When we were brainstorming and thinking about the brand name for the start-up that Sid and I were embarking on, we went through several iterations. We knew we wanted to work with the lovely women's self-help groups Sid had come across in his travels in interior Maharashtra. We knew they made the most delicious traditional food items endemic to the region with authenticity and by incorporating the local practices of production that had been passed down generations. We also knew these were exactly the food products nutritionists and followers of the Clean Food movement were propagating as suitable for our bodies and least harmful to the environment. And we most certainly believed that putting these foods center of the plate for our customers would take them back to their roots and give them the nourishment and taste they had last known in their grandmothers' cooking.
We had everything, but we didn't have a name! Help was solicited from friends who were wordsmiths and creative writers and editors but to no avail.
A chance to present Marathi food and culture
But serendipity has been my friend from childhood, and she once again came to our rescue. Over a family lunch, Sid was recounting our struggles with getting the right brand name when his uncle, who is a marine engineer by profession and as far removed from the creative arts as the galaxies we saw in the recent NASA pictures, happened to mention that the feelings we were trying to invoke through our products reminded him of his Aazol.
Aazol, we asked. What is that?
This is when we first heard that Aazol meant the house of your maternal grandmother in Marathi, but more than that, it evoked the feeling of love and nurturing and summer holidays and childhood fun. Hearing this gruff, tough gentleman wax lyrically about the nostalgia he felt when he thought of his Aazol, we felt a tingling at the backs of our necks. Did we finally have our brand name? Sid and I looked at each other. But as good marketers, we needed to do some more research and validate this feeling.
Confirming the memory and reactions
So as the next steps, I pounced on our driver Sakharam, who is a Maharashtrian and asked him what the word Aazol meant to him. In the last 25 years that he has been with us, Sakharam has rarely uttered a word and is given to communicating his thoughts to us on what pleases or displeases him with a series of guttural grunts and groans. Much to my amazement, he too went into raptures by talking about the laad-pyaar (tender affection) one gets in one's Aazol. The next port of call was our yoga teacher, and we had barely mentioned Aazol when she started telling us stories of the fun she had when all her cousins would get together during summer breaks at her grandparents' place and the midnight feasts they would have. Her eyes brightened with the memories of the ice lollies and the mango panna that would get consumed beneath the shade of the tree in the courtyard as everyone lay about languorously trying to beat the summer heat with their Aaji fanning them with her pallu and telling them stories.
Aazol – The traditional food of Maharashtra is born
When Sid and I heard all these spontaneous and heartfelt outpourings from such disparate people whose memories of their grandmother's home were all held together by the tender thread of her love, we knew we had a winner. And that's exactly how the name Aazol came about!
And then, slowly, we started adding more and more products to our list after a thorough quality check and taste testing, packaging designs, marketing campaigns and more. Slowly we could see our dreams getting painted in the colours we had envisaged. Every product that we launched has a story. And here are some stories which are our favourites,
The original and native variety of rice is named after the river Indrayani. Aazol's Indrayani rice comes from Kasare in the Dhule district of Maharashtra. The tribals near the state border work on these paddy fields. One of the best rice of India, it is slowly becoming a favourite of non-Maharashtrians too.
Coming from the sugarcane belt of Maharashtra, i.e. Kolhapur and Ahmednagar, jaggery has always been a part of any Indian household. Aazol's Kaakvi is a by-product while slow boiling sugarcane juice. The nutritionally dense sweetener can be used in multiple ways and is the most natural sweetener you can find.
A little-known whole wheat papad which is a must in the special festival thali of a Maharashtrian household. An elaborate process goes on for several days to get those perfectly concentric strings of papad. Each papad is sun-dried before it becomes the light and airy kurdai.
A perfect healthy sweet with the goodness of amla and gulkand. Amla, a rich source of Vitamin- C and rose petals that have anti-viral properties, makes this an ideal after-meal sweet. The inspiration for Aazol's Amla Gulkand comes from a sweet preserve called Moravia.
A fresh red chilli chutney hand-pounded with garlic and which can be enjoyed with thalipeeth (multigrain roti or paratha) or chillas. Aazol's red chilly chutney is made in small batches in a village in the Wardha district. It is a region known for its hot weather and people who enjoy eating fiery foods.
The Koli community is known to be the original inhabitants of the island city of Mumbai. And from them, Aazol gets you their best-kept secret, the Koli masala, which is made with around two dozen spices. This seafood masala is hand-pounded, homemade and preservative free. Our Koli masala comes from the bylanes of a Koli community stronghold in this city.
A powerhouse of protein, the Horsegram flour is a staple in the Chitpawan Brahim homes of Maharashtra. A Konkani favourite is making Pithle or a curry from this flour, which is relished with rice or roti. The flour is known for its stellar nutritional value and is loaded with antioxidants and is one of our ancient superfoods.
The idea germinating from talking to women from an SHG from the interiors of Maharashtra has grown into something we hold very dear to us. And from here, the journey for regional homemade food online is only upward. We want to give the entire world a taste of Maharashtrian dishes and make sure they keep asking for more and more!
Author: Apurva Purohit, Co-Founder | Aazol