Uninhabited before their discovery by the Portuguese explorer, Vasco Da Gama in 1502, the Seychelles islands has a population of around 93,000 people.
Descendants of Indian settlers are among the five origins that primarily make up the Creole nation today while there are also many Indian living and working in various sectors of the economy from those owning businesses to those working in the fields of construction and health.
The historical link that Seychelles shares with India is celebrated as part of the Seychelles-India Day,which over the past three years have been an opportunity for the Seychellois public and visitors to admire and buy authentic Indian arts, clothing, jewellery as well as enjoy musical entertainment by Bollywood stars and taste spicy Indian foods.
Indian food and cuisine is not only appreciated in the Seychelles islands but is also well-known among other nations as it featured on the list of the ten best food preferred by global travellers, according to a worldwide food survey conducted in 2012.