Lankan flavours at London’s Papi’s Pickles
Food is said to have a powerful healing quality and it was out of this belief that London-based company Papi’s Pickles was born. Abi Ramanan, is an Indian Tamil living in London who has grown up her whole life aware of the long and violent conflict in Sri Lanka. But it was not until she met a number of women who fled to London during and after the conflict, that she started to understand the extent of suffering that these women had lived through and the challenges they still faced. She says “I was struck by the deep sense of isolation and lack of opportunities for these women in London, and how cooking and food surfaced as a happy memory from home.”
In London alone, the South Indian and Sri Lankan communities are estimated to total more than 250,000 people.
Abi explains that after conducting some research she discovered there was a gap in the market for South Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine in London, specifically made from high quality ingredients and by women. Thus, Papi’s Pickles emerged: A vehicle for promoting positive change and integration of women from these communities into the workforce through the universal pleasure of food. It provided these women with economic opportunities but most importantly created a sense of community and a place in this alien society.
Papi’s Pickles is a family run, community-driven social enterprise. They cook authentic South Indian and Sri Lankan food, and fresh pickles, using seasonal, local and organic ingredients for events, pop-ups and street food markets. Their menus are carefully developed by their two head chefs, two sisters from Tamil Nadu (Abi’s mother and aunt) who have decades of experience in cooking exquisite dishes from the region, combined with traditional Sri Lankan recipes from the women they employ.
The most popular dish on their menu is the Sri Lankan mutton roll with burnt garlic and mint chutney that is made with free-range lamb. Another winner is their string hoppers served with traditional aubergine sothi.
Their concept incorporates the rich history of these cuisines but adds a contemporary western edge particularly regarding the local British produce they use. The business is based in Camberwell, South London but the pop-ups and events have taken them to exciting places such as the Houses of Parliament and the O2. With the growing popularity of Sri Lankan food in London, Papi’s Pickles has really started to take off.
Over the past two years Papi’s Pickles have created employment for 13 women, paid nearly £20,000 in London Living Wage salaries and created 2,000 hours of work. As well as economic independence, Papi’s is also about increasing confidence, providing access to training and skills such as the English language, as well as promoting the rich history of these cuisines and communities. Abi and her family have used food to aid these women in their new lives, dragging them out of isolation and finding a place for them in their new society.