Kochi: At one end of the longish stall, Anila Ali is busy slicing vegetables that she has to serve to a bunch of customers waiting for a special juice being prepared from an uncommon combination. “Beet berry. This is just one specialty,” gushes the woman in her late 30s. “We have more. In fact, it’s a fairly long list.”
At this, the sprightly woman reels out a few names: “Cool berry, honey berry, diabetic berry, gooseberry, sweet berry, green berry….” But, then going by the demand, it’s perhaps ‘aval shake’ and ‘milk sherbet’ that sell the most, she adds. “Keen to taste a glass?”
Anila’s section of fresh juices is one among the four at the Kudumbashree Café functioning inside Cabral Yard, a key venue of the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB). An expert in making juices for the past one decade, she has fine-tuned her skills through training from a food and hospitality institute that supports Kudumbashree, a Kerala government mission for women empowerment and poverty eradication. Together, the 15-odd volunteers add to the taste and scent of the Biennale.
So, how come a socio-economic movement has become part of the Biennale, which is primarily an art festival? Well, the organisers of the 108-day event in its fourth edition don’t anyway believe in such distinctions. That’s why the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) signed a pact with the Kudumbashree Mission last year, cementing ties for such symbiotic associations.
KBF president Bose Krishnamachari notes that the collaboration began during the last (2016) edition of the Biennale when the Foundation conducted workshops for Kudumbashree volunteers. “From the lot that attended them, we selected people with talent in painting and sculpting and gave them exclusive training,” he recalls. “In the near future, we plan to help them better their packaging the products by adding to their artistic looks.”
At Fort Kochi’s Cabral Yard, the Kudumbashree volunteers are thus taking turns to sharpen their culinary skills, much to the refreshment of the visitors at the Biennale. A chunk of them is in their 40s and have come from different districts of the state. Besides the counter selling juices, the stall has one for tea and snacks and two others serving main courses (biryani and meals).
“Every 20 days, the batch will change,” points out Mumtaz Shereen from the Ernakulam unit. “For the first 20 days, it’s the Ernakulam and Cherthala units. In the coming days, other units from near to and far from Kochi will come and go.”
Suhara Abu, into her 50s and among the elders at the stall dishing out the main courses, says the vending begins at 10 am any given day. “It’s another matter that we reach Cabral Yard a couple of hours before we open stalls. We have to cook first, right?” she adds.
Valsala Gireesh of the snacks counter notes that sales have of late been picking up. “People are slowly becoming aware that we have opened up a stall here,” she says. “Hope, in the days to come, we will have more footfalls.”
It’s not just the juices that are reasonably priced. The main course, which includes rice with fish fry, costs Rs 50, while the ghee rice with chicken curry is being sold for Rs 120. A normal Malayali meal is priced at Rs 80.
The stall also serves varieties of Kerala’s puttu (steamed cake) using rice, wheat, oats, corn, tapioca and ragi (finger millet). There is also ‘mutta kilikkoodu’, ‘vaazhakoombu cutlet’ and ‘pazham niravu’ are some of the unique attractions.