Friday, March 02, 2007

2 March 2007: Crazy-Eyed Rabbit

As you may or may not know, I'm a fan of Indian food. Since making my first madras around the age of 10 or so, I've learned to appreciate a wide variety of Indian food ranging from korma through to phall, along with naan bread, roti, aloo gobi.. sheesh, I'm getting hungry just thinking about it. And to start it all off you have to have a decent papad (poppadom), smothered with some decent lime pickle if at all possible.

So what does this have to do with the bright pink crazy-eyed rabbit pictured above? Well, I first saw it in (of all places) San Antonio, Texas just before Christmas in late 2004. Gloria and I had located an Indian restaurant there (and there aren't many in Texas), and next door to it was an 'Indian Shop', which mainly seemed to feature things like Cadbury milk chocolate and PG Tips tea. But a little shelf near the back of the shop contained a few packets of papads, all of which had this rabid-looking bunny on the front. We bought a pack, cooked them at home and commented that yes, these are particularly good papads.

Didn't see them again for a while. In the UK, we got used to buying either Sharwood's pre-cooked ones or perhaps some own-brand supermarket version. But venturing down to St Mary's, across the road from the fire station at the Asian cash-and-carry, we did find the crazy-eyed rabbit papads again. We called them that because all the labelling on them was in a language other than English, so we had no idea what the brand was.

Our latest venture was this week. We went there in search of some cheap spices and a little Pataks mixed pickle, and over in the corner were the crazy rabbit papads, so we got a couple of packs. But this time it was different: there was a label inside, in English, saying how to cook them, what were the ingredients etc, but most importantly what the brand name is.

And the name? Lijjat.

Now this may mean nothing to you, and to be fair it didn't mean a lot to me, but I looked around on the internet and it quickly became apparent that this is a good brand to be buying. It was started in 1959 by a group of seven semi-literate women in Mumbai (then Bombay), who borrowed a little money, bought out a loss-making papad venture, made four packs of papads and found a seller in Kalbadevi. They set themselves up as a co-operative rather than a full-on business, meaning as other ladies came along to join, they all became members rather than employees and shared in the success of their venture. After three months there were 25 members; after three years there were around 300 women working for the co-operative. Around this time they settled on the name 'Lijjat', a Gujarati word meaning 'tasty'. Growth continued apace, with more branches springing up in different cities and a growing export market meaning that by 2001, Lijjat's annual exports were worth in excess of US$2.4 million.

And it's still a co-operative. The workers are all described as 'member sisters' and there is no set retirement age. It frequently wins "Best Village Industry Institution" and similar such awards. The papads are still made entirely by hand, although the central offices do use computers for accounting and administration purposes these days. And when the Gujarat earthquake struck in 2001, the Lijjat co-operative donated some 4.8 million Rupees (over US$100,000), a far cry from their humble beginnings, where they borrowed 80 Rupees to get their venture started.

OK, so what about the bunny?

Well, from what I can tell, the 1980s saw Lijjat branch out a little in terms of advertising - TV adverts were commissioned and a gentleman named Ramdas Padhye was asked to bring his puppets on board. It was a success for all concerned - the rabbit holding the papad became a popular enough to make it onto the product packaging and Padhye got asked to bring his puppets to several other TV commercials for a variety of products.

So that's why there's a pink crazy-eyed rabbit on the packaging of my favourite poppadoms. And now I know that if you see it and buy it, it's at least as good in terms of 'fair trade' as anything CafeDirect have managed to do so far.


Anonymous said...

YOU might need to eat more Texas steak rather than that Indian food. Indian food in Texas is fry bread baked in an earthen oven outside the tipi. ksranch, as if you couldn't guess.

DuncMcRae said...

I once had grilled ribeye steak covered with some kind of tikka massala sauce. It was the weirdest combination, two of my favourite flavours but the combination was awful. That was in the southeast though, not Texas...

Amaranta said...

This is great info to know.