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It's daring, mobile and customer-friendly

PALARIVATTOM, ON the outskirts of Kochi city, is fast turning into a happening place, what with a whole lot of new outlets opening their branches there. All kinds of fast food are making their appearances at this junction, catering to all kinds of clients. Come evening and in the milling crowds at Palarivattom, the sweet aroma of deliciously cooked food wafts through the air.

Among all the shops and other thattukadas, one stands out, a mobile thattukada, that drives in at 6 pm. Out comes the tables, chairs. The custom-built van opens out its belly to reveal hearths and vessels, and curries and salads.

I found myself standing before this mobile fast food, ordering a plate of parottas with kurma. Mr.Ansari, a tall, frail man whose smile lighted up the place, owns this mobile thattukada. Here it was not the ambience and the soft music that steals your heart through your stomach but Mr.Ansari's disarming smile, exuding warmth and charmAn unassuming and down-to-earth Mr.Ansari has been in this business since 1984. His humble beginnings were in the form of a small eat-out on the footpath, which did brisk business in the late eighties. Later, he was ordered by the police to vacate the place. But this did not deter him. He got himself a second hand matador tempo, shelling out his savings of the past few years to make it what it is today. It was a gamble, but it has obviously paid off.

A staunch believer in God, he placed his faith in Allah and with due support from his family, he made it. Now, it has been four years since the MFF hit the roads of Palarivattom. Having secured permission from the High Court, Mr.Ansari harbours ill feelings or tension at the sight of police officers in the area. Neither would he mind including the likes of them on his customer list.

A dedicated five-member team is Mr.Ansari's trump card. All of them are good cooks and complement each other's culinary skills. Shahjahan has served here from day one and has been a pillar of strength and support during the ups and downs of the MFF. Others like Navaz have been here for twelve years and Binu for four years. All of them are employed on a daily wage basis.

A variety of six to eight curries and dosas, parottas, kappa, idiappam, vellai appam figure on the daily menu

"The curries and side dishes are prepared by my wife. Then we transport them in the tempo and bring it here. The parottas and dosas are made here by us, so that we can serve it fresh", elucidates Mr.Ansari. The late evening hours are peak business time, generally from six to ten at night. The fast food functions till three in the morning. His residence being at Puthiya Road, Thamanam, close to the business centre, makes it easy to commute during the wee hours.

Mr.Ansari has not moved to the more bustling centers of the city. Why?

He nonchalantly replies that he has been in Palarivattom for more than 25 years. Why leave the familiar neighbourhood for a place of anonymity? Mr.Ansari and his team take a break only for Ramzan and Id. The rest of the year, they work round the clock.

"Many of our customers are bachelors and they depend solely on us for their supper. So, it is not possible for us to take an off at our convenience."

I look around and watch the famished office goers, college students, bachelors and bus conductors savour the food laid out in front of them. Even families stop by to get food parcels to take home.

"With a variety of bakeries, supermarkets and hotels in the vicinity, don't you think your business will suffer?"

Mr.Ansari casually replies that he is not bothered about any competitors as he has a share of loyal customers. What about profits and losses? He does not rake in much profits these days, he feels. "Basically business has waned down a lot and with the escalating costs, not a penny can be saved. Business suffers badly when there is a downpour and lots of food gets wasted.

Of course during the festive seasons like Onam and Christmas, people make a beeline to his food joint, mainly to get food parcels."

You would get a Onam Sadhya packed for just Rs 30.

Any plans of expansion? "Dreams and aspirations of making it big do exist. To attain my goal, the essential ingredients are finance, willpower and belief in God. But the former will be acquired only with the passage of time. Someday, my dreams will come true."

Is it only the reasonable price tag which attracts the customers to the MFF? Maybe not just that. It is the piping hot mouth-watering food that is affordable, homely and most of all dished out with love and care that draws people time and again. No advertisements, no sales promotion here. Indeed honesty, belief and faith do pay!

RAMYA RAMANAN

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