“ Try it...but at your own risk,” Aking Zimmick says pushing a plastic bowl of fiery Naga hot Raja Mircha (King Chilli) sauce towards me. It smells and looks like a stronger version of Schezwan sauce, but seems more enticing and eclectic, perhaps too spicy for me to handle. I dip my index finger in the thick dressing and quickly lick it. At first I quite like the taste and feel its the different flavours (tomato, lime and garlic) dancing on my taste bud, but they are soon overpowered by the nasty chilli that literally burns the insides of my mouth. Aking and his friend chuckle and watch in amusement as my face turns a shade of bright red. “ We have this spicy, zesty sauce almost everyday with most of our meals,” he says handing me some exotic looking candy from Manipur to help calm my taste buds. I look around his little nondescript store lit by a single yellow bulb. The shelves are neatly stacked with organic produce straight from the Eastern Himalayas: brinjals, tiny blood-red tomatoes, green lemons, fenugreek and snacks such as Sulay, dried model fish, sweet Burmese rice cakes and packets of Wai-Wai. Also on display are big transparent bags and lots of colourful candies and lollipops in jars that line the front table- all the north eastern part of the country, from more than 3000 km away.
Behind the counter is a jovial 30 year old fellow, Aking Zimmick. A Manipuri brought up in Kohima, Nagaland, he gave up his corporate job in Mumbai to open the store named ‘Perfect Marketing’ located in a tiny by-lane of Khar Danda . “ I love to cook but the flavours and ingredients just don’t live up to those back home. Our culinary style and the cooking methods are quite different than those of Mumbai’s. That is why I opened this store to satisfy not just my hunger pangs but also those of the vast North East Indian Diaspora that lives around Khar Danda and works in the hospitality, spa and beauty industry,” he says.
Aking takes me through the various stuff in his store. “Everything is organic and farm produced. I fly down to Nagaland almost every month and handpick everything I want and get it flown or shipped in every two weeks,” he says looking at his watch.“In fact, I am supposed to go to the docks in an hour as the cargo has delivered more items,” he adds. There are local sunflower seeds, coriander and mustard leaves, packets of tomatoes, (which is his best-selling product), aiyang thei ( a type of brinjal), ngayung (roots of the chameleon plant) and banana stem shoots which are his personal favourite, used in a variety of their non-vegetarian meals. Also peeking out of hanging nets are savories and snacks like the Chicken Bhujia, the shrimp paste and boxes of his authentic and wicked King Chilli Hot Sauce, that Aking personally makes. He tells me that everything in the shop is priced at the market rate even though it is flown or shipped in either from Manipur or Nagaland.
Though his is not the only authentic North Eastern Store in the locality, Perfect Marketing is quite popular. His biggest customer base is the hospitality industry: hotels, cafes and restaurants that purchase authentic Naga and Manipuri ingredients from him, followed by friends from his home state who gather around the store every evening to chat over some paan and their popular item, the pickled plums. Aking Zimmick’s Perfect Marketing not only serves as their quintessential grocery store but also is the antidote to their hometown nostalgia, a place that draws them with that familiar whiff of traditional, homely food, every single day.
Perfect Marketing is open from 5.30 pm onward every day. It is a tiny store located in the lane next to the Khar Danda Fish Market.
Feature Image Courtesy : Midday
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