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Bamboo Boat, a pan-Asian takeaway joint in Gurgaon is the brainchild of two law graduates, Prerna Kundalia and Yangchen Bhutia.
Both are graduates of the National University of Juridical Sciences, Prerna litigated in Delhi before deciding to start this venture. Yangchen, on the other hand, was preparing for the civil services when she decided to follow her passion for food.
In this e-mail interview, the two talk about what got them to make the move, the utility of a law degree, and the dishes one should not miss when visiting Bamboo Boat.
Bar & Bench: When did you decide to head this venture? Could you share a bit about what you did after you completed your law course?
Prerna Kundalia: Since childhood I have been the persistent helper to my mother in the kitchen. I guess I always loved food and everything about it and being a Marwari feeding people is my hobby which found its true calling while at NUJS. I am from Calcutta hence had access to a well stocked kitchen and lots of hungry hostelers. I got to practice a lot of my food and baking on my friends.
I wanted to venture into it right after law school but decided to practice before I made the switch so that I could be certain about what I was leaving. I litigated in Delhi in the Chambers of Arundhati Katju, practicing in the trial courts, High Court and Supreme Court. I must say my stint in the courts in Delhi was like express law school and helped me polish a lot of my real world skills that are the bedrock of understanding how any sort of business works.
Yangchen Bhutia: Going to law school was not planned, I didn’t even know what the course structure would be like. I qualified the CLAT so I went ahead with it. I seriously had no clue, I thought law was a big fat book and I had to mug it all up.
In my heart I was sure I loved cooking since childhood. I started my food blog in 2013 right after college when I moved to Delhi for coaching classes. It’s funny because I actually started my food blog as a preparation for the interview stage of the civil services. At that point I was in denial, I thought I would be happy keeping food as a hobby and joining a full time government job. Maybe it was destiny, I didn’t qualify the prelims even after some intense preparation.
I had to write a long email to my father explaining my business plan, even though we lived in the same house, that was how scared I was of my father! I have a very supportive family, I am lucky.
B&B: Why Vietnamese food?
PK: I went backpacking to South-East Asia for 2 months right after finishing law school. I spent about 5 weeks in Vietnam and the food there changed how I think about food and what it actually means to eat and live nutritiously.
Vietnamese food uses fresh ingredients and balances it with select spices that makes you full without feeling full! Coming back to India my taste palette changed completely and I started cooking a lot more Vietnamese at home than eating out. Indian weather is hot and harsh and our food does not help us balance in a way beneficial for our body.
Once I started with Vietnamese food, Korean and Japanese food were not far behind and before I knew it I was a fan! As it turns out, most places only serve sushi or really expensive Korean food with Vietnamese food completely missing. So what better than starting a place that serves the food that you love to eat! I really want people to change how they think about food and eating out.
YB: Our menu is a result of months of evolution, and will continue to evolve and surprise our customers.
B&B: Biggest learning in the last 6-odd months?
PK: Thinking on your feet! This is probably the single most important learning that I have had to practice in the last six months. So many things are out of one’s control when setting out on a new venture. You have to be certain about what you want but also adaptable to the ever changing circumstances.
YB: The last few months actually have been a major test of patience. I am very impatient and I tend to panic when things don’t happen according to schedule. I am learning that things happen on its on time and that one must learn to adapt and grow.
B&B: Have you found your law degree helping you at Bamboo Boat?
PK: Absolutely. We are two women getting into the food business in north India, people take us a lot more seriously because we both have law degrees! Other than that it helps us weigh the pros and cons in a much more analytical way. The paper work and other formalities are also way more doable without having to rely on anyone. Law is integral to anything and I am glad to have a degree and experience that helps us actually be independent.
YB: I cannot pinpoint exactly how my law degree has helped me in this particular venture, but generally in life, I feel safer knowing I have a professional degree to fall back on. The course and the exposure, as a whole has made me a more informed and aware person.
B&B: What is the one thing you have to try at Bamboo Boat?
PK: Thats a tough one. Everything! Our menu is a distillation of our favourites. It took us a while to decide what to keep and what to leave out. I am partial to the Banh mi, it was my staple food in Vietnam. We had to adapt the bread for the Indian palette, but I hope soon people will be ready for the real stuff.
My other favourite is Gyudon which is sticky rice mixed with meat simmered in a sweet and sticky onion sauce served with pickled daikon, it has a transporter like effect to Japan 🙂
YB: Everything is tasty at Bamboo Boat, but I would suggest the vegetarian Kewa Datsi momo inspired by my recent visit to Bhutan. For pork lovers I suggest the Gyudon, “Porky Bun” or the “Porky Ricestick”.
B&B: Any advice for those thinking of doing something similar to Bamboo Boat?
PK: Well its not easy but worth it if you love food and are willing to put in the hours. The passion for food definitely helps sustain but one has to be ready for the whole package. Enjoy it and think of it as an adventure, thats what I do
YB: Don’t think too hard, and do what you have to live a happy life.