'At Matamaal, you are family'

At Matamaal, you are a family. Away from their homeland and going beyond Kehwa and Wazwan, the prominent restaurant ‘Matamaal’ is becoming ‘talk of the town’ for Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims living in Delhi and Haryana cities. The modest-sized restaurant that has a full-sized shikara inside is run by a hospitable Kashmiri couple. Surinder Sadhu and Nalini Moti Sadhu, both originally from summer capital Srinagar, Kashmir, are the eponymous ‘grand-parents’ (Matamaal means naani’s house) and it is they who greet first-timers and regular guests with the famous Kashmiri warmth. The place is full of taste and treasure.

In a candid interview with Greater Kashmir’s senior editor, Nazir Ganaie, entrepreneur Nalini, who is an expert in Kashmiri Pandit cuisine and has mastered the traditional recipes inherited from her family, shares about Kashmir, its food and culture, her journey of launching Matamaal and celebrating food of Kashmiri Pandits. 

Excerpts  

Greater Kashmir (GK): Tell us about yourself and your journey from Kashmir?

Nalini Moti Sadhu (NMS) I was born and brought up in Rajbagh, Srinagar, where I did my schooling at Mallinson Girls school and later went on to do my graduation from Women’s College located in Maulana Azad Road. I completed my post-graduation in Marketing from Kashmir University. Something that I always cherish from my childhood was the motto of my school which was “Faithful in the least”. For me, my interpretation of this phrase was commitment and sincerity in whatever I do. That’s something that has driven me all my life.

GK: How did the journey of Matamaal begin?

NMS: My journey with Kashmiri cuisine started right after my marriage with Surinder when I inherited the age-old family recipes from my mother-in-law, who was kind enough to teach me the tricks of the trade. Surinder and I have always cherished good food and over the years, we have worked together to master the recipes. We always talked about owning our own restaurant that specialised in Kashmiri Pandit cuisine someday. A lot of our friends and family members loved our food and hospitality and motivated us to cook at large gatherings and that’s when I did my first commercial event at Hilton, Bahrain in the early 90s. After coming back to Delhi, I continued to host loved ones over an authentic Kashmiri spread. One of my greatest achievements was the Kashmiri Food Festival that I hosted with my younger sister at Raffles Hotel in Singapore in 2001. The event is still fondly remembered by everyone present and gave us an idea about the commercial viability of Kashmiri Pandit cuisine. 

With the advent of the start-up wave in 2012, I decided to showcase Kashmiri cuisine from home by enrolling some of our authentic dishes on ‘Home-food’ delivery apps like Biteclub. This was the first time Kashmiri pandit cuisine was being recognised and appreciated in the city. I have always believed in the power of the quote ‘what you are seeking is seeking you’ and along the way I’ve met a bunch of people who helped me one step at a time. I initially created a Facebook page to post about Kashmiri cuisine and culture. Meanwhile, I started receiving orders from people all over Delhi NCR who would come and pick up the food. Once the volume started increasing, my husband and I discussed quite frequently the idea of opening a restaurant. One fine morning, we woke up with the idea of reaching out to the world by setting up a base and that’s when Matamaal was born. 

GK: Being the natives of Kashmir, you provided an outlet with a unique Kashmiri name, how did it happen?

NMS:  It wasn’t very difficult to shortlist from the list of names. Matamaal means Grandmother’s home in Kashmiri and it’s an emotion altogether. Not only in our culture, the love and warmth of being at your grandmother’s home is appreciated across the country. 

GK: What were the challenges in the beginning?

We were venturing into an unexplored territory by introducing Kashmiri Pandit cuisine in the city. Delhi NCR is known as the food capital of the country and there couldn’t have been a more challenging location to launch a new cuisine altogether. Wazwaan was well-known in the city but no one really knew about Kashmiri Pandit cuisine, while most guests appreciated the nuances of the cuisine, for some, it did not quite match their palate. A conscious decision that we took was to not change anything about the authenticity of our cuisine and to stay true to our age-old recipes. That’s one of the reasons for Matamaal’s success.

GK: How was the concept of Matamaal taken by the larger KP community in Delhi or Gurgaon?

NMS: The concept was never seen before. The community members would show Matamaal to their non-Kashmiri family and friends with pride. Everything about the restaurant has an emotional connect. It soon became the go-to destination for the city to experience Kashmir, in the hustle-bustle of the city life. 

GK: How are you celebrating Kashmiri Pandit food ?

NMS: Now, I can proudly say that we were the pioneers in introducing Kashmiri Pandit cuisine to the country. Our vision is to take Kashmiri cuisine to the world and we’re working towards it every day.

GK: Tell us about the menu you offer to your wide-range of customers?

NMS: Over the years, we realised, there is much more to Kashmir when it comes to the nuances of the varied delicacies. Soon after the inception with Kashmiri Pandit cuisine, we launched Matamaal’s Bakehouse, hygienically baked, traditional Kashmiri breads. The consistency always comes from the spices, so we created a strong supply chain network in Kashmir and across the country to source the right ingredients.

GK: Kanz, Muhul, Vaghu and Shup…, what more do you curate at Matamaal?

NMS: As the network got stronger, we launched our own spice, dry fruits and Kashmiri artefacts e-commerce brand called Kanz and Muhul (www.kanzandmuhul.com). Our menu also features some of the best Wazwan delicacies prepared by seasoned Waza’s from Kashmir. Most of our work revolves around reviving lost recipes and traditions. At the restaurant, you will also find lost artefacts like Vaghu, Shup, Brass Samavar, Degchi and a traditional sit-down area that we call ‘Voat’

GK: Interesting reviews you get from non-Kashmiri customers?

NMS: It’s mostly been knowledge sharing about our culture and cuisine from the beginning. Our guests would always wonder how we were cooking such sumptuous delicacies without onion, garlic and tomatoes. The traditional recipe of dum aloo requires pricking with a needle and our guests would wonder how our spices go inside the potatoes. For people who have visited Kashmir, they were able to experience Kashmir, in the heart of the city with a larger menu covering two important cuisines of the region.