I was so, so wrong.
The Buttermilk Co. was started by a homesick student, who missed the foods her mother would make. Speaking from experience, I know how comforting the smells and tastes of mama's kitchen can be when you're on the other side of the country.
I started following the company on Instagram, catching glimpses of the team in the kitchen, chopping vegetables, recipe testing... It was clear that they were packaging more than just spices. This was something different altogether.
When the CEO and founder , Mitra, reached out, asking if we'd be interested in trying her products, we couldn't be more excited! We went to her site and chose three of our favorite dishes: Aloo Methi, Pav Bhaji, and Poha. She immediately sent over a box of goodies!
The package arrived sealed with The Buttermilk Co. branded tape - a very cute touch. Inside were the three packets pictured above, along with a handwritten note from Mitra (and who isn't a sucker for a handwritten note?) One thing I will say is that I wished there was something on the outside of the box that warned me to refrigerate the contents immediately. My lazy ass did not get around to opening the box for a couple of days and panicked when I found a now warm ice pack inside with the food packets. (But hey, free ice pack!)
[Edit: after perusing their Instagram account a bit more, I noticed that they usually do put "refrigerate me!" stickers on their boxes, so my situation was just an anomaly]
The packets themselves are incredibly well-made. The design, material, and labeling are impeccable, and somehow manage to spark happiness and excitement. I loved how there were both stovetop and microwave instructions for each packet, making these the perfect option for both apartment and dorm-dwellers. The ingredients list was a breath of fresh air: nary a preservative in the packet - which is more than can be said about the boxed Indian foods I've bought from the frozen aisle...more times than I care to recount.
The first time I ever had poha was at my friend's house. She was South Indian, so her mother was constantly making scrumptious dishes that I had never tasted in my own Pakistani household. One morning, she placed a pig pot of poha on the table. I opened the lid to reveal the savory fragrance of turmeric and curry leaves. I piled my bowl high with the mixture of soft beaten rice and potatoes. Each bite I took was perfectly punctuated by the crunch of a roasted peanut. The small mustard seeds popped in my mouth in an explosion of flavor. I was in love. I definitely ate more than my fair share of poha that morning.
I followed the instructions on the back: I put a small saucepot on the stove with half a cup of water and emptied the contents into it. I was elated to see what already looked like poha - bright yellow with vibrant green curry leaves and the glorious peanuts. I waited for the food to heat through. I usually like to do a bit of cleaning while my food cooks, so I took to doing some dishes. I only got through a couple before the poha was ready, which goes to show how fast the cook time was!
The texture of the beaten rice was so soft, so tender that I had to use the utmost care when spooning the dish into my bowl, in order to not break up the poha. My first bite was heavenly. I tasted all the same flavors that I had at my friend's house, plus more! The Buttermilk Co.'s poha has an unmistakable lemony taste. It awakens the entire dish and your palate! I ate every last bite of the poha from my bowl, making sure to grab the last bits of goodness that had gotten stuck to the curry leaves, and found myself longing for even more at the end.
When I told Nabir that I wanted to order Aloo Methi, he made a face. He told me that it was a traditionally bitter dish and would be more of an acquired taste. I shrugged and ordered it anyway. Growing up in a Pakistani household, I had never had aloo methi before. Come to think of it, I didn't even really have a sense of what methi (fenugreek) tasted like. My family never bought it at the grocery store. I assumed that it would be more of an earthy herb, as opposed to the bright cilantro I was accustomed to. And aloo (potatoes) are my favorite vegetable, so there was no convincing me out of it. So Nabir just shrugged his shoulders in surrender, as he has learned to do after so much practice being with me.
I really, genuinely think that India has mastered the art of vegetarian cuisine. There are innumerable creative dishes that hail from that country, and it is a shame that more people in other parts of the world don't know of all that Indian cooking has to offer. Pav bhaji is one such vegetarian treasure. I grew up watching my parents boil vegetables and mash them together with fragrant spices. Instead of eating it traditionally, by scooping up sumptuous masses of the velvety smooth bhaji (vegetables) with steaming hot, buttery bread (pav), my parents sandwiched the mashed-potato like delicacy between two classic American hamburger buns. And that's what I remember often taking to school in my lunch box.
And want a lifetime supply of The Buttermilk Co.'s poha 😋