“Thirteen years ago, I had the idea of starting a home style Gujarati and Marwari food restaurant because as a Gujarati girl married into a North Indian family, I missed my ghar ka khana. When I stepped out for Gujarati khana, there were only thali joints and you don’t want to always eat an entire thali. And even the thali joints are few. Except for farsan shops, not all restaurants offer dhokla or khandwa.”

“At Soam, we decided to break down the various components of thali: Faral, Misthan and Farsan. We basically, deconstructed the thali into our menu. However, now we have moved from Gujarati and Marwari to more regional cuisines. The guests liked to explore and they’ve contributed to our menu. We like to learn from them, absorb the changes. It’s quite a symbiotic process. Some of our guests come thrice a week and some come to see when a new menu comes to see if it is as good as the last.”

“We’ve developed a seasonal calendar. That gives us the opportunity to provide healthy, fresh food so you can come multiple times without feeling guilty. It also helps us control costs by using fresh seasonal produce, which is cheaper. If you serve mangoes in winter, strawberries in summer and turiya during the rains, doesn’t work. Besides, a seasonal calendar based menu, like our ancestors used to eat, is suited to the weather too! For example, in winter we serve Ponk, Undhiyu and Lili tuar.”

“There was a lady who said why not serve sarson da saag for winter? And an aunty suggested drumstick soup, because it is good for the bones; it did beautifully! We have a regular menu and a seasonal one. The latter lasts for about 4-6 weeks. For our patrons, it gives a chance to try a new dish, expand her horizons.”

We asked her about how Soam came to be in Babulnath. “The place belongs to my father. He used to run a fast food restaurant from 81 to 86.” We then prodded her some more about the name. “We are opposite to Babulnath temple. Soamnath is the day of Babulnath which is Shiv-ji ka din. Soam nectar or Soamras is also the nectar of the Gods. Besides, the family had to be comfortable with it. That’s the story behind the name.”

“We run a family business. I work with my brother. My father comes as a full on consultant and bullies the hell out of us.”

Since the décor was different from traditional Gujarati restaurants, we asked her if there was a reason behind it. “Right from the start, we wanted a contemporary atmosphere so 3 generations could come here and not be embarrassed. When you are with your grandparents and parents you don’t want to be seen at a really boring restaurant. Sometimes I don’t like the restaurant because it doesn’t look good. Youngsters shouldn’t feel like they are going to nanny’s nest! Most normal restaurants have a traditional expected look.”

“We want to stay eco-friendly with minimum fuss and aim to serve good food. Kansa has been in our food habits for generations. It gives a lift to your food, except when it’s too khatta so we tend to avoid that.”    

“So there’s an interesting story behind our crockery too. We were researching crockery and it took us to Bhavnagar, the ship breaking yard. There was a sweet family there that took propellers out of ships. Now propellers are made of bell metal or kansa, which is an alloy of 4 metals. They said ‘Why don’t you use this.’ I said, ok, give me some; let’s try it!”

“We’ve always been serving on kansa. Dad said ‘It’s very traditional. I don’t know if people will like it.’ 15 years on, we’re still serving in the same crockery. It’s still charming, still shining…still ageless. Especially, since it has been created for us!”

“So that’s one meal in a plate. You don’t have to choose; ki this sabzi kesaath kaunsi roti khaoge? Everything comes pre-thought, it’s complementing each other. Unless you have a special requirement or dietary need that doesn’t permit you to eat something. Then we help you work around that.”

We asked her about the menu and how it had changed over time. “Our menu evolves on its own. Honestly, you don’t do much with it. You are just perceptive to what people want to eat. ”

“If I look at why me health section came to be; it’s because lots of people came to me and said, ‘I want to eat good food but I want to eat healthy too. I don’t want to eat fried; I don’t want to eat gluten. Then there are some patrons who follow paleo or good diets. All those dietary options are there.”

“We’ve been eating Moong Ka Chilla for ages in Gujarati and Marwari homes but nobody put it on a health menu. It’s healthy for you! You do a sprout ka bhel and call it Vitamin Bhel. It’s , sprouts, chutney, vegetables and yogurt. You can do it easily at home. It’s not rocket science. It’s putting that food thoughtfully together. It’s basic comfort home cooking. We thrive on that. We don’t like to fuss over the food too much.”

“I don’t have many fridges at the back of the kitchen either. Most of the leftover food gets thrown away or is eaten by my staff for dinner. We don’t have leftovers. What we eat is what we serve outside.”

“The conversation moved onto the patrons and the dishes they loved best.“ Few of our popular dishes are Palak Chesse Patti Samosa, which is our signature dish. There is also Panki. It’s banana rice pancakes, steamed in banana leaves. It’s a Gujarati pancake made of fermented, tangy, spicy rice flour batter. And because  its steamed in a tawa, it gives nice smoky banana leaf flavour. There is also Moong Ki Daal Ki Khichdi, Gatte Ki Sabzi, Dahi Wale AlooAand Mutter Ki Puri.”

“There is one other dish. The Jowar Pita Pocket. It’s an Indianised version of falafel in a jawar ka rotla. We fill in lasun ka chutney, grilled watana ni pattice with a nice yougurt based cole slaw salad as base. We do a full on Gujarati healthy sandwich! Hands down we do 40 a day without fail!”

“Every recipe has our own touch to it. Whatever you experience in this restaurant has been through our little tweaks. Now we’re putting a little more thought into plating. Otherwise Indian food is just plopped into plates.”

“We asked her about the popular Undhiyu they serve. “It’s our version of the surti undhiyu. Typically, you make a big pot of Undhiyu, which sits for a few hours. Another way you can do it is this. We have 2 meal timings and we make it in small batches of 3-4 kilos so you have a fresh batch. The colours are maintained, the nutritive value is there. You are always able to have a fresh looking Undhiyu which is not glooping up with oil. And because people want it to stay long, they will gloop it with more oil!”

“For undhiyu, if you have your preparation ready, it takes under 2 hours to finish. It starts with the quality of ingredients. My father insists we buy from the source. So my Undhiyu ka samaan comes from Surat. Every single ingredient. My fellow takes the flying rani and delivers it to us. We clean it, process it, and we cook it here. Papa also insists that we grind our own Jawar, Bajra, Ghou No Lot, and Besan. Everything is processed here. So we know what we are dealing with at that point.”

“The Undhiyu pulao on our menu was a gadbad one! One day, late in the evening, a patron came from out of town, and she wanted to have Undhiyu. My kitchen staff said ‘I have very little left. We can’t dish this out.’ This lady had ordered for kadi, rice and Undhiyu. I told her ‘I don’t have Undhiyu; I have Undhiyu pulao.’ He actually tossed the Undhiyu with the rice and served it with a bowl of kadi. She loved it and that’s how it stayed on the menu!” 

“We steered from the crowd favourites to the patrons themselves. There are lots of people from all walks of life who come to enjoy a delicious meal here. We have our fare share of celebrities too!”

“Soam gets a lot of praise online for their culinary experiments. We asked how they made her feel. “I feel super grateful. I feel thankful for the love and support that we’ve received here and it’s been an amazing ride.”

“Soam is already doing pretty well, so we asked Pinky her about future plans for the restaurant. “I want to just enjoy doing good quality work. Where it takes us, I don’t know. I definitely want to enjoy each day to the fullest and we are one of the few people in the world who are blessed to enjoy what they do as work every day.”

By now, we were down to the dessert portion of our meal and our list of questions. Now it her turn to add any special treasured moment that she wanted to share with us. “We are very happy to say that we’ve been able to attract a whole lot of non-Indian clientele who regularly come here to enjoy our food. It surprises me to see that they can eat our kind of food, with our level of spices, without any problem whatsoever! Tourists come on holiday from abroad. They come to the Iskcon temple or to the temple in Banganga. In the afternoon there will be a lot of people coming and appreciating our kind of food without any of their own tweaks And no requests for less oil or less spice. They actually enjoy it as it is which is a big one for us!

We thanked Pinky for the hospitality. The flavours of Soam matched the stories that have been going around. Happy with our adventure, we stepped on to the busy streets of Babulnath.

Enjoy the special of Soam Restaurant with Faroma!

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