Srinagar, Aug 31: For Rayees Wani, 31, and his wife, Nida Rehman, 33, cooking and serving food is not just like another occupation, it is a passion the couple has nurtured with commitment and honesty.
Rayees always believed that the race for fast food needed to be replaced by healthier, better and safer homemade Kashmiri food.
“It was my belief which later got vindicated by talking to doctors that the alarming increase in stomach ailments in Kashmir is because of impure, adulterated food products.
“Each one of us has a right to safe and healthy food and we in Kashmir are mostly denied this right by unscrupulous elements who sell adulterated spices, condiments, edible oil etc.,” Rayees told IANS.
His belief became a passion when his friend Muhammad Yunus, who lives in Rajbagh locality in Srinagar, called him some time after August 5, 2019 when the state was bifurcated into two Union Territories.
Yunus called Rayees and asked him if he could spare some food since he had not had a meal for three days.
“I went into my kitchen and was helped by my mother. We prepared a tiffin for Yunus and I carried it to his home. While returning home carrying the empty tiffin carrier, I realised that I could put my idea of safer, healthier, homemade Kashmiri food into practice by starting a local tiffin delivery service,” he recalled.
“I was not married when I started putting my idea into practice. To begin with, my mother, myself and our chef started making food to be delivered through the tiffin service. This was in February 2020. I approached some offices in our Rajbagh area and Lal Chowk for delivery of homemade Kashmiri food.
“The response was encouraging. While I was determined to start the ‘Tiffin Aaw’ service with just one order, we got 25 orders on the very first day. Despite the Covid pandemic, we have been getting 50 to 80 orders a day now,” he said.
“The boys working in my team are doing MBA, engineering courses etc. It is a team fired by commitment and passion,” he added.
Rayees was fortunate to have married Nida Rehman in November 2020. Nida had done her post-graduation in international affairs, but decided to stand shoulder by shoulder with her husband to chase his dream.
“We do not add any preservatives or tasting agents to our food. We were approached by some spice companies who offered to give us one year’s free supply of spices provided we used only their products. But I declined the offer. We purchase raw chillies, turmeric, fennel seeds etc. and then grind them at home to ensure purity,” Rayees said.
The rice and edible oil used are of top quality since any impure ingredient would spoil the entire effort.
“Most of our customers are doctors, paramedic staff etc. who stand by the purity of the food served to them, Rayees said.
The couple did yeoman service during the pandemic.
“We delivered free tiffin to around 30,000 people, including patients, attendants, doctors, paramedics, ambulance drivers and others at the hospitals during the pandemic. Me and Nida would wear PPE kits and deliver food at the hospitals free of cost. I later realised that this service cannot be carried on like that.
“We asked for sponsorships so that food could reach to the needy for free. Thank God, we got very encouraging response. This we called ‘Food for Kashmir’ service. People came forward to sponsor free food for the needy.
“Now I have registered a trust called the ‘Tiffin Aaw Foundation’. This foundation would generate means to stand up to any crisis situation in the future,” Rayees added.
After tourists started coming to Kashmir this year, Rayees has been making both veg and non-veg tiffins on a daily basis.
“Even if we have just two veg and two non-veg dishes, my satisfaction lies in the fact that I can eat the food without any fear with my mother and wife. These dishes are fresh, safe and healthy,” he said.
He expects to get orders from schools, colleges, universities, houseboats and feast organisers as Kashmir starts to return to normal after the second Covid wave.
Having spent 15 years running a local ad agency, Rayees has been doing his own marketing and ad campaign. His success is indicated by the fact that the idea is catching fast in Kashmir.