By K Bhavani, Chennai | March 13, 2018
Meet this Manipuri post-graduate in Commerce, but with a passion for food, Ramayon Keishing. After being an accountant and manager with Korean car maker, Hyundai, he discovered his true calling – cooking – and dishes out mouth-watering North Eastern fare to Chennaites. Clearly, they are asking for more, if the rush at his small eatery in the city is any indication.
Mouth-watering and lip smacking delicacies of Nagaland, Manipur or Tripura dished out by this Commerce post-graduate from Manipur, Ramayon Keishing has Chennai eating out of his hand. For the expats from Korea and Japan, he can whip up authentic dishes from these countries too.
And why not. He was working at Hyundai car manufacturing facility on the outskirts of Chennai when he picked up a taste for Korean cuisine and also how to prepare. And the good old Google and YouTube taught him the Japanese stuff after he opened an eatery in Chennai that served genuine North East Indian dishes at an affordable rate of the scores of youth from North East region who were missing home food.
For 49-year-old Ramayon Keishing, hailing from Sorathen village of Ukhrul district of Manipur, his Chennai sojourn as a manager of the catering department of the Hyundai car manufacturing plant with hundreds of workers only made his resolve to do something of his own stronger. Incidentally, Ramayon had arrived in Chennai to work as an accountant with an NGO – Mission to The Blind – way back in 1995.
A foodie at heart and an adventurer in kitchen, Ramayon saw an opportunity to own a small business and had the makings of a unique product shaping up in his mind – of an eatery serving genuine North East cuisine that used to be a rarity in Chennai. It was when he was serving at the Hyundai for ten years, that Ramayon saved up some money and was getting ready to launch self into business, which as a commerce graduate he thought he was trained to do.
“At Hyundai, I had an association with Korean and Japanese colleagues from whom I picked up the recipes from the two countries. I love to cook and would experiment, in my spare time and home, Korean and Japanese cuisines too, with the help of internet,” he said.
All of which was in preparation for the North East Kitchen, an eatery he opened close to the city’s popular women’s’ college – Ethiraj college close to Egmore Railway station. Since he opened in 2014, Ramayon has built up a steady clientele, in fact die-hard fans in regular customers of his most authentic North East cuisine.
Actually, Ramayon wanted to be a banker and wanted to prepare for Bank Officer’s exams, but his compulsion was that he had to start earning, early, to support family. That’s why he joined the first job he got at the NGO and then moved onto Hyundai as the manager of its catering department.
“But I had always wanted to make something of my own and was toying with the idea of a restaurant. As there was a sizeable North East population in Chennai and not many good eating places that catered to them, North East Kitchen was a natural choice for me,” Ramayon said. At first when he started three years ago in 2014, his wife, Nimrim, 35 worked with him but now has become a house wife tending to family. The family has also grown with the arrival of nephews and nieces who help out in the North East Kitchen.
“My own sisters, my cousins and relatives from our region have come here to help. “We all stay in one place and work hard. Which is why there is no labour problem or anything because it is all in the family,” Ramayon.
Simplicity, authenticity and service with a smile are the elements that Ramayon has included in his recipe of success. The inside of the North East Kitchen is tastefully decorated and customers greeted with smile.
Sometimes, one has to wait, as there are only 25 tables.
But even for this, the rent he pays is steep – Rs 30,000 per month. After all expenses – groceries, raw materials and procuring special ingredients from Manipur – “I make a decent living and have given steady livelihood to relatives as well. Chennai, he said, had welcomed with open arms.
R Jagannathan, an employee of a private firm in Chennai, brings his family once in a while for a taste of North East. “It is good, tasty and easy on my pocket,” he said reflecting the sentiments of most of the customers who troop in.
“I make very simple food. With a few simple ingredients. Fast to cook and good to eat – this is my formula,” Ramayon said. But just have a look at the Menu – it has 115 varieties of soups on offer, which is a peep into the wide variety available here. For sure, a non-vegetarian’s paradise, North East Kitchen offers something for the vegetarians too.
“For many years I have been enjoying Chennai foods like sambar, rasam, poriyal, and now in return I given them something they will like. I have brought the North East Kitchen flavour and tastes here in Chennai and also to help North East people living here get their own dishes,” he said.
“Am happy that our small outlet is getting popular with Chennaites,” he said.
The hottest selling item that flies off the shelves at his Kitchen is Bamboo shoot, which goes with every dish, North Eastern, Korean or Japanese – with chicken, pork and beef too. Even as a child, Ramayon said, he was interested in cooking and would watch his mother at work in the kitchen. “Anything we make here, I first taste and only after I am satisfied it is on the menu,” Ramayon said.
Ramayon gets busy with catering contracts too, especially at functions organised by the people of North East region – by Church or by the student community.
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In fact, the North East Kitchen provides the venue for a special prayer meeting on the first Sunday of every month and refreshments are on the house.
Does North East Kitchen serve Momos?
“Momos is not our speciality. It is a Tibetan dish, but still we make them as there is a huge demand from Chennaites,” Ramayon said.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Kuchi Bhavani is a senior freelance journalist, now based in Chennai and tracks social, political and economic developments. A foodie, cook and an ardent cricket fan, she also is a keen follower of cinema. She can be reached at email@example.com
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