Is New Thakker Stores the only one of its kind in the city? At least that’s what Sudhir Himatlal Somaiya’s customers tell him, and I’m inclined to agree with them. In 70 square feet, Somaiya stocks over 100 items, of which about 87 are different kinds of dry flour mixes. Customers go to him for everything from wheat, jowar and bajri aata to whole mung dal aata and samo (aka moriyo) aata.
When it comes to mixes for things like idli-dosa, mathiya, handvo, gulab jamun and dahi-wada, all of them trust his sense of proportion. Somaiya, who makes his own flour mixes and instant mixes for all of these items and more, caters to several communities. Gujaratis come to him for dhokla, fafda and dal dhokli mix; Maharashtrians come to him for faraali (fasting) items like shingoda flour, faraali kheer mix and peanut flour; during Ramzan his many besan-based mixes and dahi-wada dry batter are a hit with Muslims.
New Thakker Stores is a 58-year-old shop. “It’s three years older than I am”, says Somaiya who started working at the store when he was 14 years old, after his father, the owner, had a particularly bad asthma attack. Since they were living hand-to-mouth at the time, Somaiya dropped out of school to look after the shop. Their main business back then was selling sweets, nuts, and faraali flour. After Somaiya realised that he didn’t love the quality of the flour the supplier provided, he decided to install his own grinders. The family would source whole grains, clean and sort them themselves, and grind them, often to order.
They got a blacksmith friend to make machines from drawings because it would be cheaper, though that resulted in frequent tweaks and servicing. A day’s business sometimes depended on the position of a ball bearing. The first sale of home-ground flour was 10 kgs of dhokla mix. In two years, the business was all flour, 25 varieties of it, from different grains, and in different combinations. Since then Somaiya has introduced something new every six months, which, at first, seems like a long gap between launches considering his business is mostly about grinding and mixing seeds and spices.
But after you speak with Somaiya about his testing methods, half a year seems like nothing. “Joh mujhe khaana hai, woh mujhe khilaana hai (I want to feed my customers exactly what I want to eat),” he says. Somaiya experiments with each recipe for months, sends samples out to his customers, friends from the community that the recipe comes from, and to caterer friends. It shows up on his shelves and his pamphlet only when everyone is thrilled with it. He says instant tuvar dal—the kind you just add to boiling water to get the flavour of tadka dal in a couple of minutes—took him 20 years to perfect.
His latest addition, an onion ring batter that can also be used to make vegetarian Manchurian dumplings, cheese balls and Rajasthani bhindi, took a few months to fine-tune. His recipes are all secret; he makes each mix himself. Only his wife, two daughters and son Kashyap (who helps manage the store, and after whom NTS’s instant mix brand Kashyap is named) know the formula.
When you visit Somaiya’s store, be prepared to stand in line. Marvel not only at how clean and tidy he keeps the room, but also ask him about the five kinds of besan he stocks, each one designed for a different method of cooking. Buy some Sihori wheat aata; at Rs36 a kilo it’s more expensive than most packaged brands, but rotis made with it will have you wondering why it took you so long to find it. Ask Somaiya about the difference between regular mathiya flour and Balasinori mathiya flour, both of which he stocks. Discuss how to make the best puranpolis and damni dhoklas. In addition to a familiar or staple flour, go wild with something from his list. I had never heard of dakor gota (a sort of spicy fried dumpling-like pakoda) until last week. Somaiya’s secret instant recipe contains 29 ingredients, and I’m going to attempt my first batch this weekend without having bought anything more than a packet of the mix from NTS.
Roshni Bajaj Sanghvi is a Mumbai-based food journalist, a contributing editor at Vogue magazine, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City, and the restaurant reviewer for the Hindustan Times newspaper in Mumbai.Tags: New Thakker Stores, Sudhir Himatlal Somaiya, The Tastemaker
New Thakker Stores
Location20 Nanubhai Desai Road
At the junction N. Desai Road meets First Carpenter Road
Phone022 2386 3245
HoursFrom Monday to Saturday, from 9.30am to 12.30pm and from 2.30pm to 7pm; Sunday closed