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A Baker's Successful Lockdown Story

By ANITA AIKARA
Last updated on: July 05, 2021 14:33 IST
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Tanushka D'Silva's childhood memories of eating Poee, the Goan bread, during summer vacations at her grandmother's home in Goa, made her venture into baking during the lockdown.

IMAGE: A self-taught baker, Tanushka D'Silva gets help from her parents and her cousin Nikkita, who introduced her to baking.
Photographs: Kind courtesy House of Poder

Tanushka started House of Poder in November 2020.

Earlier last year, when the lockdown had just begun, the 35 year old started baking for the very first time.

What started out as an experiment with Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday (April 10, 2020), turned out into a full-fledged business for this newly-minted baker.

"The buns turned out well and I found the idea of playing with dough really interesting. That's what got me excited about baking bread," she says.

"I kept trying different breads and here I'm with the House of Poder (pronounced as 'po-there')."

Tanushka studied fashion, has worked in the film industry as a stylist, designed tiles for seven years, before turning to a career in social media marketing.

"Design, creativity and art excites me, while food and cooking has always been my passion," she reveals.

Post the lockdown, her time is spent mostly juggling work as a social media marketing professional and baking bread.

"Before the pandemic and Coronavirus came into the picture, I was just handling social media accounts for my clients in hospitality and fashion.

"During the lockdown, the pace of my business got slow, so I started cooking different dishes once or twice a week, and also started baking."

IMAGE: Hot Cross Buns from the House of Poder.

Tanushka has inherited her family's love for cooking and eating. "If you were to visit my home at any time in the day, you'd always find a buffet of food."

"We are from Goa and as a child, whenever I would visit my grandmother in Goa Velha, I used to get very excited hearing the honk of the poder (village bakers who move around in bicycles mounted with baskets of bread; poder is an adaptation of the Portuguese padeiro).

"He would arrive at the gate of the house with fresh-off-the-oven local breads like the delicious Poee buns (a pita like whole-wheat round bread which is slightly hollow in the centre) and the hard-crusted Kankon (a tea-time favourite, it is a bangle shaped bread like a Jewish bagel) for breakfast.

"That was one exciting bit I'd always look forward to as I'd never see it happening in Mumbai."

Back in school, every year once her annual exams would get over and the summer vacations would begin, Tanushka's parents would take her by bus to Goa to their ancestral home.

"My grandmother would make lovely curries in earthen pots and cook them on a wood fire.

"When my father rebuilt the kitchen in the ancestral house, he made sure he kept an old-style kitchen for my grandmother where she could cook her rice and curries on the wood fire in earthen pots.

"The gravies would be delicious as the masalas would be ground by hand on a stone.

"The next day early in the morning, we'd mop up those curries for breakfast with Poee and hot black tea.

"My grandmother's Sorak (a basic Goan coconut curry) and prawn curry with okra were my all-time favourites."

IMAGE: The best way to have Kankon bread, above, is by heating it on a pan with some butter and then enjoying it with a glass of warm tea.

As a kid, Tanushka enjoyed wearing the Kankon on her wrist like a bangle before dipping it in a cup of tea and eating it.

She knows her Goan breads really well and takes great pride in being a Paowalli.

"I am a Maka Pao," she says with a laugh, referring to the description some Mumbaikars use for Goans. "I never get offended when people call me that."

"I think it is pretty cool and it is a part of me. Though I do know a few Goans who get upset when they are called Paowalla."

It is her love for Goan breads that made her start House of Poder that offers Mumbaikars a chance to taste local delights from Goa, which are not easily available in Mumbai.

"I want people to think of peace and bliss when they eat my bread, because that's what Goa is about."

Quiz her about the decision to specialise in breads, especially the Goan variety, and she says, "It took a lot of thinking before I started House of Poder.

"I was associated with a group called Manna Food Heaven. My role there is not business like. It was very much from the heart.

"I thought I have a great connection with bread because I was helping Manna Food Heaven donate breads and I started baking on Good Friday."

House of Poder is well-known for its Goan Beef Steak Poee. The delicious rava-coated beef steak sandwiched around two palm-sized Poees will transport you to Goa.

In Tanushka's words "it is a typical cart food which is a nostalgic memory of the croquettes and beef steaks from Goa." The recipe of the beef steak masala is her mother's.

IMAGE: When toasted, the Poee, above, gets nice and crunchy on the outside.

Tanushka is a stickler when it comes to perfecting the Poee -- she wants it to be as authentic as possible.

She recently visited Goa just to check out how different her homemade Poee is from the Goan variety.

"I have Poee, which I bought in Goa from a Poder, kept in my fridge as a sample."

Baking for House of Poder has become a family affair for the D'Silvas.

Tanushka's father is the taster and also makes the in-house Choris for House of Poder.

"I have jars of Choris made by him," she says. "As a critic, he's very honest. If he likes something I bake, he tells me it will do well.

"If he doesn't like it, then I'm advised to keep working on it, till I perfect it."

Her father is passionately crazy about her Poee. He gets really excited when he sees her bake it.

Tanushka has learnt to make all her masalas from her mother.

"House of Poder's beef mince recipe is by my mom. Probably she learnt the recipe from her mother, so it is something that has been passed down through the generations."

From the time she was in school, Tanushka knew how to make all Goan masalas from Sorak, Ambotik, Jeerem Meerem to green and red beef curry.

She really likes her mom's masalas because of the presence of tamarind and vinegar in it.

"Even if they are really spicy, there is a little sourness to it -- right from mom's beef curry to her Sorpotel, I love her food. She cooks with a lot of passion and that reflects in the food she makes."

Her family loves food and everyone comes into the kitchen to help.

"Dad cuts all the meat, cleans and salts it, and gives it to me to cook. Once the food is ready, he tastes it and adds extra chillies and other stuff if needed."

Tanushka has absolutely no baking background and she doesn't plan on getting a degree in baking.

"I don't know if that is necessary as hands-on experience is what really matters," she says.

IMAGE: The Goan Steak Poee from House of Poder.

Opening House of Poder during the lockdown helped her business pick up as people wanted home-delivered goodness and they were willing to experiment.

While she started out with the Goan breads, she has been digressing from her roots and experimenting with other cuisines too.

"Initially everyone was curious about the Poee because people rarely got it in Mumbai. Then people got curious about Coco bread."

A Jamaican bread made with coconut milk, Tanushka has been working with Coco bread for her small-bite sized sandwiches with traditional Goan fillings like beef mince and Chorizo, along with chicken mayo, chicken BBQ, Char Sui Pork and bacon jam.

"It is delicious and soft, and the buttery flaps of bread can be used as a sandwich. I found the recipe on YouTube and Pinterest."

"It can be a great party starter," she says revealing how her business mind works.

"The business has picked up so well this year. But I am exhausted because I do everything from the purchasing to marketing and social media, to cooking and packing."

Despite the hard work that goes into running House of Poder, Tanushka definitely has plenty of things planned for the future.

"I will be bringing local breads that are famous in different countries to India.

"I started with Poee, moved to Coco bread and now I plan to introduce a bread from Brazil."

"I'm following my heart and would like to go where the road leads me. I want to do things that will excite myself and people too."

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ANITA AIKARA / Rediff.com