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Launch HN: The Buttermilk Company (YC S18) – Homemade Indian Food in 5 Minutes
377 points by mitraraman 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 441 comments
Hey HN,

I’m Mitra Raman, the founder/CEO of The Buttermilk Company (https:///www.thebuttermilkco.com). We help you make authentic, fresh Indian food in 5 minutes by just adding water to our products.

As an Indian-American in my 20s, I grew up eating my mom’s homemade Indian food everyday. When I moved away from home to attend Carnegie Mellon University, I was homesick for the first time and realized how hard it was to find anything that resembled my mom’s food. I either had to make it myself (finding the Indian grocery store + following my mom’s recipe took way too much time) or would settle for whatever generic dishes at the local Indian restaurant. The options were expensive, time-consuming, or tasted horrible.

Two years into my job as an Software Engineer at Amazon, I asked my mom to help me make her rasam. She gave me all the ingredients in a ziploc bag and told me to just add hot water! I asked my friends about how they coped with homesickness and realized that most parents were also figuring out their own ways of getting their kids’ favorites foods to them when they moved. That’s how the idea for Buttermilk started!

We crowdsource our recipes from real people (keeping our product truly authentic) and develop them into products that are super easy for our customers to make. If you’ve ever asked your mom to send a family recipe to you, you know how hard it is to get this right! Our team spends hours in the kitchen tweaking each recipe so we can prep and cook it just enough that the customer can complete the cooking with water. We have to be careful to not over-prep such that the taste and nutritional value erode over time.

We use fresh and non-GMO ingredients, make everything from scratch (seriously, even the garam masala), and deliver our perishable products in sustainable packaging. Our production is extremely detail-oriented and time-consuming because we are recreating recipes for one family into large-scale batches that need to maintain the quality of its original recipe. To improve efficiency, we have built software to track food production, predict incoming volume, and help our production and fulfillment teams communicate. We’re also exploring new shelf-life extension technologies (such as HPP) so our products can last a lot longer. Currently, they must be refrigerated for 5-7 days or frozen for up to 3 months -- if you don’t eat them before then, that is!

In terms of market size: there are over 4 million Indian immigrants in the U.S. This demographic, like all other ethnic groups, is poorly served by the existing food options when it comes to their cuisines. And of course there is the population of everyone who just likes Indian food and can’t find or make it! Though we are starting with Indian cuisine, we definitely don't plan to stop there. The market for ethnic foods in the U.S. is at least $5B. But in good startup style, we've started with the specific problem we ourselves had.

We’re super eager to hear your feedback, ideas, and experiences in this space or as it relates to our type of product.




You will have a hard time balancing the spice levels. You can't satisfy both Indian and non-Indian demographic or you will have to have a spicy, less spicy type of each item. As an Indian, I cant stand the westernized non spicy versions of the supposedly authentic Indian foods. So I wouldn't buy them nor eat in those type of Indian restaurants. Its the same case vice versa. Non Indians may not like the spicy versions.

Another thing to note that though its called "Indian food", there is no thing as an "Indian food", just like not everyone from India knows Hindi.

Indian food varies drastically as you travel from North to South, East to West. But for westerners, its mainly butter chicken/daal/Vindaloo/Paratha/Chapathi. For someone from South India, it will be Dosa/Appam/Idly/Idiappam/Pongal/Avial/Sambhar/Rasam or Fish curry. One of your challenges lies in catering to the Indian & Non Indians palettes alike. Greetings from Canada.


In my experience non-westerners tend to underestimate the level of spiciness that westerners can handle (particularly westerners who are culinarily adventurous), and overestimate the average spiciness of their cuisine.

If it's too spicy for me, it's too spicy for 99% of the population of any country, but it's damn near impossible to convince servers of that.


A bunch of us Westerner looking types went to a Thai restaurant in Mountain View. This was many years ago and I don't recall the restaurant. We ordered some shared dish and were asked how spicy we wanted it, 1-10. We said 10. The whole "are you sure?" thing a few times. They brought the dish out. We said "this really isn't 10 spicy." The server said, "next time say you want it 10 on the Thai scale". Sigh.

I live in NC now. There's an ice cream place here that has you sign a release form before they'll let you try their "Cold Sweat"[0] made with habanaro, ghost pepper oil, etc, ice cream. I tried it. It was pretty amazingly hot, but while eating it I noticed they had a flavor called "Exit Wound." I asked what it was. "Oh, that's even hotter." Didn't try it... the Cold Sweat was really hot.

There's something wrong with an America where the spiciest food I can get is ice cream. :-)

[0] Cheesy food network video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8oy_zYRTZ0


I went through the same experience once; instead of 1-10 I told them I wanted the "Thai spicy" maximum. I thought being an Indian it should be something I could handle; I couldn't have been more wrong. That thing burnt my intestines and "exit wound" was literally true. Took two days to feel completely alright.

"Indian spicy" is not really that hot - it's more about the strong flavor that comes with mixing spices of multiple varieties.


I think this may be a thing with Thai restaurants in general; it's not just spiciness but also level of fish sauce and even the way the dish is prepared. There's a thing in Chicago about "secret menu" Thai restaurants, which are often written in Thai language (food nerds in Chicago have translated and published them). It might be possible to order things "Thai style" in any good Thai restaurant and get a different, better dish.


My photo is on the wall of a Chicago Thai restaurant for their spicy food challenge. They had a scale of: mild, medium, hot. From there they had a second scale of: Thai hot 1x-10x.

If you cleared your plate at Thai hot 7x or higher you got your meal comped and your photo on the wall.

My friend and I did it one day. He ordered a curry and had no problem. I ordered pad thai that was the biggest plate of noodles I'd ever seen and failed because my stomach wasn't large enough vs it being from the heat. Went back and did the curry no problem.

The thing with very spicy foods is at a certain point your tongue checks out and flavors just get muted. Personally I love the Sichuan approach since the peppercorns numb your tongue to the heat a little which for me lets me more fully experience the flavors of the chiles.


Anecdote: Had a (caucasian) friend who spent a four-month co-op term as a student in India, and when they came back they also had to insist to the local Indian restaurants "yes, I want it extra spicy, like you would serve to an Indian person".

(Like, I realize this is frustrating, but how is the waiter going to know -- from your appearance -- that you spent four months eating Indian food in India?)


Indians are caucasian, too.


More to the point, "caucasian" is an obsolete and ill-defined term that was interpreted in various ways throughout its history:

The Caucasian race (also Caucasoid[1] or Europid)[2] is a grouping of human beings historically regarded as a biological taxon, which, depending on which of the historical race classifications used, have usually included some or all of the ancient and modern populations of Europe, Western Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa.[3]

Since the second half of the 20th century, physical anthropologists have moved away from a typological understanding of human biological diversity towards a genomic and population-based perspective, and have tended to understand race as a social classification of humans based on phenotype and ancestry as well as cultural factors, as the concept is also understood in the social sciences.[8]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caucasian_race


Sure, I forgot the quotes, thank you. The whole "race" thing is ridiculous, in my opinion.


Several of my colleagues find buffalo wing sauce to be unbearably spicy...

Most white people in the US aren’t as adventurous as those on HN.


I've found at Thai restaurants I have better luck telling them how many chilies I want added. I learned this trick when in Thailand. I would order something "very spicy" or "Thai spicy" and I would always be questioned. One waitress asked me how many chilies and I've been using that ever since.

I've settled on 4-5 chilies for Som Tam.


Same experience here. Learned to order "Thai-hot" while working in Frankfurt (Germany) and frequenting a Thai food truck. Nearby was "Best Worscht in Town". Try it when in Germany - http://bestworschtintown.com They sell sausages and fries. You have to choose a flavour and the level of spiciness for the sauce/relish. Latter ranges from A to F. I can manage D (333,000 SCU according to web site). For F (short for FBI or Fking Burning Injection, 1,200,000 SCU) I heard that they require to sign an indemnification agreement.


Was it Amron Thai On Castro Street ?


No. My recollection is that it was a block or two off Castro on either Villa or Dana. This is over 5 years ago though.


[flagged]


Please don't needlessly jack up the flame levels here. Restaurant workers trying to figure out what their customers will be happy with is hardly "racism" that needs "calling out". Moreover the online trope of "calling out" is something HN can do without.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Positive racism ("I'm trying to help the stereotypical image of what I think you are") is still racism.

There is no such think as 'hardly racism'. That's an excuse for racist behavior you agree with.

It definitely needs to be called out because it's the same level as suggesting that a black person wants fried chicken despite the fact that they ordered grilled chicken.

"I think you actually want X despite asking for Y because of your skin color."

I'm honestly surprised that you are defending this behavior given your otherwise neutral positions. It's disgusting.


Seriously, I've been to an Indian restraunt where I've ordered something spicy, and the server asks "are you sure". After responding yes, he asked "are you really sure". This whole thing goes on a third time before he finally goes back into the kitchen.

About five minutes later his manager comes out "so I heard you ordered it spicy, now I'm not sure you know what that means".

I went to school in New Mexico, we used to throw a little ground capsaicin crystals into the green chile. I can handle whatever the health department will let them put in their damn vindaloo.


Did you pause to think about why you were asked that series of questions so often? Your experience suggests that the case of a guest overestimating their own tolerance is vastly more common than the case of the restaurant underestimating the tolerance of a guest.

Edit: my mother, for example, is constantly enamored of the idea of spicy food, orders it "medium" or even "spicy," and then struggles to eat it.


Warning customers that your food is spicy is one thing. Refusing to accept that your culture isn't the only one on the planet that enjoys spicy food is something else entirely.

There are white people who don't like spicy food, and there are Indians who don't like spicy food. There are probably more white people who don't like spicy food than Indians who don't (percentage wise).

But if you use this heuristic instead of listening to your customers, you'll be wrong more often than you're right.

>my mother, for example, is constantly enamored of the idea of spicy food, orders it "medium" or even "spicy," and then struggles to eat it

There's really nothing you can do about this unless you plan on just flat out refusing to listen to your customer's stated preferences.


Roughly 10 years ago, I briefly worked as a waiter in an Indian restaurant in the midwest.

Easily, more than 90% of the white people who wanted things "spicy" on the Indian spicy scale could _not_ handle it.

So the heuristic of interpreting the definition of spicy in the context of their background more often than not works out. (If it didn't, Indian restaurants who have been established for decades would have learned and changed their ways)

On a separately interesting note, I'm a brown person... I love spicy Indian food, but I have trouble handling it. Invariably I get all snotty, but I keep eating it. I have to keep a ton of tissues nearby to keep wiping snot, but my god food without the spicy kick is just too bland for me.

I wish so bad that I didn't get snotty every time I ate spicy.

It's kind of embarrassing and disgusting that when I'm eating out with folks, they have to see me constantly wiping my nose.


Only two times in my life have I been brought to weep because of how spicy something was, and both times, it was the F'ing Cajuns. I have no idea what they did, but oh my god.

They showed up one time at an Octoberfest (!!!) with their damned salsa. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get something that will cut heat at a German festival? I had to eat a cream puff the size of my head to stop the pain.

And yes, every time, my nose runs like a sieve. I feel your pain.


One word of advice, capsaicin is an oil. Trying to dull the pain with milk, etc is a waste of time. You need to dissolve the oil off your tongue and for that alcohol is the best solution (no pun intended). Pure spirits work well to remove the capsaicin and then you can follow up with something that will soothe your raw nerve endings. So, German beer may have been the right answer for you at the time.


> One word of advice, capsaicin is an oil. Trying to dull the pain with milk, etc is a waste of time.

No, it's not; cold milk, largely because of casein, which is lipophilic, is one of the most effective remedies (sugar solution in water is also effective, though somewhat less so.)

> You need to dissolve the oil off your tongue and for that alcohol is the best solution (no pun intended). Pure spirits work well to remove the capsaicin and then you can follow up with something that will soothe your raw nerve endings. So, German beer may have been the right answer for you at the time.

Pure alcohol is effective, and recommended for cleaning things that have been contaminated with capsaicin, but is not a great idea to ingest. Mixtures of alcohol and water that are far more of the latter than the former are not particularly useful.


Beer consistently raises the pain temporarily, and does nothing longer-term, in my experience. Milk and sugar soothe for the short term, but nothing long term. Haven’t tried spirits, but given how beer goes, I dont have much hopes


My nose runs, but I also get the hiccups. I met Mario Batali a couple times (we happened to vacation next door to each other a couple years in a row), and he told me that happens to him too. Never noticed it happening to anyone else, though!


I think you're looking at this from the wrong direction. Instead of starting from "what is my ideal experience, and why are people failing to deliver that to me," try thinking "what does the existing equilibrium have to teach me about this situation?"

If you stop and think, you'll realize that the ubiquity of this "problem" for you is proof that your intuition is wrong, that you are an outlier, that the vast majority of incidents in which the spiciness doesn't suit the patron goes in the opposite direction.

The fact that you get so much pushback is proof that they are right to do so far more often than they are wrong. There's no reason to think that so many people at so many restaurants would be all be mistaken in the same direction and with such an extreme degree of conviction.

And there is something you can do—offer a lot of resistance without refusing so that all but the most stubborn customers who've tied their self esteem to their ability to eat spicy foods don't make the mistake of ordering food that's too spicy for them.


That's not proof at all. Stereotypes and confirmation bias are well documented phenomena.

It's very easy for people to take a few examples of behaviors by people from a certain group and apply that behavior to the entire group when they aren't members of that group--despite what the actual statistics show.

An example that happens all of the time in food service is assigning racial heuristics to tipping. A waitress has 2 customers who leave small tips, customer A is the same race as the waitress, customer B isn’t. The waitress dismisses customer A as a generic asshole, but she uses the example of customer B to reinforce her belief about customer B’s race’s tipping habits. The waitresses behavior (even multiple waitresses across multiple restaurants) certainly isn’t proof of anything about any group’s tipping behaviors.

People from hundreds of different cultures will insist that their cuisine is the spiciest and that no one else from any other culture could possibly handle their food--they can’t all be right. Clearly there are a lot of people overestimating their cuisine’s relative spiciness.


Have you had much experience working in food service? The iteration happens incredibly quickly. Any kind of cultural factor (like, say, a predisposition to underestimate the tolerances of white people) will quickly be erased by dozens and dozens of experiences.

When you are waiting tables all day, you're optimizing for two things: tips, and, even more so, limiting annoying situations. A hypothetical server who carries the bias you describe will learn quickly, like, within a night or two, that haranguing their customers about spiciness will result in both worse tips and a lot of extra hassles. In your example, you were so agitated about the spiciness that you even got their boss involved—that's a huge hassle for a server, a big waste of time and something that probably annoys their boss.

I can say from experience that servers do not have the luxury of making decisions based on arbitrary cultural factors. The data is being drilled into them all day, every day, and in all but the most unusual cases, servers will take the path of least resistance to quick turnover and tips. And if you want to deal in stereotypes, don't underestimate the practicality of immigrants.


>In your example, you were so agitated about the spiciness that you even got their boss involved

I don't think you're really interested in a debate here. First you confused me with someone else, I never said anything about anyone's boss. Second you altered the story to make the person who did tell that story look bad.

They didn't say anything about being agitated or getting the boss involved. They said the waiter asked and they confirmed 3 times and then the boss came out to ask a 4th time.

As to the rest of your point, I think you really underestimate the power of confirmation bias, and I dont buy the servers are just too busy to sterotype schtick.


Apologies for confusing you with the other person. I don't know if reading between the lines is the same as changing the story—maybe it's "cultural" but I would never push a server about a food preference to such a strong degree that there need to be multiple conversations about it. I tend to be more deferential in cases like this. I'm sure you're right that I shouldn't assume the person was agitated. I think I'm reading too much into the fixation on demonstrating a capacity for spicy foods. There's something deeper bound up in that, but it's not my place to speculate about something I don't have first hand experience with.

You can buy it or not, but my broader point is that people who have not been servers probably shouldn't express confident opinions about what it's like to be a server. The fact that a wide variety of cultures treat white people ordering spicy food the same way, and that this happens with so much reliability and to such a strong degree, makes it very unlikely that a kind of mass anti-white hysteria is forcing many thousands of people who otherwise have little in common with each other to behave starkly against their own interests, over and over again, day in and day out.


Stereotypes exist, and people have irrational confidence in the relative spiciness of their culture's cuisine. Unless you have some kind of spice challenge, your food isn't that hot. Just about every wing place in America sells wings that you can order that are just as hot as food you can find at your average Indian restaurant, or Jamaican restaurant, or Sichuan restaurant.

Every job has folk wisdom and heuristics. I worked retail and then retail tech support for years. I've had to deal with plenty of employees who wouldn't listen to customer's preferences because that preference didnt match some heuristic they were using.

They had the same justifications--"They don't really want it, they'll just end up returning it."

Those employees who insited on treating all of their customers like children because of a few bad experiences were consistently poor performers.

Their heuristics were detrimental, but they kept using them because people are very vulnerable to confirmation bias. No mass hysteria required.

Listen to your customer. Give them advice, warn them if necessary, but don't treat them like a child because you once interacted with an asshole who looked a bit like them.


The key is in your last sentence—you're extrapolating outward from "once interacted," but I think if you actually spoke to people who work in these restaurants, you'd learn that, in fact, the situation is "constantly interacted," albeit maybe "asshole" isn't as accurate as "person who overestimated their own tolerance."


If it was "constantly" happening, given the thousands of times I've eaten at restaurants that serve spicy foods over my lifetime, I should have seen this fairly regularly.

My theory is that servers are the same as retail employees--a small difference in behaviors between groups reinforces preconceived stereotypes, which causes them to overestimate the differences between groups.

Also, you're saying things like "in fact" based on what you think that other people think the frequency is.


> Warning customers that your food is spicy is one thing. Refusing to accept that your culture isn't the only one on the planet that enjoys spicy food is something else entirely.

When I was waiting in a Thai restaurant (in Australia) I too started do the "are you really sure" thing after a couple of customers ordered the hottest dishes on the menu, then complained they couldn't eat them and wanted a refund.

People would often ask for a "mild" version of, say, Tom Yum soup, which is not really possible without thinning it down with water and losing all the flavour.


This. When they ask you "are you sure" they are just wary of getting jerked around by people who really have no idea, and who can't abide having to live with their decisions. They get those people all the time.

As an aside, I remember somebody returning a standard grilled chicken sandwich at McDonalds for being unbearably spicy.


>As an aside, I remember somebody returning a standard grilled chicken sandwich at McDonalds for being unbearably spicy.

Maybe it was secretly a McSpicy? https://www.mcdonalds.com.sg/food-menu/mcspicy/


Well, why can't you just make the food less spicy, but advertise it as more? I don't mean you should lie- just slide your spiciness scale down a bit so that what you call "hot" is actually mild and what you call extra super hot is just sorta-hot, for you, but not for the customers.

I don't reckon anyone has ever requested a refund because they could actually eat what they ordered.

As to those customers who only order hot food to brag to their friends, they can pretend their food is really hot and nobody has to know the truth.


> Well, why can't you just make the food less spicy, but advertise it as more? I don't mean you should lie- just slide your spiciness scale down a bit so that what you call "hot" is actually mild and what you call extra super hot is just sorta-hot, for you, but not for the customers.

Some dishes like Thai Green Curry are based on green chillies (and Red curry on red chillies). Adding less chilli just dilutes the flavour an makes it weak (but still hot). You cannot really substitute the chilli with another milder ingredient like capsicum (bell pepper) because the flavour will change completely.


> Warning customers that your food is spicy is one thing. Refusing to accept that your culture isn't the only one on the planet that enjoys spicy food is something else entirely

Different peppers contain various combinations of different capsaicinoids, and spicy dishes fun different cultures also have different non-capsaicinoids as best components. It's very common for someone used to spicy dishes of one culture to not be able to handle those of a different culture, and I'm not at all surprised that people working in food have developed a fair skepticism of people who think (often not inaccurately, for some particular cultural cuisine) they can handle spice (and often food-culture-specific codes that bypass this skepticism by signaling familiarity with the food culture in question.)


One thing I feel is missing in the world is a standardized way to talk about chili levels, like a more accessible Scoville scale that includes things like black pepper.

The lack of standardization makes it hard to know what you'll get.

Even in India, from region to region what is considered mild or spicy varies, e.g. a spicy dish in Pune can be less hot than a "mild" dish in Hyderabad.


Why do you think the people who would not want to eat spicy food would order Indian food advertised as spicy and authentic when they have lots of other options already? Whereas people who want spicy food are underserved by current options, so selling to them seems like a smart move.


> Why do you think the people who would not want to eat spicy food would order Indian food advertised as spicy and authentic when they have lots of other options already?

Regardless of whether it makes logical sense, in practical reality, they do.


Had the exact same thing happen a few months ago at an Indian restaurant. The server just flat out refused to let me order bullet naan. I had to insist 3 times before he gave in. Unless you're stuffing those things with Carolina Reapers, I can handle it (even if you are, I still probably want to try it :)

Another time I grabbed a bottle of the house hot sauce at a Jamaican restaurant, and the older lady behind the counter actually laughed at me and told me it was too hot. When I tried it, it was about the level of a medium hot wing sauce. I could have drank the whole bottle and not even asked for water.


People only know what they have experienced. You have to just forgive.


That's good advice for any situation.


>I went to school in New Mexico

I generally think of myself as liking spicy food. I tend to favor Szechuan Chinese and I lived in New Orleans for a few years. When I was in the Santa Fe area last summer, I came to the realization after the first night's dinner that I really needed to order the Hatch chile [corrected] sauce on the side or it was going to be completely overwhelming.


I love driving through Hatch with the windows down in 110F weather. The smell is amazing!


> Hatch chili sauce

It's just called chile.


The spelling of the pepper and the sauce both vary by region.


We're talking specifically about the region in New Mexico in which I live.


There is often a red sauce option :-) But I wanted to get the Hatch chiles while I had an opportunity to as you don't really see them most other places.


The difference between red and green chile is whether it has been dried, but nobody here calls it sauce (even though it almost always is). Hatch is a town that produces it, but they're technically Anaheim peppers. However, if you walk into any restaurant in New Mexico and say "I'd like the Hatch chili sauce on the side" you're going to get a raised eyebrow. The state question is "red or green?"


Might make sense to have a card or phone app that basically says "This user has a tolerance of blahblah, and is fully qualified to eat spicy food"


There is a hot-sauce shop in Austin Texas that makes you sign a legal release waiver before purchasing some of the sauces they keep in a locked case. Apparently there is a real risk of airway collapse -- a fine line between "hot sauce" and "military grade chemical weapon / bear deterrent spray."


That is the part where I tell them I buy cumin and chili powder by the pound and that I know turmeric is a root and cinnamon is tree bark.


I think it has more to do with how the westeners behave when things are too spicy; I've had a russian girl break down crying from a mildly spicy dish (lost half a gallon of milk and a ton of sugar for that one...), and while others are less extreme, whenever they can't handle their spice, they'll surely let you know it. I know maybe 2 people who both can't handle a high level of spices, and will behave themselves when its too hot.

Personally, I find worst-case behavior rude, offensive and downright childish; and more annoyingly, it's generally acceptable behavior. It's sufficiently annoying to stop me from serving spicy foods by default, if its to a non-asian. And worst of all, they always think they can handle a decent level of spices, so theres no warning before they start huffing and dying at the table.

I imagine most restaurants aren't as annoyed by it as I am, but I'm pretty sure its primarily that worst-case behavior that stops them from serving properly spicy food to westeners. At least with an indian, if they can't handle their spices, they'll drink their water and shut the hell up.

No one enjoys seeing someone huffing and puffing at the dinner table


Your experience is not universal or even typical. I have never seen anything like this in the thousands of times I've eaten spicy foods with hundreds of family members, friends, and business associates. I have literally never seen someone insist that they can handle spicy food, and then start behaving like a child. In my experience, they try to hide it because they are embarrassed they can't handle it.

The only thing that even came close was someone who was challenged to do a shot of Carolina Reaper sauce and he started hiccuping then had to excuse himself to go to the bathroom.


Probably one of the least spicy curries I've ever had was at an Indian wedding. They put all the white people on a big table together and I'm thinking they gave us a different dish to everyone else. They even came over and asked if it was too spicy.


It seems many cultures think their culture is the spiciest! I've heard similar boasts from friends of mine who are Mexican, Chinese, Korean, and Indian among others.


I've been reading about cuisines and it seems that Korean can be pretty spicy. Not got a chance to try it, except a dish or two (bibimbap, IIRC, and that was not hot). I like the fact that they use a fair amount of sesame seeds and sesame oil, based on what I've read. Got to try it more some day.


I've had some spicy kimchee before, and that was really good.


Oh yes, I forgot about kimchee. I had it at the same place where I had the bibimbap. It is good alright. And recently I read up in Wikipedia and other sites on how they make it. Very interesting. There are many different varieties. They store them to ferment in large jars which are made of earthenware or ceramic or something like that. Traditionally, some kinds of pickles in South India (e.g. green mango pickle) are made in similar looking jars, but not as large.


Find a good Korean fried chicken place. Most of them will have a pretty spicy option.


I'm not in a place where I can try that, right now. Let's see, later.


> In my experience non-westerners tend to underestimate the level of spiciness that westerners can handle

As someone who owned a restaurant; that is not it most likely. The problem is that people say ‘super spicy!!!’ (or bloody if it is a steak) and then send it back because they find it inedible. And you do not want to cause a scene nor can you bite back too hard, so you just replace it with bland and overcooked. It is a shame but many places just want to prevent that issue.


Also, lots of Indians find Indian food spicy. My mom and aunts and brother are spice nuts. My grandmother will literally eat raw chilis, but my dad, my uncle, myself, and my grandfather, when he was alive, aren't super into spicy food. My uncle turns read and gets sweaty whenever he eats my mother's food, and my dad and i cope by consuming copious amounts of yogurt.

Like, years and years of practice have made me able to ignore the pain and eat what my mother cooks when we visit, but that's not to say I'm a fan of the spice. My wife often asks how I handle my mother's spice, and the answer is -- I ate it as a hungry teenage boy when I was too hungry to stop for water, so I just grit my teeth and power through.


Mor milagai with curd rice is a great way to acquire a taste for chili. From there you can seamlessly move on to raw chilis :)


It's really not a question of not having a taste for it, or not being able to develop it. I'm 100% certain I could develop it, as my grandmother has -- due to seemingly inherent interest -- consumed ever spicier dishes.

My father, uncle, and I have no interest in developing our taste buds to consume ever spicier foods in the way my mother's family does. I simply am happy to eat whatever. So many things taste good, there is no reason to eat incredibly spicy food. That being said, half of my spice tolerance (which is incredibly incredibly high) is due to being forced to consume it by my mother.


I used to have a roommate who used to cook a kilo of uncut green chillies in a pan; adding crushed red chillies & other spices. Then he would eat it with Roti & pickle.

I, for one, can not eat chopped green chillies as a spice in a dish unless it is fried well in Tadka to kill its hotness.


Hottest thing I've ever tasted was undiluted The Man sauce from Dixie's BBQ [1]. Years ago when I interned at Microsoft, they had the interns try the sauce, since we were all from out of town. Whoever had the most would get tickets for the Seahawks game the next evening.

I figured I'd like it, because at the time I was super into hot foods. At least, I was by my own benighted standards. But my adviser told me to take the smallest amount I could, on a toothpick. I said fine, and boy were they right. It didn't feel hot. It felt like I was cutting my tongue with a knife. It only started feeling hot as an inferno after it had spread out through my mouth.

One of the other guys took a spoonful and put it on a bun and ate it in one bite. Then he proceeded to guzzle several cups of milk, before retiring later to the WC. He won the tickets, but apparently was unable to go because he was still feeling digestively sensitive the next day.

These days I don't really fuck around with super hot food any more.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dixie%27s_BBQ


I’d take that to the extreme and say that many cultures view their cuisine as the ultimate in spiciness while assuming others don’t come close. My anecdote is three South Asian/Indian men being refused the “spiciest” option at a Sichuan restaurant in Palo Alto. Of course, we took this as a challenge and definitely could see why some people might not enjoy it but it wasn’t exactly sign-a-waiver level spice.


If by "westerner" you mean U.S. American or Mexican, you might be right.

However, here down in South America, we can't handle spicy at all (our food is considered bland by people from spicy countries). I almost died eating Mexican food that was rated a 3 on the 1 to 10 scale.


The hottest generally available hot sauces are the ones available at McDonald's, PopEyes, KFC, Taco Bell in the US... In fact, the same stores in Asia don't even offer hot sauces (usually some sweet and sour sauce or just ketchup).


This is true for me too, although I will say that Indian and Thai places are at least the most likely to take me seriously when I beg them to add spice.


I was at a restaurant with my Indian friends, we all ordered the same dish and spiciness however my food came from a different container...


That's a good point -- customers definitely react to our spice levels differently. We use authentic, family recipes so people not used to spice sometimes have a hard time. We're exploring adding a lower spice option for each product, so hopefully soon!

I would also say that food from any region of India is Indian food, and you can further specify what type of Indian food by direction (i.e. South/North) or region (i.e. Gujurati/Rajastani/Tamil).


Assuming you use water-based sauces and mostly pre-ground spices, the easiest way to fix the spice issue would be just to put all of the spicy ingredients in a separate container and let customers add those in at their discretion. For most dishes there's just a few ingredients that are really spicy, and the recipe would probably survive without them.

This way it's a continuum instead of just a binary choice.


The tricky problem with spice levels is there's a weird masculine/masochism vibe to it all, along with a highly subjective scale. So we end up with some way overestimating their tolerance, and some way underestimating. Both of these leave your customers with negative impressions, rendering them less likely to come back.

Really want to help your customers decide? Bring out a little bit of each sauce; and a bit of bread to try it with. Have them move from the non-spicy to the spicier -- let the server know which one they liked best. Not only is this an inexpensive course of action, it lets restaurants avoid disappointing experiences and allows for an inexpensive teaser at the start of a meal.


I think this is a pretty tractable problem: plenty of non-Indians love Indian food for the spice, and anecdotally, I've had plenty of food like "thai hot" pad thai that's too hot for my Indian coworkers.

Palates will vary, but I'd expect the typical 1-4 pepper scale would give most people a good option. If carrying four variants of every item is too much of a challenge, the meals could include optional spice sub-packets.


Ordered takeout from a little Indian place in one of the more heavily Indian populated sides of Houston. They asked me what spice level I wanted, I said medium. They then asked, "Indian medium or American medium"?


Yeah, that's a pretty common thing.

There are two types of spicy:

  Actual Spicy

  White People Spicy
You go into any restaurant in NYC, as a white person, and they ask you if you want it spicy, and you only say "yes, please" get ready to be disappointed.

Most restaurants have been burned by random tourists sending back full plates of food by white tourists from other parts of the country, that they lower their spiciness, if you look like non-foodie white people.

They don't even ask or mention what they're doing. You say: yes, spicy, please. Then you get Ohio Spicy.

They don't even call it "white people spicy" but that's what it is. You have to emphatically say, "Yes, VERY spicy, please." in order to get actual chilies, and real spice oils.

Try it with a friend, who doesn't look like white people. Both of you order the same dish, both spicy, then trade. The only route around this situation is to look like New York Foodie White People.


Half of my Indian-American (first generation born in America) can barely handle any spice. That's just an anecdote, but I'm not so sure you can draw the spice line on whether or not someone is Indian.


Mnyeah. That sort of attitude has definitely turned out to be good advertisement for "Indian" cuisine in the UK. All the lads here will compete with each other to be the one to eat the spiciest curry, just to show how tough they are, presumably. One place I visited once even handed out certificates for the "Flaming Rectum Society" to my friends who ordered their Vindaloo.

To be honest, I find all this posturing a bit naff. Where I come from (Greece), when we say that a food is "spicy" we mean it's fragrant - not hot. I personally use at least half a dozen spices when I cook- cumin, cardamom, nutmeg, white and black pepper, paprika, kayenne pepper, cinnamon, allspice, clove, ginger, turmeric and even a bit of fennel. Those are all "spices", only one of them is hot and they're all meant to make your food a pleasure to eat, not a competition for who has the biggest ...

... tolerance to pain?

Well, I guess now we have learned that non-westerners are tougher than westerners. I'm sure that must be useful information, somehow. One day I may even understand how.

Btw, hot dishes go great with yoghurt, beause it takes away the burning feeling.


My guess is that they are not trying target typical westerners. There already is a lot of westernized pre-made Indian food you can buy at the supermarket.


Yeah, and it's all awful because they eliminate my favorite part of Indian cuisine -- the spices. It's almost as bad as Greek gyros or Persian food without sumac.


As a typical white guy who doesn't handle spice well (two different attributes - put away your pitchforks lol), I'm disappointed by my options at the supermarket. A lot of it is either flavorless tomato sauce or super-spicy, without the rich curry flavor I'd like. I prefer good Indian takeout, and if I had a way of dialing back the spice level maybe 25%, it would be perfect.


Basically italian spaghetti sauce with turmeric.


Just make the mix non-spicy and let the customer add chili oil or whatever to taste.


I wonder if they could do something like include a capsaicin dropper and guidelines?


When Midwesterners complain about how spicy something is, they're not talking about the pain from the capsaicin. They're referring to the unusual flavors from backing spices like cinnamon, coriander, cumin, turmeric, clove, cardamom, paprika, fenugreek, bay, et. al.. These are not "hot" spices, but people still have issues with them.


I'm sorry, this is contrary to every experience I've had. 'Spiciness' refers to heat, not to combination of spices.


As an Indian, for me it refers to both. "Spiciness" may bring heat to the tongue (chillies) or may be easy on the tongue but hell in your stomach (Andhra spicy). the latter is less likely to be taken as "heat" but it is more of a combination of spices.


It's a common misconception.


I don't know what Midwesterners you talk to, but everyone in my neck of the woods uses spicy to mean hot-spicy.


You know I would think so, but I had a roommate who compplained when I cooked with red bell peppers. I would make Italian food with garlic and onions and he would leave the apartment. Some people--and Midwesterners stereotypically--truly have a flat palate.


I think we need to get a map out if we're going to come to any kind of agreement on this.


Right, but they are not going to be the target audience for this. There are plenty of Americans who aren't Midwesterners from Northern European meat-and-potatoes cultures, and Hungry Man already exists for the rest of them.


Been eating and making curry for years. From scratch, not powders. I cannot stand when someone tones down a dish because of my skin colour.


How is this any different from MTR's line of products?[1]

And given that MTR's products cost just $2.50 per pack where I currently live, $24 isn't exactly cheap. I haven't tasted your product, but I have tasted the MTR ones and they seem pretty authentic. And MTR being a very old, traditional brand, it's as authentic as it gets. Would love to hear about your differentiation strategy.

[1] https://www.mtrfoods.com/products/ready-to-eat


Glad you asked! We have a few key differences:

- MTR provides just the spices, you have to bring everything else. This includes vegetables/meat, seasoning, additional spices, oil/salt, etc. Our products include all of this so that the only ingredient you add is water which makes it much more convenient.

- Our packets are 100% fresh and don't have any preservatives, whereas existing packaged Indian foods are packed with them. This makes our products tastier, fresher and much healthier, although it comes with a shorter shelf-life.

- Our recipes are curated from people in the community (for example, the rasam is my mom's!) This lends a very homemade taste to each dish.

- We deliver to you! All existing pre-packaged authentic Indian foods are only available in Indian stores, so we're making good Indian food available to a much larger audience.

- At the end of the day, the taste just isn't comparable. Microwaveable chana masala from Haldiram's, let's say, comes out looking/smelling/tasting not at all like a homemade dish. Ours is made completely from scratch and you as a customer can feel that difference.

MTR/Haldiram's are 'last-resort' type meals, and we aim to be a meal that you actually crave + is good for you :)


> MTR provides just the spices, you have to bring everything else. This includes vegetables/meat, seasoning, additional spices, oil/salt, etc. Our products include all of this so that the only ingredient you add is water which makes it much more convenient.

Sorry, this is not accurate. If I buy an MTR Sambhar rice, or Paneer masala, everything is included. I just need to heat it and eat it.

> Our packets are 100% fresh and don't have any preservatives, whereas existing packaged Indian foods are packed with them. This makes our products tastier, fresher and much healthier, although it comes with a shorter shelf-life.

I can't vouch for the freshness of MTR's products, but I know they don't use preservatives (as it's printed on their cartons). They use a combination of food engineering and package engineering to preserve the food without using preservatives. That's why when you buy their ready to eat products, you will find a lot of oil in them (which you're supposed to drain away) as it helps to preserve the food for months, if not years. This is no different than storing dead specimens such as rats in biological laboratories, I assume.

> Our recipes are curated from people in the community (for example, the rasam is my mom's!) This lends a very homemade taste to each dish.

Ok, this sounds good.

> We deliver to you! All existing pre-packaged authentic Indian foods are only available in Indian stores, so we're making good Indian food available to a much larger audience.

So, basically a uber type of service? So that almost makes you guys like any other restaurant, no? I mean, what's the difference between calling an Indian restaurant to have fresh food delivered vs calling you guys?

> At the end of the day, the taste just isn't comparable. Microwaveable chana masala from Haldiram's, let's say, comes out looking/smelling/tasting not at all like a homemade dish. Ours is made completely from scratch and you as a customer can feel that difference.

This is subjective. Like I said, if you call up a decent Indian restaurant (HSB / Anjappar / Raj / etc.), you can get a similar experience.

> MTR/Haldiram's are 'last-resort' type meals, and we aim to be a meal that you actually crave + is good for you :)

Sorry, but I am still not convinced why your product is worth $24 and based on what you answer, seems like there isn't much difference between ordering from a decent Indian restaurant and you guys?

I appreciate taking the time to explain your points so far.


> seems like there isn't much difference between ordering from a decent Indian restaurant and you guys

I know it seems absurd on HN, but there are people who live in areas without decent Indian restaurants.


That's fine, but then the question becomes "How many people who want fancy 'high quality' Indian food also live far from decent Indian food". At this price point, your demographic seems to be people who have a decent amount of disposable income who also want QUALITY Indian food who also don't want to have to prepare it themselves and who don't live near Indian restaurants of comparable quality to the product. How much of that 5 Billion dollar pie have you carved away from your product when it's framed like that?

I have to agree with OP. I wish you well, but if I want to pay this much money for Indian food I'll likely go to an Indian Restaurant near me. I'm supporting a local business and being provided with a restaurant experience.

(of note: I worked in restaurants for over a decade, so my food spending tends to fall into "dining experience at a great restaurant" or "ingredients to prepare my own food because it's cheaper than convenience foods". I was going to be a hard sell from the start).


That's a fair point, but also not the only demographic. When the options are either eat at an Indian restaurant or make it yourself, you come up against issues of overspending on time or money. There's a large population of people who enjoy Indian food, live near restaurants, could even make it themselves if they want to, but would rather get a quick, tasty meal that tastes homemade for the same amount of money and effort as a microwave meal.

Appreciate the support :)


There's also the group of first generation Indians who have kids, would like to feed their kids Indian food, but don't have an hour each day after work to prepare a fresh meal. Combining these packets with homemade daal and rice would make an easy weekday meal for a small family (although in NYC you can find housewives who'll come to your house once a week and prepare a week's worth of fresh food for cheaper than these packets).


The play here would almost certainly need to be around supply chain and/or some advance in the quality/ease/lifespan of fast prepared meals.


Coming from small-town Missouri and having traveled very little even within the US, I had literally never heard of any specific Indian dish (authentic or not) until I moved to San Francisco. I had no idea what naan or chicken tikka masala were until my company in SF ordered some.


So before you moved to SF, you never ate any of these products. Most people don't start eating new cuisines from a product like this, they start at restaurants (under the assumption that these cooks have experience cooking the food and will likely make a good product) or after having a meal prepared for them by another person.

That's not to say you wouldn't see this product at a store and go "oh, I've heard of Indian food and always been interested!" but that's not the common buyer behavior. People tend to pick convenience foods based on established food preferences/familiarizes.


You should probably know that chicken tikka masala is British, not Indian then. :)


Yes, I did learn that. I threw in “authentic or not” to avoid attempting to define what is “actually” Indian food.


Sure... and Vindaloo is derived from a Portugeuse dish. Which is not to say they aren't associated with India today.


The difference being the government minister Robin Cook to claimed that chicken tikka masala was "a true British national dish."


> You should probably know that chicken tikka masala is British, not Indian then.

You have to be careful posting such comments, you might start a war :)


Right. A war over something as meaningless as this.


There have been more fiercely fought wars over more trivial things.

This is HN, bike shedding is a thing.


Appreciate the responses!

- The microwaveable complete meals are definitely more similar to our products, but those are once again shelf-stable and lack in taste and nutrition. We will be doing a live comparison of our Chana Masala vs. the MTR Chana Masala to show how different it is in amount of product, look, smell, taste and nutrition.

- The oil that they include is definitely a type of preservative, and they use packaging engineering called retort packaging. This is very similar to vacuum sealing where you are drying up the product to remove the nutritional value. I think we could agree that there's a pretty big difference between MTR paneer masala and a homemade paneer masala. I would say that our products are similar if not the same as if you made it from scratch.

- We are e-commerce delivery, not on-demand. The difference between ordering from us vs. an Indian restaurant would be price-point (most dishes start at $7-10).

- Taste is definitely subjective!


- The oil that they include is definitely a type of preservative

You seem really hung up on the preservatives thing and I was giving the benefit of the doubt, but now it is just disingenuous. If oil of all things in a competitors product as a preservative then I think the tremendous amount of salt in your product qualifies as well.


Don't mean to sound hung up on the preservatives, just stating a fact of their processes and what sets us apart. Added preservatives of any kind alter the food and taste at the benefit of having a longer shelf-life.

The sodium content from our products comes from the spices in the recipes themselves. Indian spices especially have a large amount of salt (which makes them so flavorful and spicy!), but we do not add any additional salt for preservation. We are also currently working on low-sodium options!


> The sodium content from our products comes from the spices in the recipes themselves

This is nonsense - chillies, ginger and spices (e.g. black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, cassia, mace, cumin, coriander) barely contain any sodium. In the quantities such ingredients will be present in each meal, the sodium content is completely negligible.

> Indian spices especially have a large amount of salt (which makes them so flavorful and spicy!)

OK, this is just flat out lies - the only 'spice' that contains a large amount of salt is... salt! I now have zero faith that you have any idea about the very product you are marketing.


I’m not sure that’s fair. I think it makes sense to distinguish between oil (or salt or any ingredient) added for the purpose of flavor, nutrition, or authenticity vs the purpose of preservation. Both affect the flavor but one makes the food better and the other only ensures it lasts longer (assuming success).


That presumes flavor and longevity are mutually exclusive.


Since when does vacuum sealing "[dry] up the product to remove the nutritional value?" I don't believe it does either.

Also from Wikipedia retort packaging seems much more similar to canning than vacuum sealing.


>They use a combination of food engineering and package engineering to preserve the food without using preservatives.

I don't know specifically about Haldiram's or MTR (I might have tried out MTR Indian food ready-to-eat packs), but some others that I used to buy and eat sometimes (I forget the name, it may have been from an ITC group company - the Indian food and tobacco giant), mention on the package that they use DRDO-licensed technology. DRDO is an Indian defence-oriented R&D organization of the Indian government. The technology was originally developed for soldiers on the field. So likely made in such a way as to last long, and could account for its not tasting that good, and not as good as the same item, but freshly made (obviously).


>This makes our products tastier, fresher and much healthier

Any evidence that your food is healthier? Or even any explanation as to why it would be.

>Our recipes are curated from people in the community

What community? Every recipie comes from someone in a community.

>All existing pre-packaged authentic Indian foods are only available in Indian stores

Not where I live. Walmart even sells pre-packaged desi style food.

>Ours is made completely from scratch

What does that even mean in the context of selling a pre-made food product.


Not sure how OP's product is different, but MTR's food is not good at all. Even assuming that a $2.50 pack is enough for you (I find that I need two at most times for my regular hunger), it's not good to eat at all. I usually reserve it for national park trips only (the convenience of popping the pack into boiling water or into the microwave for 2 mins is unbeatable).

As far as authenticity goes, most of their stuff isn't. I would actually put them in the "very very bad attempt" category. But it could just represent the food of local area where they started (and that's not really acceptable, given that they make a wide range of stuff).


Totally agree. I consider the MTR Palak Paneer in the category of "Indian Chef Boyardee". I don't know how successful she'll be but OP clearly appears to be highlighting taste and freshness.


"national park trips only "

I do that too! MTR and the Trader Joe's Indian dishes are my camping food. Definitely no comparison to fresh food.


It wasn't clear from the home page that $24 is for "one meal that serves 3-4 people".

If it doesn't greatly increase the price of packaging for your product, you may want to experiment with showing pictures of (and sending) food in single-serving packages (so instead of sending five-six packets, you'd send 15-24 of them).

Another option is to go with a "Home Chef" style pitch -- basically saying "here's a dinner date night for two in a box".


That's a good point! Our products are created as a single serving per packet, so when you purchase our pre-made packs we specify how many meals you can make out of that pack to help users out.


Haven't tried any food from buttermilk, but if their shelf life is any indication their food is much fresher than MTRs. MTR's packets are good for at least a year (and taste like it - they are passable in a pinch but definitely have that preservative taste to them). I think buttermilk is competing with freshly made or restaurant quality food.

Edit: was wrong about MTR using preservatives, but I've always found their food to have an off taste.


MTR doesn't use preservatives, the whole food is just sealed air-tight with extra oil covering the food to prevent it from rotting. It's a combination of package engineering and food engineering.



Yes, you're right! We are a fresher and healthier option than frozen meals, with a more authentic and varied selection.


MTR is definitely decent, but it’s a far cry from authentic, quality Indian food. I’ve had many MTR lunches at work, but I don’t see myself eating it for dinner where convenience is not my primary concern.

It seems like Buttermilk is definitely competing for quality, not price.


They also sell Amy's Bowls at every whole foods in the country:

https://www.amys.com/our-foods/indian-mattar-paneer

https://www.amys.com/our-foods/indian-palak-paneer

Amy's bowls typically come in around $5 per dish as well.


Maybe i'm just picky but MTR or even (Gits) is horrible. Deep is the only one that is somewhat decent.


Their competition is not just MTR, but also Deep, Haldiram, etc that sells frozen entrees for ~ $3 at any Indian grocery.


MTR definitely has a different taste than what you get when you use fresh spices. No idea how the OP's products taste.


The difference is that the MTR stuff actually tastes horrible and nothing like actual, regular, everyday Indian food.


MTR is shit. I haven't tried buttermilk but if they are as good as they claim then I am definitely going to be one of their target customers.


I think you should consider your addressable market to be greater than Indian expats - I'm a Brit and I miss my curry living here as much as anyone from India!

Two quick thoughts:

1) I don't get your branding, especially the company name, and especially as all of your meals are vegan.

2) Shipping meat-based meals is presumably a very different and more expensive logistical challenge so I get the reason why there's no meat in these but it seems as though these packets could easily be combined with pan-cooked chicken to make a more substantial meal - is that the case and is that something you've considered promoting as part of the marketing?

I wish you the very best of luck!


> 1) I don't get your branding, especially the company name, and especially as all of your meals are vegan.

As I mentioned downthread, I was planning to skip this completely because of the name until one of the founders happened to mention in a comment that the meals are vegan. I don't normally associate "buttermilk" with anything that I eat as a vegan.

This might be a tricky marketing issue, because a huge amount of traditional home-cooked Indian food is lacto-vegetarian but not vegan. So there might be not an enormous customer segment that would view the lack of dairy in these meals as an advantage (although I'm in that customer segment myself).


That's a great point about the branding. Why we're called Buttermilk: Buttermilk is eaten at the end of almost every South Indian meal to "cool down" the stomach. As a South Indian myself, this is one of my go-to comfort foods. The aim with the company is to provide authentic, comfort foods which is how we came about to using it for the name! Plus, it's a known and easy-to-say word.

We didn't actually launch with the aim of only providing vegan meals, it just so happened that our first dishes are all vegan! This has definitely caused some confusion so we'll continue to iterate on our branding/messaging.


I may as well chime in here to provide another data point. I'm also vegan and I was definitely turned off by the name. I wouldn't have read further if it wasn't clearly a service for Indian food, which I am particularly interested in. I'm glad that your first line of meals is vegan, and as another South Indian I can sympathize with the reasoning behind the name, but I'm sure many others would be confused by the name as well.


Another vegan chiming in to say I assumed these weren’t suitable for me based on the name because buttermilk is an ingredient I see and think, “damn :(“. Veganism is very much about identifying red flags that make something unsuitable, so any reference to a non-vegan product is going to immediately turn off a non-zero portion of vegans because they won’t search out the ingredients to discover it is vegan.

A key part of a manageable vegan life is building a database of what you can consume that you enjoy and using that to drive choices, so if you can get vegan customers buying your food and enjoying it then they’re going to be stickier customers. I am a very loyal customer to my favourite food brands out of necessity, as are my vegan friends.

That said there’s certainly a double edged sword here in that there are some non-vegans who see “vegan” and are turned off but given Indian food is so often vegan I don’t think this would be a concern in your market. Although the name is cute, it’s definitely misrepresenting your product to a growing portion of your potential customers. If you stick with the name, regardless of marketing, you’re going to lose vegans, because many won’t look beyond the name because that’s a necessity for getting by.

There’s a few companies in the U.K. doing intentionally vegan ready meals (e.g https://allplants.com) and there’s a growing market for vegan ready meals (we are as busy/lazy as everybody else), so I think it’s worthwhile to reconsider the name, but also it’s a great name so maybe you can be the company to get vegans to look beyond red flags. Your product seems absolutely great for my needs and would, assuming they’re enjoyable to eat, integrate into my life well. Good luck!


> Veganism is very much about identifying red flags that make something unsuitable,

Yeah, I've become very quick at glancing at an ingredient list and noticing "whey" or "gelatin" and then putting the product back. So indeed, the brand name itself would trigger a similar reaction for me if the founder hadn't happened to specifically mention that it was vegan.

> That said there’s certainly a double edged sword here in that there are some non-vegans who see “vegan” and are turned off but given Indian food is so often vegan I don’t think this would be a concern in your market.

There might be some knowledgeable customers who expect a particular dish to contain ghee and feel like it's not likely to be that great without the ghee.


Hi Mitra,

Great initiative. But even I don't understand the use of this name as Branding. As ideally "Buttermilk" is a Drink consumed throughout India, and ironically your company is not selling it. :-).

Also its a name of the Drink and you are selling ready to eat food items which also make this name a little inappropriate, as for any Indian it gives the impression of Drink selling site rather than Food selling site. (Even i was not planning to look at it, if I have not read the comments).

Anyways all the best and have a great success.


I saw Mitra's reply downthread, but adding my 2c as an Indian:

Buttermilk is commonly drunk with meals in India (both North and South, although lassi is very popular in the North too), and also separately as a refresher, more so in summer, often lightly spiced with cumin, hing (asafoetida), etc. and sometimes with a few green chillies in it (for the brave - heh:), and is considered a soothing drink, and also healthy and wholesome. In fact I remember a childhood friend of mine saying that (as we both drank a glass each of buttermilk at lunch at his house), and it stuck in my memory. And it is really that - soothing.


I wasn’t aware hing and lightly spiced could be used in the same sentence.


Ha ha, good point :) Yes, hing is a very strong spice. But it can be a light spice, if you use little enough. Normally just a tiny pinch of it is used. Also, in India, the packaged variety you get from shops is usually mixed with some filler material which makes it less strong. Not sure what, need to check. In a similar manner, for example, some mustard powder out here is mixed with some whole wheat flour (atta) and turmeric, for the same reason. E.g. Weifield's Mustard Powder, a common brand.


Yes my impression is it’s atta


Most commonly. I'm in North America and that's also true for the hing here. Though I have found other fillers, which is good for people who need to avoid gluten (atta has gluten).


Is the buttermilk made from the leftovers of churning butter or is it milk that they grow cultures in?


Interesting question. Answer: The former. However, there is another product loosely called buttermilk by some, here. It is just curd (Indian term for yoghurt) diluted with water and maybe stirred or whisked a bit to mix up the water well with the curd. If you can't get the former, you can easily make this with curd you have at home. The real buttermilk is usually salted slightly. The one made from curd can be had either salty or sweet by adding sugar.


It would be fun to taste. The buttermilk I have tried in USA is bitter and tastes acidic.



Interesting. Could be because it is somewhat stale, maybe. (Was it bought from stores, what you tried?) Same happens in India. Fresh home-made buttermilk tastes good, from just after being made up to say 24 hours or so. After that it does get more acidic, particularly in warmer weather or if not kept in the fridge, although I might call it sour instead. Not found it tasting bitter though, as I remember. Could be you had bad luck and it was quite old stock.


A quick cooking hack when you're out of buttermilk at home is to add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk. So I always assumed the sourness/acidity was the defining feature of buttermilk. It would be interesting if there were types of buttermilk (and recipes requiring them) where this was not the case.


Interesting, must try that out sometime. In India paneer (a sort of Indian cottage cheese) is made that way, by putting lemon juice in hot milk, which makes it curdle. Then the curds are put into a cloth and hung up for a few hours to drain off the whey. What's left is paneer, which can be eaten raw, or used in dishes like palak paneer (spinach with paneer), mutter paneer (green peas with paneer), some Indian sweets, etc.


>I think you should consider your addressable market to be greater than Indian expats - I'm a Brit

I don't know. I'm not Indian either, and I was drawn to it in part because it wasn't advertised to westerners.


The hipster foodie market is best catered to by not catering to them.


Thank you for your feedback! Note about why we're called Buttermilk below.

Re: meat-based options, we have added suggestions for meat to mix in with each dish under 'How to eat'! We plan on adding more in-depth recipes in the near future.


This seems like you are working off of TastyBite's playbook:

http://tastybite.com/products/

> The options were expensive, time-consuming, or tasted horrible.

Tasty bite tastes decent, takes 60-90 seconds to heat up, and costs about $3/package with no need for refrigeration.

---

This seems like a YC to clone TastyBite without any differentiation beyond the nebulous "quality food".

So....

Are you telling me your quality is so much better a household staple of my life is going to be replaced for twice the price?

----

https://www.amazon.com/Tasty-Bite-Chickpeas-Tomatoes-Microwa...

$15 for 6 packages / 60 oz.

https://thebuttermilkco.com/collections/singles/products/cha...

$13.50 for 3 packages / 30 oz(?)


TastyBite is definitely a similar product/company. The key differentiators are:

- Our products are fresh and don't have any preservatives, meaning they must be refrigerated or frozen whereas TastyBite is shelf-stable for 9+ months. Our food is inherently fresher and tastes more homemade because of this.

- Our recipes are crowdsourced instead of developed in our kitchen. This ensures that the food is actually authentic with a homemade taste and we are able to expand into a much larger variety of products much quicker. For instance, we have a few recipes in our pipeline that you would be hard-pressed to find in TastyBite or even regular Indian restaurants because they are authentic to smaller regions of India.

- I can't say that you'll definitely like our product's taste better than TastyBite, but I do believe so :)


From the amazon link to TastyBite's packaging, it looks like they also don't use preservatives (It's explicitly mentioned in the packaging that no preservatives are used). Good luck with your startup, but their shelf life of 9+ months doesn't seem to be due to use of preservatives, it could be due to the packaging process.

On a relative note, there are tons of such products in India and most of them taste sub par to home cooked food. One exception I found was Butter Chicken I used to buy regularly when I was spent some time in Newyork few years ago. You just have to freeze it until you open and then, heat it in microwave and ready to go. It tasted very good, but spoiled my stomach (I am bearing the burden even till today) due to the usage of preservatives. Anything that doesn't use preservative is a welcome addition.

One more, when you mentioned sustainable packaging, what does it mean? Is it paper or bio plastic? If so another +1.

https://www.amazon.com/Tasty-Bite-Chickpeas-Tomatoes-Microwa...


So you are going to market as an upscale version of TastyBite with no preservatives that sells niche Indian food?

I wish you the best of luck with that.

Personally, I find a package of Vindaloo from TastyBite, some riced veggies, and a shredded chicken breast lasts me about 2 meals and is comparable to the price you are charging. I really only use TastyBite as a backpacking/on-the-go meal or as a quick curry out of laziness. I'm probably not your target market but shelf stability has alot going for it.


Your use case for TastyBit makes total sense. We're hoping to be a go-to option for a normal meal at home when you don't want to spend the time/money/energy on making a meal from scratch.

We are starting with Indian food but will hopefully be expanding to different cuisines, too!


Maybe you could offer low(er) sodium versions. I find 20% daily sodium intake is too much for a dish.


That is perfectly normal for a meal with that many calories


Do you eat more than 5 dishes per day? How are you going to get your daily sodium dose?


Since most people are overshooting by huge margins, that'd be among the least of my worries.


The evidence suggests most people are not overshooting their salt needs and especially not by huge margins.

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/opinion/sunday/we-only-th...

>With nearly everyone focused on the supposed benefits of salt restriction, little research was done to look at the potential dangers. But four years ago, Italian researchers began publishing the results from a series of clinical trials, all of which reported that, among patients with heart failure, reducing salt consumption increased the risk of death... Those trials have been followed by a slew of studies suggesting that reducing sodium to anything like what government policy refers to as a “safe upper limit” is likely to do more harm than good. These covered some 100,000 people in more than 30 countries and showed that salt consumption is remarkably stable among populations over time. In the United States, for instance, it has remained constant for the last 50 years, despite 40 years of the eat-less-salt message. The average salt intake in these populations — what could be called the normal salt intake — was one and a half teaspoons a day, almost 50 percent above what federal agencies consider a safe upper limit for healthy Americans under 50, and more than double what the policy advises for those who aren’t so young or healthy. This consistency, between populations and over time, suggests that how much salt we eat is determined by physiological demands, not diet choices....

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/we-ea...

>People tend to consume about the same amount of sodium no matter where they live, and this amount hasn’t changed much in decades. Those facts hint at the biological basis of our sodium appetite.... “Over the last five decades, salt content of commercial food in our food [in the United States] has gone up. But if you look at people’s 24-hour urinary sodium excretion, you see that the amounts of salt people consume have been constant,” he says. Irrespective of age, sex or race, between 1957 and 2003 Americans have been eating on average 3.5 grams of salt a day. “This suggests that we are somehow regulating the amount of salt we are eating,” Breslin says.... In one of Leshem’s studies, babies who had low concentrations of sodium in their blood in the first weeks of their lives grew up to be teenagers with a penchant for salt, even salt that is seemingly hidden in processed foods. “Even if you can’t taste the salt, apparently your body does. It’s working on an unconscious level to condition a preference for sodium,” Leshem explains.


>"Our products are fresh and don't have any preservatives,"

But Salt is probably the most common food preservative there is and the reason canned foods have such high levels of it.

Why is the salt content on many of these items through the roof for ready-made meals meant to be eaten soon after delivery.


> don't have any preservatives

Just what I was looking for. Definitely going to use this service.


Except Tasty Bite tastes terrible. There's another competitor making the same thing (sealed cooked food, no water needed) Maya Kaimal that is _much_ better. It actually tastes good.


Personally, I enjoy Tasty Bite curries. It may not be the perfect authentic Indian dish you get at a good restaurant but I find at its price point there isn't any real competitor for my $$.


Most Indian restaurants in the US aren't authentic, and cater to Western tastes. So


It's definitely a subjective thing! It's hard to find authentic Indian food that tastes good, is easy to make, and affordable. That's where we come in :)


It looks to me like the biggest difference is that these are not sealed, they're perishable. Tasty bite can be kept at room temperature for 9+ months.

Costco in the Seattle area also now sells some tasty bite bulk packs.


> It looks to me like the biggest difference is that these are not sealed, they're perishable. Tasty bite can be kept at room temperature for 9+ months.

Yeah, which isn't really a positive unless it saves on sodium/etc. If it does, its really a niche "healthy" version of TastyBite and they need to market it as such.


It doesn't seem to have any less sodium.


tasty bites are super cheap at costco, 12 pack for like $16


I think they're even cheaper this month. Picked up a box the other day.


I haven’t tried the food, but it seems like you are making real, high quality food. I think the “ship fresh” angle is interesting and worth experimenting with. I wish you the best and will follow the journey on Instagram!

Others in this thread seem dubious that quality could be a differentiator, but I think you should double down on that. It’s not just ingredients, but technique that makes food delicious and if you can truly scale proper par-cooking technique, that will be a strong core for your business, and difficult to copy from the outside.

I also think you are absolutely correct to focus on a core market who loves real Indian food. There’s no price you can put on your family’s home cooking, which makes it a good market for you to start in low volume.

Just a random idea as you grow: you might try supporting an “experiment community” the way Soylent did. I think that forum became https://www.completefoods.co. They encouraged people to share and develop their own recipes.

In the long term, you will need to compete against “monoculture” brands who are selling one size fits all products. Because you aren’t storing inventory, you will be positioned to sell a wider selection of products, even short runs of one-off special foods. Could be another differentiator.


Thank you! We agree that quality is a lot more than in the ingredients and makes a huge difference.

That's a great suggestion about the community. We are experimenting with community building through our recipe curators, who send in their recipes to be turned into Buttermilk products. They receive 5% of the proceeds of their product sales, too. There are tons of great opportunities for this!


I don't think I'm exactly in your target market, but I have a related problem: We cook a lot of healthy foods at home (e.g. skinnytaste), and Indian recipes are the only ones that never come out.

I suspect it is because we never get the spices right. We went to an indian cooking class many years ago, and the woman who taught it hand ground all the spices herself. The results were amazing, but who has the time?

If you had a service that coupled premixed spices with recipes that use them, that would have been really exciting to me.

We can already buy various pre-made pastes/mixes at the grocery store, but they are really unhealthy.

If we could get the spices, then have control of all the fresh ingredients (meats, veggies) and also all the unhealthy ingredients (salt, anything with fat, etc), that would be attractive to me.

I know that is not what you are doing, but just for the future (a) spices are cheaper to mail and shelf-stable (b) the spice mix is probably the secret sauce of what makes it taste good, and it is difficult to duplicate in my experience (c) leaving the other ingredients out would allow home users to follow either a healthy recipe (fat free yogurt) or special occasion recipe (heavy cream!)

Anyway, FWIW, when I read the first lines of your description, that is what I was hoping for.


You just defined the concept of a masala. A masala is a mixture of dry spices in the correct ratio for a recipe. You can find them at an Indian store. I have also seen them at Target or on Amazon. The recipe for cooking is on the back side of a masala packet. Here is a link to a popular brand of masalas: http://www.everestspices.com/products


Thanks a lot! You are right, a masala was just what I was looking for. The Shan products mentioned below seem to have a ton of sodium, but the everest products you mention let you add your own sodium and sugar to taste. I just ordered some to try out.


There is no shortcut or workaround when it comes to fresh ingredients. That doesn’t mean you can’t market and sell one, just that it won’t deliver.


> the woman who taught it hand ground all the spices herself. The results were amazing, but who has the time?

I have an electric spice grinder, and it makes this process really quick - just drop in the spices and push a button! It grinds them to a powder within just a few seconds.

If you're interested in making your own spice blends, I highly recommend getting one.

Also, if there are blends that you particularly like, you can make a bigger batch and store them in an air-tight container, and they will retain the majority of their flavour for up to a few months.


Look for Shaan Masalas in an Indian store. They have the right spice mix, just follow the instructions on the box.


Mitraraman,

The website has a really clean look - it makes the product seem delicious and authentic. The minimalist design compliments the minimalism of the product.

I would be careful with identifying your target market. I live in Chicago, which I believe has one of the highest percentages of Indian immigrant populations in the nation. This might seem like your target market - but in fact the large percentage of immigrants has led to a slew of Indian markets and restaurants, that are likely equally delicious and cheap. It is a common theme among my coworkers to bring in homecooked Indian meals on a daily basis.

I also noticed the Upma pack is listed as gluten-free, but contains semolina. That's just asking for legal trouble from those with Celiac's. It might be worth consolidating all of the different packages and their ingredients lists on a separate page, QAing them, and making them more available to the reader in an organized, possibly drop-down format. Hope this feedback is useful.

Cheers


Thank you, really happy you like our website and product! There's a few key differences between our products and the existing Indian-based products which I've called out in a different response.

That's a good point about the target market. There's definitely a sizable portion of immigrants who continue to cook from scratch. There's also an emerging part of the market who are first/second-generation and don't cook at home as often -- either because they don't know how, don't have all the ingredients on hand, or don't have the time/patience. We are aiming to serve this population, and also be a nice-to-have for the former group of people!

That is a great call out on the Upma and a mistake on our end (that we accidentally added last night!). We will fix this immediately. I also really like your feedback about putting all the ingredients and nutritional information on a single page. Thank you!


Mitra Raman, If you would please consider Celiacs... it's so hard to find suitable/delicious food. South Indian food can be quite friendly to Celiacs. That said, my wife is so sensitive we almost never eat out due to cross-contamination, we even avoid products that are "made in a facility that handles wheat". So, it's not just ingredients but the chances of cross-contamination that matter to us.

Speaking of which, I'd love to know of Indian restaurants in Chicago, ideally closer to south side, that are truly friendly to Celiacs. Thanks.


Well this might not answer your question in regards to the celiac aspect. I will say that the Indian place in the food court of 550 w Madison is worth checking out. It's adjacent to Ogilve. It's better than any other place I've tried by a long shot.


>It might be worth consolidating all of the different packages and their ingredients lists on a separate page

Agreed. And also may be worth putting all the nutritional information (I mean what ingredients are used, and all - not some - of them, and in what percentages or weights - again, for all), on the food packages themselves. Saying this because a pet peeve of mine about Indian products here is that many of them put such info for some, but not all of the ingredients. Common example: Haldiram snacks: they often mention many ingredients, but the labeling can go like this: Peanuts (8%), gram flour (12%), rice flour (no number given), and so on. I mean what the heck is the use of putting that info, then? if a person wants to know that info, they want to know it for all ingredients, not just some, for their health or whatever other reasons.


Congrats on the launch!

My wife's last job was at a factory that produced ice cream, and I was astounded to learn all the stuff that goes into quality control and keeping the food safe to eat. It's actually made me switch my cat food from those sort of 100% organic, high quality things to more mainstream brands, since I think what's being produced is less important than how it's produced, and I tend to trust larger factories by known quantities a little more.

Can you detail a little more your industrial process? The home page says "We make everything from scratch in our Seattle kitchen using only locally sourced ingredients + fresh vegetables" which sounds nice at first, but actually kind of creeps me out a little bit. I assume you have random FDA inspections and the like? Precautions to manage listeria, e. coli? A "locally sourced" supply chain with known quality controls, etc?

Also, is there a detailed ingredient list somewhere? My wife is allergic to chickpeas and lentils, which unfortunately makes eating Indian food very difficult for us, as much as I love it! I see lentils explicitly in some of the items, but others don't mention either, but that doesn't mean it's not used, e.g., in the flour or something.


Thanks for bringing this up -- food safety is super important! We work out of a licensed commercial kitchen with all the proper permits and licenses in place. All of our cooks have gone through extensive food safety training and we have quarterly FDA inspections (we just passed our last one with flying colors)! Our ingredients come from local distributors who are extremely trusted and vetted to provide the best quality ingredients. We also double inspect all of the ingredients to make sure they are up to our standards.

You can find a full ingredient list on each product's page under 'Benefits'.


Ordered, and excited to try! That free shipping offer got me to go back and add an item, so kudos. Once I taste the product, I might just submit a pav bhaji recipe.

Can't comment on pricing until I taste and get a sense of quantity. Certainly reasonable enough to let me try.

Some feedback on the site: - Love the pastel colors and packaging design. Very clean, with excellent photos. Any concern about appearing too feminine for your target customer? - I feel like the "Details" should already be open when I go to a product page. I ended up having to twirl it open each time I visited a page. Also annoying that the Drift pop-up covered up those details every time! - I got confused about bundles, quantities, and meal counts, and just ended up ordering enough to get free shipping. Maybe that's the intent? - Loved the "How to Eat" section. Helped me decide what to buy, but once again, it was hidden. - I would suggest left aligning your text on product descriptions. Centered text is harder to read, especially with the bulleted lists. - I want more imagery of the food! Photos of the ingredients! Videos of the cooking process! "How to Eat" as a video or photo series, instead of text!


As a non-Indian who enjoys Indian food, I'd be interested in this. However, if you want to market to non-Indians I'd suggest putting the dish description outside of the "Details" dropdown and up where the more general description is. Or start with the "Details" section expanded. Or rename "Details" to something else that lets you know that is where the more detailed description of the flavors is.


To add to this (as another non-Indian who enjoys Indian food), the descriptions are a little vague for me as to what's actually in the dish. I realize you probably wouldn't want to put every ingredient in the description but more of them would be good for someone like me.


Thank you for your feedback!


No problem. Feel free to reach out if you want to send me some samples for White-Guy Taste Testing. :)


Great idea. I wish you nothing but success.

Few points: * If you're targeting Indians. You need to price competitively. You need to make it hard to resist. * Find a village/s in India where you can procure and pack. * Post some videos of how it's prepared (tasty.com style).

Minor website issues: * Fix coloring "Buy it now" barely visible - https://thebuttermilkco.com/collections/single/products/daal * When user selects single. Images should show singles not multiple packs. * confusing product categorization. click on "shop now" on the landing page. goes to https://thebuttermilkco.com/collections/all I could not find "Singles" mentioned the listing. * on the shop menu it displays "Suites, combos, bundles" confusing just keep it simple "combos" and "singles" allow user to mix and match using cart? based on there selection apply pricing changes and let them feel they won a lottery by choosing the right combination.

All the best.


Thank you so much for the feedback!


Mitra congrats!

I'm dismayed by the folks harping on the sodium content (for health reasons not taste). I think it warrants a deeper look because sodium intake is controversial. But there's lot of evidence that people can have more than 2.3g and still be healthy if you have normal kidney function, etc. Shrug, maybe they just wanted to find something to hate on.

New England Journal of Medicine: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1311889

Summary: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/its-time-to-end-t...


Thank you!


If you plan on targeting the college market, I would focus the pitch on parents rather than students.

For a student, the alternative is to go to McDonald's and spend $8, or to go to an on-campus cafeteria.

For a parent, the alternative is to take a whole day (or more) to visit their child and bring a home-cooked meal in the trunk of their car (or on the train/plane/etc). At that price point, $24 is a steal. And the price of a "proper" dinner kit is probably on par with gift baskets the universities sell full of junk food/cake/candy/flowers/fruit salad.


That's a great suggestion -- you might be reading our minds here at Buttermilk HQ ;) Follow us for updates on this!


Reactions from a non-Indian (who loves Indian food):

* I really had to dig to find descriptions of the dishes.

* The emphasis on pre-built combo packs turned me off somewhat. You've only got ~10 dishes, I'd rather explicitly pick the 3 or 4 dishes that intrigued me than sift through all the combo packs to find the one that most closely matches what I want.


Thank you for your feedback!

- We changed our product page design recently to move descriptions to a different part of the page and will definitely look into redesigning it! - We find that pre-built packs are helpful for people who can't choose or want to try a bunch of different ones. You can also purchase the individual products here: https://thebuttermilkco.com/collections/singles


Very interesting. I recently invested into a US based food startup that does interesting stuff and I learned a lot about how hard it can be to get the recipes right and how hard it can be to produce such a product in quantity with high confidence in quality and packaging.

Much good luck with your company, if I could make two suggestions: add a subscription option (or make it the default), and maybe do not appeal to the 'homesick' part as much as you do now, there are a lot more people out there that enjoy Indian food than there are Indians abroad.

Also, it appears you do not sell outside of the United States, maybe make that more clear up-front?


Your gluten free tags on many of the products seem to be wrong, Asefotida contains gluten, and it's an ingredient in your sambar, rasam, dal recipes, which are marked as gluten free. Incorrect health facts labeling causes distrust.


Thank you for pointing that out! We will review and update accordingly.


> Incorrect health facts labeling causes distrust.

And fraud (and potentially worse, e.g., wrongful death) lawsuits.


Congratulations on the launch - I love this idea. One thing that stands out to me is your beautiful packaging. Could you shed some light into how you went about figuring out packaging and all the logistics involved?


IDK if you guys have a food stylist on staff, but your pictures could use improvements. I get that you're coming from tech, where sleek and minimalist is what people go for in design, but that's not how food photography works.

You dishes typically have 1 direct overhead picture of a bowl of the food. you then have several styled pictures of the "combos" or of the food in a sealed package. People eat with their eyes first. You're trying to sell comfort and yet you present your food in a very minimalist/sterile way.

Compare your images, to someone in a similar space, hello fresh: https://www.hellofresh.com/menus/?redirectedFromAccountArea=...

Food styling is aspirational. It's about getting the consumer to look at an image and say "I want that". It needs to speak to those desires.

A zip-top, solid colored plastic bag does not make me want to eat what is inside the bag.


Appreciate the feedback! It's on our to-do list :)


+ Good name

+ Good package design especially color palette

+ Good website

- Expensive for packaged food

- Nothing that stood out (from comments) as strong differentiator from competitors (that they can not do)

- Unclear target market, this is what I gathered from comments, people

    * Who don't have access to Indian restaurants

    * Who don't have time or know how to cook Indian food at home

    * Who don't have access to competitors products 

       ** Hard to make case here as all major retailers sell one or other Indian food packages, and for everyone else there is Amazon Prime

    * Who have access to restaurants, have time or know how to cook but would instead prefer to spend about same amount of money on packaged food as they would by ordering it with food delivery services.

I might be completely wrong but IMO this is commodity business, unless you are building robots which can cook millions of packages of custom made Indian food for everyone.


I have to say I’m impressed at the price at which you’re able to deliver these meals - I would have expected them to cost 25-50% more a la Blue Apron (which I don’t use due to the price). I’ll have to try these!

Have you thought about trying to sell your products, or similar products, to people who camp/hike/etc? I think the fact that the meals are dehydrated and easy to cook would appeal to them

One point of constructive criticism I would offer is that I find the nutritional information hard to find and read in some circumstances.


Thank you! Definitely -- we are a Seattle-based company so we have a huge community of campers and hikers eating our meals! Our products are not actually dehydrated, so they are great for 1-day hiking and camping excursions but not for much longer unless you're able to keep them cool.

That is a great point, and we will definitely update our website to make the nutritional information more readable.


Mentioning on the packaging and/or site, how you make the product dry (after assembling and cooking it), may be of interest to readers (unless you cannot because it is some proprietary technique). I know I would be. Just a thought.


We don't actually dry or dehydrate our products in any way, but can definitely include more information on how we create and package our products.


Best of luck! I remember the good 'ol CMU days when we'd hit up "IG" (aka India Garden on Atwood - now closed) or "Taste" (aka Taste of India)... Certainly a far cry - I can imagine - from a good home-cooked meal.

My suggestion: was looking for a video on your site... Something like that on the very first page might help people understand better what is being offered and how easy it is to prepare.


Thank you!! I "fondly" remember IG as well :)

That is a good suggestion -- we've actually been talking about that internally recently and will revisit it.


I also have fond memories of India Garden with their half-price menu after 11pm. Sad to hear they closed.


Hey!

I'm am an expat who lives in the UK. I'm from India as well. $24 for 3-4 vegetarian meals seems really expensive, will you adjust pricing as you scale?

How do you plan on preserving taste and the "home cooked feeling" as you scale? This might be an absurd question at this stage, but a friend and I who wanted to get in this space couldn't come up with a good answer.

Personally, I just cook a lot of food whenever I cook so that I am able to do a couple of meals. I've recently considered having a soylent for dinner and I just ordered my first pack of Huel. I can cook whenever I want to eat really authentic food.

Here in the UK a lot of house wives provide a tiffin service. Is there something similar in the US?

Great website. Nice story. I wish you luck :)


Hey! Thanks for the message. Our products are all priced at $4.50-6, which is quite reasonable for a full meal that includes vegetables, protein, spices, etc.

We're working on a few things that will help us automate a lot of the repeated processes but still ensure the same homemade recipes are being followed correctly. It's definitely a hard problem but one we're working hard to solve!

I believe there are similar services in some larger cities, but those usually have higher prices ($10-14 per meal) and aren't able to scale with the demand as necessary.

We hope to be the go-to for authentic food when the existing options don't cut it and you don't have the time or energy to make it yourself!


I saw one of the meal packs that was around 23.50 and said 3-4 meals, so I calculated it to be around $8/meal.

I agree that cooking can get quite exhausting, procuring ingredients, cooking and then cleaning up is a long process.

You are solving a real problem. Good luck!


What is this 'tiffin service'? I'm from the UK and have never heard of it.


A "Tiffin" in India is a meal in a box. There is this website https://tiffinplanet.co.uk/ that provides a tiffin service. That is serves Indian food to you for lunch/dinner. You can find similar services on Gumtree. I briefly subscribed to a Tiffin service that would advertise the food a day before and you could decide whether you were interested or not.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiffin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dabbawala

(I don't know anything about the U.K. situation.)


Can you please offer a fructose-free option? Or at least tell your customers which products contain added fructose?

This matters because there is an ever-growing mountain of evidence that shows that fructose is the primary cause of the obesity epidemic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM


Do you mean to say sugar-free option? Or high fructose corn syrup? Tangentially, I would argue that fructose isn't the primary cause of obesity but the excess of sugar (fructose, glucose, sucrose) consumption.


No, I mean specifically fructose, no matter what the source (sugar, honey, agave, HFCS, natural fruit that has been turned into pulp or frozen, etc.)

Regarding your tangential point, watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM. I used to be quite the Atkins dieter, and I didn't gain any weight when I started eating _some_ non-fructose carbs. Thanks to the fact that weight tends to correlate with age, I look a lot younger than most people think I am. (I've been doing this for nine years...)


Good luck to you. I absolutely abhor MTR and other Indian meals out there. They taste yuck and are unappetizing. Hopefully your company will change that. I like how you named it after lassi but buttermilk is not really lassi. I absolutely have no hesitation in saying that you will be successful, if your rasam tastes as good as you say it is. Hopefully you start doing saag soon. One of the old world Punjabi foods, before Portuguese came with their fancy la-de-da tomatoes. It is just mustard stalks, ginger, salt and chilli for the most part. So sits right there with your company's vision. If you are looking for an Australian contact, I will be happy to hear from you.


> They taste yuck and are unappetizing.

Have you done a blind taste test?


I think the food is slightly overpriced but I would be willing to pay for high quality organic food. However, my key concern is how you deal with allergens. I am very sensitive to certain food items like gluten and dairy which makes it hard for me to find food when I travel. If you can handle food contamination and provide organic gluten/dairy free food, consider me a customer. I can totally see myself buying these for my trips.

BTW, when I say gluten and dairy free, I am talking about celiac friendly food. You need to ensure that gluten content is below 20 PPM.


I understand your concern, and we're very careful to not cross-contaminate. All of our products are vegan and the only dishes that are NOT gluten-free are khichdi, upma, and our rices. We use our own kitchen appliances and actually cook the gluten-free and non-gluten-free dishes on separate days to ensure that we're being careful. You're right, these are great for trips!


I'm also a celiac. I'm surprised there's nothing about gluten free products on the FAQ page.

I'm also sensitive. This kind of product would be excellent for me if I knew it wasn't poisoning me.

This is a big issue for celiacs. We get treated like trash (not as bad as a decade ago) and have been burned countless times with so called "gluten free" food. One example, there was a local chief telling people that he was a celiac and then cooked "gluten free" noodles in the water with gluten noodles. We later found out he didn't have celiac, it was only a marketing ploy.

We've learned just not to trust people unless they are serious and "get it", show genuine understanding of our concerns and the serious consequences of cross contamination.

Best of luck, I hope this prospers.


There are devices that allow you test gluten contamination in your food. If you can validate that your food is celiac safe, consider me a customer!


Right up my alley. Thanks for using Amazon/Paypal/Google checkout integration properly, and not just to pre-fill some info while making me create Yet Another Shopping Account.

One bug: the Amazon cart discarded my old items after I added new ones.

Steps to reproduce: 1. Add a sampler to the cart 2. Try to check out using Amazon 3. Discover that shipping is $6, or free shipping at $35+ 4. Go back and add a few more items 5. Try to check out with Amazon again

Expected result: The items all show up, now at the $35 level

Actual result: Only the newly added items were show


Thank you, happy to make the shopping experience easier for you!

Very sorry to hear about that issue and thank you for the debugging instructions. We will look into it immediately!


This sounds awesome. As a person who grew up eating boiled vegetables, roast beef, and chicken I've come to love Indian cooking with an undying passion. I could eat it all day, every day.

Fresh and convenient? Sold.


Thank you! Happy to hear it.


Curious, why's YC investing in this?

Is there some new technology element?

Or a tech switch happening making this possible?


I love this idea. It occurs to me that the category of non-shelf stable, just add water meals is really interesting. You are going to be able to produce something more high quality and authentic. And I'd guess that large companies who like to focus on shelf stable products to minimize inventory/supply chain costs will be averse to producing something like this. If I was in the US I'd buy it immediately.

I am in Thailand and this approach would be very interesting for a number of Thai foods as well. The king of ready-made or easy-prep meals here is 7-11. They even microwave, toast, add hot water, etc. in the store for you. This would be a direct upgrade to many of the Thai meals they offer.


I did my BS at CMU as well, though it's been around 3 years since I graduated. The Indian food options were not great in Pittsburgh; I remember one restaurant that got shut down by the Allegheny County Health Department. A service like this would have been perfect for me, easy to prepare in crowded shared kitchens or even in my dorm room.

The other options all have their downsides. The imported pre-packaged stuff has a lot of oil (and has an overwhelming amount of garlic) and honestly smells rancid. Frozen options like Amy's are alright, but quite bland. And restaurant delivery, even if available near you, is not very healthy.

It looks like this won't have any of those drawbacks. Excited to try it out.


I believe there's a lot more to serving this customer segment. Especially, in terms of engaging the. Often, times it is the details in the "home-made" dishes that differentiate from everything else. It is quite exciting to have the building blocks for having an amazing meal, but the scope of the twist should be customizable. If you could incorporate, a video series like https://www.youtube.com/user/BonAppetitDotCom while using your ingredients (by the way I can get Basmati rice, from any grocery store in US!) and other common ingredients - that would fundamentally improve the experience.


That's a really great suggestion, hopefully we can do that in the future!


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