Have you been watching National Geographic’s brand new show – Mega Kitchens? The show takes us behind the scenes at some of the largest kitchens in India. From several temple kitchens to the Indian Railways catering facilities, to the Taj SATS in-flight catering kitchen, Mega Kitchens is all about the numbers. I have always been fascinated by these huge kitchens, where a few chefs or cooks churn out food for thousands of people. The sheer magnitude of the operations is enough to boggle your mind. The first two episodes of the show took us inside two temple kitchens, that together feed anywhere between 60,000 and 90,000 devotees every day!
The first episode premiered on Monday (Jun 22nd) with a peek inside the Shirdi Prasadalaya – the kitchen at the temple dedicated to Sai Baba. Every year millions of people make the pilgrimage to Shirdi, Maharashtra, spurred on by their deep spiritual faith in Sai Baba, whom many regard as a miracle-worker.
The temple’s kitchen runs on Sai Baba’s philosophy that annadaana (donating food) is the highest form of daana (charity). Every day the kitchen feeds some 30,000-40,000 devotees, with the numbers going up to 70,000-80,000 on festival days.
What I found most fascinating about this kitchen is the fact that it almost exclusively runs on solar power. 73 massive solar panel dishes on the temple’s rooftop harness the sun’s power to heat hundreds of litres of water, which gets converted to steam. The steam is piped down to the kitchens where huge cauldrons of vegetables and pulses bubble away, and mechanised roti-makers turn out 30,000 rotis in 5 hours flat.
The kitchen also makes the famous boondi ladoos, which are considered a blessed sacrament from the temple, with more than 100,000 ladoos being distributed every day!
The second episode aired last night and focussed on the Dharmasthala Temple in Udupi, Karnataka. The temple is dedicated to Manjunath, a form of Lord Shiva.
It’s a striking example of religious tolerance where different faiths worship side by side, the priests are Brahmins and the guardian of the temple are Jains.
The temple guardians come from a single family – the Heggades have managed and administered the temple for 21 generations! The kitchen serves anywhere between 30,000 and 50,000 meals to devotees every single day.
On festivals such as the Laksha Deepotsava, these numbers swell up to 80,000-100,000. Now that is no mean feat! Thousands of kilos of rice are cooked every day, and I was staggered seeing the mountains of rice in the kitchen. I also learnt that the Kannada word for (cooked) rice is “anna”, the same as the word for ‘food’ – just goes to show how important and integral rice is to the cuisine in this part of India.
The kitchen uses a combination of fuel sources, including biogas. I was quite impressed with their sophisticated system of waste management, including the use of rice starch to feed cattle and making vermi-compost from kitchen waste.
I am looking forward to the next three episodes of the show, which will cover the kitchens of Akshaya Patra at Hubli’s ISKCON temple, IRCTC’s Western Railways base at Mumbai Central and Taj SATS in-flight kitchen in Chennai.
Tune in to catch these Mega Kitchens in action. The show airs Monday-Thursday, at 10 p.m. on Nat Geo.
Disclosure: This post is in association with National Geographic India. Views are my own. All images courtesy National Geographic India.