THE story of Pune's very popular Laxmi Narayan Chiwda goes back to 1920 when a Haryana hawker by the name of Laxminarayan Data fought with the British and roamed around the country after that to settle down and resume his business of selling chiwda, samoosa and kachoris. Data went as far as Rangoon and Kabul in his search. And everywhere he went, he either liked a town or its people. Until he came to Pune in 1935 and fell in love with the Bhawani Peth area where he set up a handcart to sell chiwda, ladoos and ice-cream... all made by himself. He was a man of principles and even then, among the first things Data did was to get a license for his hawker’s business and subsequently to register the Laxmi Narayan Chiwda trademark. His son who carries on the thriving business today, Babulal Laxminarayan Data, still treasures the father’s old handcart license.
The brand name in Pune is famous today and if you are talking chiwda in the city, you have to be talking Laxmi Narayan Chiwda. Strangely enough, though they sell upto 800 kilos of their popular rice flour chiwda a day (150 kg of the cornflour and 100 kg of the potato varieties), the “Laxmi Narayan Best Chiwda” shop at Bhawani Peth is the only outlet in Pune for the tasty savoury. And it is sold simply enough over the counter. The chiwda travels outside Pune to Nashik, Sholapur, Sangli and Satara. And it is exported to the US, the Gulf and South Africa too. But in Pune, you have to go to Bhawani Peth to buy the chiwda. Babulal Laxminarayan Data, who began helping his father in the business by stirring the chiwda bhattis when he was 14, can make all the varieties of chiwda that they sell. He has 12 workers assisting him in the home-run business and six family members. After his father expired in 1989, he took the chiwda business a step further by designing colourful air-tight packets and marketing the chiwda in them.
The Laxmi Narayan Chiwda is a speciality that nobody else in Pune can make. The ingredients they use are rice flour, cornflakes and potato. The rice is a special variety grown for the business in Karnataka. It is then sent to Madhya Pradesh to be pressed into poha. The secret of the chiwda’s popularity is its taste. And Babulal Laxminarayan Data says that his father’s formula was based on people’s tastes! The chiwda contains no artificial sweetener like saccharine and dulcine and no artificial preservatives like sulphur dioxide and benzoic acid. It also has no synthetic colours and has been guaranteed by the Central Food Technical Research Institute of Mysore to be free of cholesterol! Babulal Laxminarayan Data, who is hands-on in the manufacturing business, and who has designed machinery by his own hands to hasten the preparation of the chiwda, swears that he can tell the taste of each batch of his chiwda just by looking at it!
The factory premises in Bhawani Peth is almost homely in its ambience. Friendly workers and staff mix with the Data family in the business of making and selling the chiwda. Babulal has one son who is studying hotel and catering technology so as to take the business further later on. He shows off the spanking clean interiors and the well-oiled and cleaned machinery, the air-tight containers holding the chiwda’s ingredients, the rice flakes, groundnuts, edible oil, sugar, dried plums, cashewnuts, coconut, sesame, salt and edible spices... all kept in hygienic conditions.
“While making chiwda I eat upto 100 gm every day,” Babulal Laxminarayan Data explains. “And I won’t be able to do that if I know my factory is not clean!”