In the cultural bastion of Pune, 'Mobile cooks' are ensuring the Diwali Faraal stay authentic
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Thirty-year-old Preeti Pandre is a beautician by profession. But come Diwali, and it's time to don the chef's apron for faraal—albeit with a twist. Preeti is a mobile cook who prepares homemade snacks in her customers' kitchens, asking only for the ingredients and utensils to be provided. "This way the customers get the satisfaction of having goodies and homemade snacks prepared in front of them. It sets everything in the festive mode, as the aromas of traditional goodies brings everyone to the kitchen."

With working women lacking the bandwidth to devote to making traditional Diwali homemade snacks, another group of women professionals have stepped up to the task: namely catering entrepreneurs whose professional expertise it is to maintain the flavours of homemade snacks.

A year back, 45-year-old home-maker turned caterer Vandana Thavare decided to take in orders for traditional Diwali homemade snacks and sweets. This year, the orders for homemade snacks have quadrupled, and she has had to turn down at least a fourth of the requests for homemade snacks. Even as she turns out mouth-watering chakli, shev, shankarpale, boondi and rava laddoos with the years of practice that inevitably come with having cooked for a joint household, she couldn't be happier. The same goes for the customers of her homemade snacks.

"What sets my homemade snacks apart is the fact that I am a home-maker and therefore do justice to the paramaparik flavours," she says. "In an increasingly fast-paced world, homemade snacks is a taste that finds much savour."

Shraddha Menon who runs her own little enterprise of homemade snacks under the name "Anushka baked goodies"- a slight misnomer for her catering team offers much more than just baked goods that are their flagship product. Named for her daughter, Anushka, she says the idea of catering for different occasions came to her with her inability to take up a full-time job after the little one's birth, despite having trained as a technical writer. "With my husband travelling frequently, it became impossible for me to take up a full-time job. Being a good cook, taking up freelance catering assignments was the ideal thing to do. Little orders of homemade snacks I could handle on my own, but for larger ones, I was joined by the similarly inclined women. Some were already good cooks, others had to be trained, but together we deliver."

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So be it a specific order for sugar-free goodies to wheat-based snacks given the increasing accent on health, or a large-scale order for Diwali homemade snacks to be distributed to families, friends and colleagues, the ladies do it all. And despite the fact that they charge more than your friendly neighborhood mithaiwala, the orders for homemade snacks are pouring in. "Our raw material is of a superior quality. We use home-made ghee, and the choicest ingredients for our homemade snacks. Great attention is paid to hygiene as well; plus we go easy on both the oil and spices as people are quite health conscious these days," she shares. "And honestly speaking, I would only feed another child what I would my own." Pricing for the homemade snacks starts upward of Rs. 350 per kilo. Depending upon the quantum of order, they would either request the customer to pick up their order or deliver it themselves. "For large, scale corporate orders we do the honours ourselves," she says.

Homemade snacks that generate the maximum repeat orders are chaklis, sev, chirote and anarses, as well as Puran polis and gul polis. "Making this stuff requires great expertise and practice," says Thavare. "Customers who place the order for homemade snacks say that while they adore these items, making them is quite a task—even with readymade dough available for items like chaklis. So they leave it to me. Items like Puran polis and gul polis are also much in demand, especially with the Marwari and Gujarati community who have a practice of not 'heating their tawa' due to religious reasons for about a week at this time of the year. So they place orders for homemade snacks and sweets that last." Changing times and exposure to other cultures also brings in requests for North-Indian goodies like halwas and Balushahi.

Bottomline? There's something to be said for the flavours of homemade snacks." Services like mine go a long way in keeping traditional tastes alive. You can't place a price on that; only value," says Pandre wiping the sweat off her brow.

Something these women caterers understand only too well.

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