#8|Chang — Kirana Chronicles
Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like — Lemony Snicket
Three people arrived on a bike and a scooter, carrying a few cooking vessels and containers. In the next few minutes, the stall was set up and the momos were ready to be sold. A few customers had already arrived at the spot waiting for Chang to hand over plates of momos to them. Minutes later, his staff start to give out momos to customers. Chang greets his customers as he pulls out a few stools for us to sit.
7 years ago when Chang came down to Bengaluru to visit a sick relative, he realized all the opportunities the city had to offer. Bengaluru has been his home ever since. After making it through a series of events, Chang now runs a small momo stall at the heart of the city.
Growing up in the foothills of the Himalayas, in Siliguri of the state of West Bengal in India, Chang was surrounded by people who were very skilled and passionate about cooking. Chang’s father, a migrant from Central China had a significant part of his family back in China. This opened a lot of doors for Chang. As a young boy who had just started to explore the delights of cooking, Chang went on to study hotel management from a premiere Chinese institution. After finishing his study in China, he moved back to his hometown.
Chang’s sister, who then lived with his family took an interest in cooking as well. Having recently graduated with a degree in hotel management, he helped her figure out work, clients and cooking techniques. Soon she started to get clients from near and far, and her business took off.
Months later, an unexpected passing away of a close relative required brought him to the south of India — to the city of Bengaluru. A few days of experiencing Bangalore made Chang realize the myriad of opportunities the city had to offer. He went back to Siliguri, packed his bags and shifted to Bengaluru, leaving behind his family and friends.
The sea of opportunities brought along many risks. Chang was involved in a restaurant partnership which was created solely based on trust. An emergency back home required Chang to travel to his hometown. When he returned a month later, his business partner abandoned him accusing him of making false claims. This left Chang broken financially and mentally. That day he pledged to never take on any form of partnership.
“Jo bhi Karega khud hi karega” (Translation: Whatever I do, I’ll do it myself)
Chang, however, believed in himself; he pushed past this and set up a small stall in the basement of a shop. The stall functioned smoothly for many years, selling multiple versions of the momo. One fine day the BBMP implemented a rule banning food vendors from selling food in the basements of buildings. This was a hard-hit for Chang’s business.
“I prepare momos in the morning, at home. From morning 8 to around 1:30–2, I finish everything and have lunch and come. I usually don’t come here. I’m looking for a space near my room, so I can open and be there while my staff handle this stall. Every day I make around 60–70 plates. Rs. 1,500 gets spent on raw materials.”
Chang now has a small stall set up on the side of the road where momos are sold. The lack of space at the stall restricts him from selling more than 4 varieties of momos.
“If I get a proper shutter here then I can do a lot. Now there is Zomato and Swiggy and all, so one shop will be enough. Once I have that, I can say — “Haan mere paas apna dukhaan hain.”
Chang’s sister presently runs a hotel in the North of India; the hotel caters to several thousand customers in a year and has won several accolades for performance in the food industry. Chang takes us back to the older times when he would help her set up, decide menus, make bills, etc. Although his sister now has the resources that could provide him with a much-needed start, Chang does not consider it appropriate to borrow money from her.
“Because she’s my sister. If it was a brother I could have taken help. She’s married — Accha nahi lagtha.”
- Chang accepts payments in cash or through digital payment apps. He pays the meat and vegetable stores with cash. The wholesale retailer from where he buys groceries is paid through a card.
“Right now mostly Paytm and GooglePay. In a day around Rs. 1,000-1,500 comes through online payments. Cash is very less.”
- Several years back, when Chang's father was undergoing medical treatment back home, Chang would send him money through a friend or relative who would be travelling to his hometown. Chang did not find the need to have a bank account. However, this changed when he began to use the digital payment apps; Chang has now opened a bank account for the sole purpose of being able to use a digital payments app.
- Chang’s limited access to lending services hinders him from accomplishing the first step towards reaching his bigger goal — paying a deposit for the shutter stall. He thinks of himself as being incapable of applying for services such as loans. However, borrowing a loan from a digital lending app was a more convenient option for Chang since he did not have to visit the bank or meet people to negotiate for a loan.
“Before when my father was unwell, I used to send him the money I earned. He used to keep it there for emergency cases. But later on, having a bank account was necessary so that’s why I opened this.”
“I’m not good in taking loans and all. Taking a loan through the app was nice because it used to get cut on the app. I did not have to go and pay them and stuff. I used to always get more than the amount I had to repay on a daily basis. It was very easy for me.”
“Interior is not important, you can just put some tables and chairs. If you keep good food no, people will definitely come. That is not a problem. Later you can slowly beautify it. But the main problem is the deposit.”
- Chang mentions that making cash transactions required him to maintain a ledger; the ledger had details such as daily profit made, amount sent home, staff salary, etc. Now, however, the digital payment apps offers him enough visibility/clarity regarding day-to-day transactions.
- Every morning the money from the previous day’s transactions is credited into his account. Chang relies on text messages to ensure that the money has been credited into his account.
“Everything was cash. So every night I would know — how much I have earned, spent and the profits that have happened. I used to write in a book. Now everything is on the app no? I can see everything in that. It goes directly to the bank, it’s not necessary for me to write down everything anymore.”
“It will be very helpful if a verification message comes on my phone. Then I don't have to check my account and write it down and stuff.”
“Daily profits will come. My momos gets over daily. Suppose I invest Rs. 1,000 in preparing momos today and I have Rs. 7,000 at the end of the day then it means that that much is profit.”
- Due to an earlier instance of degradation or spoiling of items, Chang now prefers to procure items on a day to day basis. Items are procured from wholesale vendors — meat, grocery stores.
- Chang’s stall remains open from 5 in the evening to 9 in the night. His presence in the lane has made him a familiar face among his customers. His customers mostly comprise of middle-class people who hail from Delhi, Calcutta and other places in the North; or as Chang puts it — It's like what the locals say: the hindiwaalas. On a daily basis, Chang sells around 100–150 plates of momos to his customers.
- The lack of manpower in the stall hinders him from catering at events or signing up for food delivery services like Zomato or Swiggy. However, customers order several plates of Momos through delivery services like Dunzo.
“I’m looking for a place on this road only. Because I’ve been selling on this road for a while. People know me, and I make very good food. I can make around 40 varieties of momos. In India I don’t think so many varieties are there currently. It was actually growing really well, but this rule came and they told me to vacate.”
“I know the people’s taste here. A lot of Bengalis come here. So if I give momos dipped in sweet and sour sauce or lemon sauce, they’ll like it; all the khatta-meetha types.
My sister has 3 restaurants in Calcutta. Last year she won the Best Restaurant in the Chinese category from the Times of India.”
- Chang has two people who help him with the stall — his wife and a friend. While Chang takes care of the preparation of momos, his staff help him with the miscellaneous work like chopping of vegetables and the chicken. On most days, his staff sell momos at the store while Chang stays back at home cleaning up after the food has been cooked.
- Chang plans to get more people from his hometown to help him set up and run a new stall close to his home. However, since these people have to travel from their hometowns to Bengaluru, Chang needs to make an advance payment for them to be able to meet their expenses in Bengaluru and support their families back home.
“I actually come here only sometimes. I came here today only for this meeting. Unnecessary expenses happen when I come here. I stay at home and do all the cabbage cutting, house cleaning, etc.”
“I don’t have the manpower. For manpower again you need room for room you need to give deposit. A lot of things are there.”
I want to open this counter in many places, but you need a lot of money to do that. And the main thing is manpower. I can get people from my hometown, but I have to pay them in advance. At least for 6 months, because they won’t have money for their household expenses. If I can pay their parents saying I’m taking your son so here is the 6 months money then I can get people.
- Chang uses digital payment apps like Paytm, Google Pay, BharatPe to make transactions with customers.
- Chang uses messaging apps like WhatsApp to keep in touch with friends and family.
All that was not told
Observations of the researcher that were not covered as a part of the research.
Chang’s stall remains shut on Wednesdays. On Wednesdays, Chang and his staff roam around Bengaluru and watch the latest movies at home. “We don’t spend too much money, we do the small things.”, he says. He tells us about how he intends to save every penny until he fulfils his lifelong dream.
Chang has not set foot into his hometown since the time he shifted to Bengaluru. He intends to do so when he accomplishes what he has set out to do — to open a restaurant of his own.
“If it’s written in my fate then it will happen for sure. If it does not happen, then that’s that. I’m not on the roadside right now. I’m eating and sleeping well.”, he says as he hands over a plate of freshly made momos.
Analyzed and published for Medium by Apoorva Shetty
About the research:
This documentation is a result of the in-person interview, along with the participants’ consent. The interviews might be conducted in their native languages and translated to English in the best possible way to reach a large audience.
Disclaimer: The identities of people and places in this documentation have been changed to honour the privacy of the participants.
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