Rekindling Traditional Food: NAYA - The Millet Hotel
Updated: Sep 21, 2022
Alivelihood: Restaurant and Food Catering
Region: Vanasthalipuram, Hyderabad, Telangana
Korra dosa, ragi idli, arikel pongal—one can cook up a storm with just one type of whole grain, the millets. NAYA - The Millet Hotel, which opened in 2017 at Nallakunta, serves 60 varieties of millet-only tiffins from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Everything here, from upma to biryani to noodles, is made of millets and they are sold at an affordable rate. The grains are sourced from traditional farmers in Telangana, the Rayalaseema region in Andhra Pradesh, and some parts of Karnataka. For Amarnath, this is not just business. He aims to create awareness about the importance of making healthy food choices. He believes in the idea of “Aharame Aushadham'', which translates to "food is the best medicine." “Many individuals today do not eat the food; rather, the food eats them. If one continues eating polished white rice and wheat, they will become dependent on medications at an early age,” he explains. Amarnath says he included the word ‘millets’ in the restaurant’s name as he wants people to know that they are eating millets when they step into their food court. He also wishes to raise awareness on avoiding disease by eating healthy. The primary aim behind starting this venture was to give something worthwhile back to society.
Amarnath aka Amar was born in the village of Kolkunda in the Vikarabad district of Telangana. He aspired to be a doctor when he was younger, but he ended up pursuing Business Administration instead. He moved to Hyderabad to pursue his degree. During his time there, he developed an interest in diverse foods and cooking techniques. His favourite pastime was experimenting with cooking. Everyone who tried Amar's food wanted to come back for more. Amar established a food catering business for celebrations and events after graduating from college. He studied the benefits of food as a medication, learning from his experience in the food industry and the infrastructure in place. In 2007, he came up with the idea of using millets to make traditional dishes. He travelled for a decade, investigating the health benefits of millets as well as different ways to cook them. As he gained a better understanding of millets and their relevance in the human diet, his desire to take millets to the people who wish to eat them but are having trouble cooking them, also grew stronger.
"Millets have a low carbohydrate content, are rich in fibre, and take longer to digest," explains Amar. “As a result, glucose breakdown is slower. Because glucose takes longer to enter the system, blood sugar levels remain stable. This is beneficial for diabetics who must control the rapid fall and rise of blood glucose levels. Furthermore, as millets are rich in fibre, they immediately satisfy hunger and reduce overeating." Millets are the humble superfood of the Indian diet. They have been part of our ancestors’ diet for generations, but their consumption has decreased in recent decades. For those who are health conscious and wary about what they eat, experts suggest that millets should be a part of the daily regular diet. Millets are nutritious, non-glutinous (non-sticky) and are not acid-forming foods, thus making them easy to digest. Millets are both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. They do not require chemical fertilisers to grow, and their water requirement is less compared to that for rice cultivation. “Many people have discovered the benefits of millets. After COVID-19, there is a conscious shift taking place. These coarse grains, which are rich in protein, fibre, vitamins, and minerals, are making a comeback," he observes.
The restaurant was hosting approximately 150 customers every day before the imposition of the pandemic-related lockdown in 2020. Its mission is to serve healthy food without using artificial colours, additives or sugar and without compromising on quantity or/and taste. Each dish on their menu has a distinct taste and the flavour of it makes one lick the plate clean. Most of the food is cooked in copper pots and only with alkaline water, which is said to help blood flow more efficiently and increase oxygen delivery throughout the body. Despite incurring financial losses initially, Amar says he kept the restaurant afloat with the help of customers turned friends. He plans to expand his chain to the rest of Hyderabad. This restaurant is a crowd-puller amidst the sea of fast-food chains and burger joints. They sell fast food as well; however, it is also made from millets.
The restaurant offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Their concept is that every dish that can be made with rice and wheat can also be prepared with millets. For breakfast, they offer a “Healthy Unlimited Millet Buffet'' which includes korra dosa, ragi idli, arikela pongal, udala upma, sama khichdi, avise podi, cow ghee, groundnut chutney, sambar, tomato chutney for ₹60 only. Popular dishes during lunch are jonna rotte, ragi sangati, and millet mutton biryani. Amar says there is no special process to cook millets. “It is similar to cooking rice, no one ever gets it right the first time.” Amar wishes to reintroduce traditional eating habits. A few customers have aided Amar in reviving the restaurant after COVID-19. “My customers are pushing me to do more and more,'' says Amar. The restaurant is already catering millet-based food for events and functions. He is looking forward to setting up cloud kitchens for preparing millet-based snacks and selling them across the city.
Amar says that his family's health improved significantly once they switched to a millet-based diet. His mother, who used to be diabetic, no longer needs to take insulin supplements. After incorporating millets in their regular diet, many regular customers have been able to lower their medicine intake for various health disorders. Doctors and medicines become necessary when people create and continue to be part of a sickly environment.
"We have come a long way from whole foods to fat-filled burgers and pastas. There was a time when we used to eat food grown in our backyards. There is a reason why certain foods grow in certain regions. The idea of local is a novelty these days, as everything local is given a stamp of modernity and available right in the supermarkets. Millets are native staple food grains, and I want to reintroduce those healthy eating traditions.” Amar dreams of a healthy India, where there is a minimal requirement for hospitals and medicine. “Because health is the greatest wealth that anyone can possess”, he adds.
Amarnath can be reached at: email@example.com