THE NATIONAL | UAE couple cook up travel-inspired food kits with pre-packaged ingredients

November 19, 2020

THE NATIONAL | 19 NOVEMBER 2020 | Ardent travellers Sam Williams and Nisha Ramisetty describe their initial experience with the pandemic, and its stay-at-home rules, as claustrophobic. After all, this has been a year where most people have put their travelling plans on hold.

As days that could have been spent exploring the great outdoors turned into time on the couch in front of the television, many started looking for new experiences that could be created without leaving the house.

Such was the case for Williams and Ramisetty, who suddenly found themselves at home for an increased amount of time, with no plans to leave the country on the horizon.

“When we visit places, we love trying new food, so we tried to explore the world through our cooking,” says Ramisetty. “We started making elaborate meals that would take us two to three hours each.

“When we told friends about it, they started asking us to send them the food. So we did, along with the recipes. When more people started to ask us for details, we came up with the idea for Naksha Collections.”

The offerings from Naksha, which comes from the Sanskrit word for “map”, take the form of gourmet recipe packs, with each containing the ingredients and instructions to create a meal for two. The duo came up with six dishes, each from a different country around the Indian Ocean for their first collection.

Food sources around the Indian Ocean
The six dishes currently on offer are: polos ambula, a dish made with young jackfruit and tamarind from Sri Lanka; boashi, banana blossom fry from the Maldives, mtuzi wa samaki, a coastal African fish curry popular in Kenya and Zanzibar; cari crevette, a prawn dish from Mauritius; dhansak, a lentil stew popular among the Parsi community in India; and Yemeni mandi.

Each packet has a shelf life of about a year, with instructions for any fresh ingredients that need to be bought – there are vegan replacements for all ingredients – and recipe cards to prepare the dish.

The couple, who have visited four of the six nations the dishes are taken from, came up with the recipes themselves, with the assistance of friends and chefs from the respective countries.

“The idea was to introduce people to new flavours,” says Ramisetty. “In each of these packs, we are trying to put together ingredients that people don’t normally try. Take our dish from India, for example – it would have been so easy to go with butter chicken or rogan josh. But we went with dhansak, which has flavours like fenugreek and mint. We wanted to take people on an offbeat journey.”

Exotic ingredients that won't go to waste
Sustainability was also a priority. The couple, who had searched for a similar concept on shelves before deciding to launch their own, were tired of having to buy larger portions of exotic ingredients and not knowing what to do with them after.

“When you buy ingredients for a dish you don’t make very often, a lot ends up getting thrown out,” says Ramisetty. “How often have you had to pick up a 500-gram pack of Korean chilli powder that you only need 30g of? With this, you get ingredients that are authentic and perfectly proportioned.”

In September, the duo pitched Naksha Collections for Spinneys F&B incubator programme, and it was chosen as one of the 24 winners. The six food packets made it to the shelves of Spinneys and Waitrose branches across the UAE on Friday, November 20.

Tom Harvey, general manager of commercial at Spinneys, cites changing consumer behaviour as one of the reasons the brand was chosen.

“During the pandemic, demand for tasty and authentic home cooking experiences has boomed. We are excited to be working with Naksha because the concept fits squarely into this clear global trend."

UAE foodies open to flavours

Williams and Ramisetty believe that the UAE's multicultural community is yet another reason for Naksha's budding success. “The demographic here is well-travelled people who like exploring and eating. We are so glad this brand is born in the UAE – we think people here are open to new flavours from around the world,” says Williams.

While six recipes, all part of the Indian Ocean collection, are now ready, there is plenty more cooking in the Naksha kitchen, with its founders testing country-specific dishes and collaborations from around the world.

The pandemic may ravage on, but the duo want to highlight that there is always a silver living. “People are cooking more often, and they care more about what they eat,” says Williams. “They may not be able to travel like they used to, so at-home experiences with loved ones are more cherished than ever before.”

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