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How did you think your childhood or your formative teenage years play a part in you launching Tiffin Maami?
I grew up eating traditional South Indian cuisine throughout my childhood and teenage years. I became so connected with South Indian food as being my comfort meal, that when I moved to Canada by myself in 2010 when I was 17, I missed that comfort. I had to recreate the feeling of ‘home’ in my new home – Toronto. It led me to learn how to cook and slowly be intrigued by the complexity of South Asian cuisine.
How did you come up with the name? What is unique about the food you are offering?
Tiffin is a term which relates to the mid-day snack between lunch and dinner but these dishes were also common for breakfast. Maami translates to aunty, and having an aunty-like figure feeding Toronto truly represents my mother. I remember when she moved here, she would ask me to invite all my friends over so she could feed everyone Tiffin! She would typically make idlies with a variety of condiments for anyone who visited the house.
Tiffin Maami is a collaboration between three generations – my grandmother, mother and myself. We are focused on increasing accessibility to South Asian food. In my opinion, cooking South Asian food requires multitude of ingredients, time, and a lot of patience. My grandmother and mother cook the cuisine so effortlessly, but when I started to learn the dishes, I was flustered by the number of ingredients I had to purchase and prepare to make one dish. This complexity and time makes it difficult for people in today’s fast-paced world to prepare these dishes at home but we want to change that. Our meal kits, instant mixes and prepared foods make complex dishes such as idly batter, sambar, and spice blends easy and quick to prepare at home without sacrificing taste or quality. Each item is based on the traditional flavours and methods passed down through our family from generation to generation.
How did you get the opportunity to supply College Street coffee shop Madras Kaapi with your idlis? Do you have plans to offer your food to other places?
I stumbled onto Madras Kaapi on social media and decided to introduce our brand. Shilpa, the owner of Madras Kaapi and I instantly connected. I knew that filter kaapi and idly would make a great combination for her new café!
Although we’re no longer offering our idlies at Madras Kaapi, this was a great way for us to get the word out. Now we will be focusing on our meal kits and spice blend for people to use in the comfort of their own home.
You mentioned the challenge of trying to replicate your mother’s recipe for idlis. This seems to be quite common with securing any kind of recipe for Tamil dishes because they were often cooked based on “feel” rather than with step-by-step instructions & precise ingredient quantities. Why do you think this is commonplace?
I have learnt that recipes have a strong meaning. A successful dish has strong memories and the ability to pass that memory on to the next generation through the means of food. My grandmother always describes when a dish is complete by the scent, she will say ‘the tamarind’s raw smell has to go away and you should be able to smell the tomatoes ripen in the rasam’.
I have learnt this from my grandmother and mother, I now strictly follow the scents and colours while referencing a recipe on the side.
Do you have aspirations of Tiffin Maami becoming your full-time endeavour or is it sufficient for you if it just becomes a successful side hustle?
My life has two strong passions at this time, I love to work in construction as a project manager which is my day time job and also enjoy cooking elaborate dishes on the weekends. I will continue Tiffin Maami as a side hustle as it truly represents that you can make complex South Asian dishes within minutes with the help of Tiffin Maami’s products!
(Tiffin Maami will allow busy individuals to pick up idly batter and sambar mixes so they can prepare these nutritious meals at home without much effort)
How do you balance your full-time job with the effort required to launch a business like this?
I rely on my parents, and husband for all the help they offer. We each have our strong traits, my mother is the master chef with all the recipes, my dad is excellent with the logistics and material procurement.
This business was inspired while we sat around the dining table, and we hope to grow it the same way, as a family business.
What’s been a failure (or “learning lesson”) you’ve experienced in the last 3-5 years and what did you learn from it?
My biggest battle was stress. With COVID-19 grievances and a huge lifestyle impact, my stress levels were at an all time high. I remind myself every day that everything I aspire to do is for myself, and at the pace that I am comfortable with.
For example, with starting Tiffin Maami, we knew exactly what we wanted to sell and introduce to the market. However, I wasn’t ready for the learning curve with social media, so I remind myself that I will be taking the marketing role on at my own pace to ensure it is a positive learning experience as I build this small business.
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Where do you see yourself in the next 3 years?
I hope that we can continue to spread the word about amazing South Asian delicacies, maybe even through supper clubs where we can interact and show people our cuisine up close. Brunches, supper clubs and catering of authentic South Indian cuisine are some of the goals in our future.
What role has your family & friends played in the choices that you’ve made in your life so far?
My parents proposed that I move to Canada for university in 2010, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have moved to Toronto and continued to stay.
My family has been integral in helping me maintain and connect to our culture through food, music and understanding of our traditions.
What do you do outside of work for fun?
I love biking and being outdoors exploring the city. I also love to travel at least a few times a year.
In terms of your personal legacy, in a few sentences, describe how you want to be remembered by your family and friends?
I would love to be remembered by my cooking. My mother often talks fondly of her grandmother as the best cook, and her descriptions of her cooking have always inspired me. I hope to be just like them and help continue our cultural and tradition the same way.
What do you think you would tell 16-year Anusha looking back?
'Life is a big journey, and you are about to start your own amazing journey. Learn through each experience and always stay inspired by your surroundings’.
At 16, I remember I was close to graduating from high school and it can be scary to know what the future holds for you. I was still unsure about moving to Canada by myself and was very nervous. I am so glad I made the leap!
What is your favourite book(s) you’ve read recently and why?
I recently read Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s book ‘The Last Queen’. I love her books as they bring strong female characters from history and mythology into focus as well as highlight the successes and struggles of their lives.
Reading about Rani Jindan, the last queen of Punjab was inspirational, to see how she went from rags to riches and yet faced a lot of adversity in her life, and through it all she maintained her stature as she fought through many biases against women and the British invasion in India.
What is a new belief, behaviour or habit that has most improved your life?
The slow movement has been my new motto. I am learning the importance of taking things slowly to create something beautiful. Quality always supercedes quantity and that is most important for me. I appreciate slow cooking and learning all the processes that my grandmother would employ to make one dish – from soaking the rice and lentils the night before, to grinding them by hand using a large manual stone grinder, to patiently watching the idly batter ferment over 8 hours. It is a beautiful thing to be able to slow down in our very fast paced, social media driven life and I have learnt to appreciate this.
What is something that you've splurged on recently in the last year that you have zero regret about?
I recently purchased some brass kitchen ware from India, although it was a pretty price for kitchenware that I may not need right now, it makes me very excited to be cooking with brass ware!
How has the Toronto Tamil community impacted you both personally and professionally?
The Toronto Tamil community is so strong and resilient, I love to see how culture and traditions are held high amongst not only the senior generations but also all the young Tamilians in Toronto. It Is amazing to see all the support amongst the Toronto Tamil community and the aspiring young generation that is taking the Tamil food scene to the next level.
What is your favourite Tamil food (meal or dessert)?
Definitely the idly. It is so satisfying, healthy and fluffy. It makes me very happy every time I taste it!
What is your favourite Tamil movie?
Thenali! Kamal Hassan is one of my favourite Tamil actors!
What does Tamil culture mean to you?
Tamil culture to me is all of the beautiful things that I enjoy doing and learning about including arts, music, traditions and of course the food! These have all continued and developed over thousands of years and I’m very happy to be learning about and contributing to these in my own way.
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