Varsha Belwalkar can be found at the market selling delicious Indian food.
Where did you grow up?
My parents are highly educated and started their own school in our village - both were college principals. My father won highest national award in teaching.
What did you study?
A range of things – I have a Bachelors degree in Education, a Masters degree in Botany and Horticulture, a degree in Environmental Management and a Diploma in HR
Wow, that is a lot of degrees! Did you work in that area?
Yes – I worked as a horticulturist for a luxury hotel with extensive gardens. It was very satisfying work, but it was very busy. When I married, my husband was also working long hours and travelling a lot. Sometimes we would only see each other for a few hours at an airport.
What brought you to New Zealand?
We needed time to build our relationship and our family. We came to New Zealand in 1999, with our young daughter, for a healthier lifestyle and in 2001 our son was born here. Now we have New Zealand citizenship – we are Kiwis.
Did you work when you first arrived?
I worked for 13 years in the parks and environmental services area of Auckland Council before deciding to try something new.
I have always been a passionate home cook and we entertain a lot and it’s not unusual for me to cater for over a hundred people at home. My husband encouraged me to set up Saattveek restaurant in Sandringham. It was very popular, and I was always proud that visiting Indian diplomats were often hosted at our restaurant.
What encouraged you to start selling your food at the Grey Lynn Farmers Market?
The lease on the restaurant came to an end and I knew that our food is a good fit with Grey Lynn. In the early years of the market, I sometimes ran Indian cooking classes here. Many of our restaurant customers come from this area. My family has always been vegetarian and we serve a lot of vegan and gluten-free food.
Tell me about your experience at the market.
I love our regular customers giving me feedback on what they like. They appreciate the authenticity of our food – I make it just like I would in India.
Our Chai is always popular because I make it fresh, the traditional Indian way, with lots of spices. I am always amused at the demand for our Mango lassi because lassi is only be drunk in summer in India. I believe it is healthier to eat seasonally to suit seasonal produce but most people are used to being able to eat whatever they want all year round.
What do you do when you aren’t at the market?
I cater food for large corporate events, especially around Diwali.
I am a Justice of the Peace, and I have been on a Community Grants board for many years. We are both very involved in the local Indian community. We support new immigrants from India to settle into to the local community and my husband ran the Indian radio station for a long time.
And we regularly organise events to showcase classical Indian music, theatre, arts and literature.
Do you ever get a chance for a rest and some spare time?
My family are all big readers and we have a room dedicated to books. But lately, I have been watching a lot of Netflix – recently I’ve been hooked on Korean movies and have also watched a lot of Turkish, Danish and Israeli dramas.
As published in Ponsonby News : August 2020