In the early 2000s, Meenkashi Meyappan, then in her 60s, set up The Bangala, the first heritage hotel in the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu. At 88 now, she’s still actively involved in the running of the place and a force to reckon with. Chettinad is known for its heritage mansions that used to be family homes, one of which is now The Bangala.
It was Meenakshi who turned the family property into a major reason that tourists visit Karaikudi, and while it is gorgeous, with antique furniture and beautifully tiled old-school flooring paired with a lovely pool and spa, the big draw at The Bangala is the stellar Chettinad cuisine on offer. The in-house restaurant, which consistently finds a place on top restaurant lists including Conde Nast Traveller’s own, offers up dishes like chilli garlic fish, prawn curry, spiced kingfish, okra with tamarind and shallots, crab rasam, chicken with black pepper, and many that might seem unexpected, but actually make sense, given the region’s trading history.
The truly surprising thing? Meenakshi, who is widely considered Chettinad cuisine’s best ambassador, doesn’t even cook. She knows the food inside out though, as she does the intricacies of running a successful hospitality venture without compromising on why she started it in the first place – to really bring out the nuances of the region. And her work goes beyond the hotel – she has also authored books including The Bangala Table and Mansions of Chettinad. (thebangala.com)
Radha Daga, Triguni Eze Eats
Chances are you’ve sent a silent thank you to her from 37,000 feet, even if you didn’t know it. That eight-minute upma that’s been the saviour of those who’ve had to take a 6am flight? That’s the brainchild of 80-year-old Radha Daga, who started her brand, Triguni Eze Eats, a little over 10 years ago. A former textile exporter, she came across a mgazine ad for ready-to-eat pasta that just needed hot water and wondered why that couldn’t be applied to other foods. She first tried with idlis, but when that didn’t work, she tried lemon rice, biryani, and tamarind rice, which hit the mark. She put her entrepreneurial skills to use and in 2012, IndiGo came calling for her biryani and later, upma. Today, the airline is her single biggest client, contributing to more than 80 percent of her sales, though her products are retailed on Amazon as well as in stores. Some of her other products include dal chawal, poha, rajma chawal, and pongal sambar, and now she even supplies food to the IRCTC for train travellers. (ezeeats.com)
Kokila Parekh, KT Masala
While the lockdown took away jobs from many people, it also provided an opportunity to those with the drive and means to make it happen. And that opportunity was clearly age-agnostic, as in the case of Kokila Parekh, an 81-year-old from Mumbai. Watch any masala chai ad and you can almost smell the rejuvenation that the drinkers of the spicy tea claim to feel with just one sip.
Kokila’s chai masala, a blend of ginger, cardamom, lemon, and other magical things in her secret combination, seems to have that effect on people too. Any guest at her home would marvel at her tea, and would be sent back armed with a packet of her spice mix. But it was during the first year of the pandemic that Kokila decided she wanted to try going commercial with it. Her son Tushar helped her set up the basics – a commercial-sized grinder, branded sealable packaging, deals with spice sellers for bulk quantities – and thus KT (Kokila Tushar) was born. Now shipping across India, KT is looking to take this all-natural spice mix global.