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Serving with patience

By Prabalika M Borah

Opika means patience in Telugu. Fr friends Sarojini Dantapalli and Dwithya Raghavan; it means much more, it includes their learning as they tried to make the most of seasonal vegetables during the lockdown. This in turn led to several trials and errors to reach their goal with a dish. Such is their patience and persistence that the duo have since embarked upon Opika as a platform to spread the message of mindful use of seasonal produce.

Sarojini and Dwithya’s intention with Opika is to explore various age-old ways of fermentation, to grow the tribe of fermenters and to be conscious about our ingredients and food. 

Aam panna by Opika (Source: Special arrangement)

To this end, the duo didn’t merely create fermented products (beyond sourdough), they conducted workshops, shared book readings and conversations and also hosted curated dinners that highlight ferments.

Sarojini says breathing in the spunky scents and tasting the complex, edgy flavours of fermentation, led them to learn more each day. Dwithya says, “Our promise is a commitment to intention, to care for our environment, to be thoughtful in everything we do and, in our own imperfect way, continuously strive to live in harmony with nature.”

Taking baby steps, they built themselves an experimental kitchen in Begumpet where their food fantasies take flight and no idea is too wild. With that on hand, every month they set up a table for six on their terrace where they curate a meal that highlights seasonal ingredients and ferments in the food and drinks. “Recipes and methods for everything that is served will be shared for free, on request, because what we want the most is more people to become fermenters,” adds Sarojini.

lacto ferment (Source: special arrangement)

Both are from non-F&B backgrounds; Sarojini is an architect and Dwithya works in education and research, it is only their curiosity and love for learning that made them dive deeper into the world of ingredients. Sarojini, an architect by profession explains, “Opika is a nudge to pay attention, be curious and a journey of discovery. Opika asks you, ‘what do you notice when you turn down the noise of the world?’ Over the last two years, as the pandemic forced us to turn the volume dial down, we began to hear the rhythms of nature more clearly.”

With the supply chain impacted deeply for two years due to the pandemic, they relied on produce that was local and seasonal. “Most importantly, in our own small ways, we started using our ingredients with intention. It is with this consciousness that we took the turn into the world of friendly microbes and we are now happy residents of this community. We reclaimed our relationships with the natural world and saw ourselves in a new light; as part of a vibrant community that is symbiotic, a community that supports mutual growth and thrives in diversity,” adds Dwithya. 

Giving details on their relationship with microbes, Sarojini says, “While trying out various fermentation methods to cook and preserve the food, we found ourselves learning more and more on methods, temperature, influence of weather etc. Yes, we made bio-enzymes, compost pit and all, but we also made a drink from pineapple peels. Making the most from one ingredient was our lookout.” 

How do they differentiate themselves from enthusiasts advocating kitchen gardens and composting kitchen waste? “We do talk about those as well, but a large part of our sessions is about understanding ingredients. We started enjoying these jam sessions in our kitchens so much that we started documenting and sharing them with our friends and family. We are now collaborating with our new invisible friends (microbes) to interact with fruits and vegetables in a way that is rooted in who we are and where we come from.”

The Opika session is hosting a dinner this Saturday, May 15 at Begumpet. Check @opika on Instagram or visit www.opika.in/

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