A big part of the South Indian weddings or a traditional ‘kalyanam’ is the mad rush to the dining hall to indulge in some hot and wholesome meals, whether it’s ‘Kalyana Sadhya’ in Kerala for Hindu weddings or ‘Kalyana Saapadu’ or ‘virundhu’ in Tamil Nadu.
But this year, the pandemic has turned weddings into intimate affairs with guests sitting in their respective houses and live-streaming the ceremony. As a result, there is no ‘Elai Saapadu’ for hundreds of people laid on long tables as is done traditionally. To circumvent this problem, caterers in the business have found innovative ways to stay relevant, by offering guests a complete ‘wedding experience’ with food.
Recently, a picture of a ‘Kalyana Saapadu’ kit went viral on Twitter after a Chennai-based catering company cooked, packaged and home delivered over 125 such parcels across the city. The food for the live-streamed wedding was cooked and delivered by Arasuvai Arasu, a well-known catering firm with an expansive kitchen in Sholinganallur.
The ‘Saapadu’ kit had over 36 items including raw ‘appalams’ or crisps which the guests were instructed to fry at home. What’s more, the kit even came with a elai or plantain leaf, wooden spoons to serve the food items and a guide on what item to serve on which part of the leaf.
“At a wedding hall, we serve the items on the leaf and there is a method to do it. Certain items such as chips and appalams and paruppu (dal) are served first. This serving style is also a part of the wedding experience. In order to retain that, we also sent a pamphlet with a guide on what goes where. The leaf is marked with tags on where each item is to be served so that guests can follow that,” says Sreedhar Natarajan, who runs Arasuvai Arasu.
The food was packed in a hot box so that it would still be warm after guests live-streamed the wedding. The items included sambar saadam, thayir saadam, puliyan sadam, rasam sadam, more kuzhambu sadam, baby potato fry, avial, paruppu usili, sweet pachadi, thayir pachadi and then paal payasam and almond milk for dessert.
“We even serve chips, pickle, vada roast, different types of vegetables etc., and even beeda or paan. The food is packed in the hot box and then put in handwoven palm leaf bags. We keep napkins, water bottles, spoons, paper cups, etc., in order to ensure a thorough experience for the guest,” Sreedhar adds.
Along with the lunch packs, Sreedhar’s catering service even delivered 'Thamboolam' bags at the guests’ doorsteps. Thamboolam bags have sweets, coconut and other items that are usually offered to guests as they exit the wedding venue.
Along with their logistics arm, the catering service manages to deliver the food packs from Sholinganallur all the way to homes in Anna Nagar, Mylapore, Mandaveli and Vadapalani.
“All of the guests got their food pack before 1 pm. That was our biggest success, the way we planned the delivery of the food when it is still hot,” Sreedhar adds. Since the onset of the pandemic, Sreedhar’s company has home delivered food for at least five weddings.
The pandemic saw the wedding industry, like many others, experience unprecedented times and this called for quick and innovative solutions to the drought in business. And just like traditional caterers, star hotels in the city too adopted out-of-the box measures to feed their wedding guests.
A staff member at Chennai’s Taj Connemara says, “We prepare the wedding food and even deliver them home based on the client’s requirement. If they want us to deliver the food, we hire extra hands and vehicles. We ensure that the food is packaged conforming to COVID-safety and hygiene standards. We usually parcel the food in brown boxes which the clients would want decorated. So we add the wedding logo on the pack, the tissues or make other changes based on client specifications.” Apart from Connemara, other Taj hotels across the city too have been delivering wedding food kits to guests.
With weddings shrinking in size and scale, some caterers are also looking at opportunities outside of the industry. Thrissur-based Suresh Ambiswami Catering started a food cart with their best-selling payasams and sweets. The cart is in a tricycle, unlike a food truck, and sells sweet treats including palada payasam, ada pradhaman, parippu and various flavours of payasam. Sweets including ras malai, jalebi and jangri are also on sale.
“The weddings here are done on a very small scale. The maximum number of guests are 50 and people are very, very strict. So the scale of our business has shrunk, prompting us to innovate and look for other options to push sales,” Suresh Ambiswami tells TNM.
In the initial weeks of the launch, the cycle was being ridden around Thrissur town and the items were being sold. Now it is stationed at the East Fort area in Thrissur, which is centrally located and easily accessible to residents. The company is planning to launch one more cycle cart in the coming weeks, after tasting success the first time around.