Chewing the Chatpatas
Supriya Bharadwaj, distribution manager for the La Palma offices of Indian snack food maestros Haldiram's, recently sent me some Bollywood films with the promise of more if I wrote about her employers. While I accepted the bribe—screw ethics: give me Hindi starlet Aishwarya-Rai!—Bharadwaj's gesture wasn't necessary. I've always loved Haldiram's chatpatas (snacks); the sweet-and-spicy morsels show you what a 3,000-year head start has given Indian cusine over Frito-Lay. They come in huge foil bags and go great with Bollywood's song-and-dance-drenched dreams. The other day, I spoke with the beautiful 32-year-old Cerritos resident about all things nuts and namkeens.
OC Weekly: Now that I'm doing this story, will you continue to send me Bollywood's greatest? Supriya Bharadwaj: Of course! I have many art films you'll enjoy. Anything with Madhuri Dixit you can keep for one day only, though; she's my epic poem of Indian womanhood. So what's a nice Indian snack-food company like Haldiram's doing in a place like La Palma?
I actually like this part of OC. It's small enough to start something and big enough to see it grow. Also, La Palma is in a great spot—halfway between Los Angeles and the rest of OC. Only 10 minutes from Artesia's Little India.
Do you make your products in La Palma?
No. Haldiram's is based in India, where it's the country's third-largest snack-food company. Every month, we ship various products directly from Haldiram's factory in Nagpur to our Compton warehouse and distribute them across Southern California.
How do Indian snack foods differ from American ones? Isn't all snack food the same: Cheap and devoid of nutritional value?
Snacks are not looked down upon in India. Most are vegetarian, so there's not too much fat or sodium in them. The other major difference is India's obsession with nuts. We like to put pistachios, peanuts, cashews, almonds, any type of nut in everything possible. We're a nut nation!
Describe some of Haldiram's products for our readers.
We offer 32 types of namkeens, which are dry snacks that have vegetables and grains like spinach, rice and potato. Think of them as spiced trail mix, except much tastier. We also sell mithais, which are Indian sweets. Our best mithai is rasgulla, little flour balls that come soaked in rosewater and defy sweetness.
What are some of your favorite Haldiram's chatpatas?
I really like the nutcracker. They're crunchy peanuts that have a nice mix of salt and spices—not too overwhelming and not too bland. I'm always amazed how it stays so fresh. I'm also partial to our bhujia, which are like mini-pretzels. Besides its simple-but-sublime taste, it was one of the first snacks I worked on promoting, so it has sentimental value for me.
Got any OC Indian restaurants you're fond of?
I always make sure to visit Royal Khyber [1621 W. Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 436-1010]. My favorite is their tikka masala. They don't marinate the chicken too much so that it's soggy, nor make it too dry so there's no sauce. They mix the garlic and ginger so well you can taste everything. They sell our products, too!
How do you plan to attract non-desi (i.e. non-South Asian) consumers to Haldiram's?
We're moving out of our Indian grocery-store base to appeal to a larger audience. We recently introduced panchrattan, which are slivers of potato chips except with Indian spices and many nuts. We just did an organic-food show in Anaheim, where our items were a hit. We're working with Ralphs, Trader Joe's and Albertsons to introduce our products. Meanwhile, people can find them at most any Indian grocery store, like India Sweets and Spices [14441 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 731-2910].
Any problems marketing Haldiram's to non-desis?
Indian food has a stereotype of being superhot, and that turns off many people whose palates might not be accustomed to fire. But our products aren't really spicy; they have a lot of spices. They're delicious. I want everyone to call me and say, "Send me a product," and I'll gladly send one out. Once they eat it, they'll be our customers for life.
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