Our Wellington

News | 8 December 2020

Behind the Stalls: Shree and Balu

In Behind the Stalls, we visit some of the colourful characters of Wellington waterfront’s Harbourside Market. In the fifth of 10 stories, we meet Shree and Balu of Brahman – Food for the Soul.

Husband and wife Balu Rajagopal and Shree Balasubramaniam, in orange t-shits and blue aprons, smiling from their food caravan, where they serve South Indian vegetarian food.

Shree and Balu aren’t known for taking shortcuts.

Good things take time and the couple know this. And this is what makes their food so special.

At the Harbourside Market on Wellington’s waterfront every Sunday, Shree Balasubramaniam and Balu Rajagopal are famous for their South-Indian masala dosa.

The dish consists of a crunchy golden pancake-like roll made from rice and lentils, which are soaked and stone ground and then fermented for five days.

The batter is spread across a hotplate, then artfully rolled up to resemble a tent and placed on a plate on top of two tasty curries – one potato masala and the other, tamarind and orange.

Shree says masala dosa is an ancient cuisine with a history going back thousands of years.

“Today fermented food is considered to be healthy, but it’s always been there. What’s unique about our food is we never add any artificial ingredients, no flour, nothing. We make all our spices, we make all our food fresh, and we use the stone grinder – it’s the hard way.”

A close-up of a South-Indian masala dosa dish, which is a crunchy golden pancake, artfully rolled up to resemble a tent and placed on a pink plate on top of two tasty curries.

The couple come from a long lineage of vegetarians and believe a meatless diet has many positives, most importantly it improves one’s good karma in life, Shree says.

Trading as ‘Brahman – Food for the Soul’, Shree and Balu say during their 13-year stint attending the market they have grown a loyal following.

“We have diehard vegetarians and vegans who come here, some of them are bodybuilders. Some customers have been coming here since the beginning.

“The first week we were here after lockdown, we had all our regular customers saying they had been craving our dosa – it’s that sort of support we get.

“The real reason we have stuck to the markets is the people – they are so appreciative, and that’s hard to come by.”

Balu Rajagopal wearing bright orange and blue serving up South Indian dosa and curry onto a plate, with his wife Shree Balasubramaniam to his right spreading batter onto a hotplate which is obscured by steam.

Quick Q&A with Shree

Where in India do you and Balu come from?
I’m from Kerala in South India and Balu comes from the neighbouring state, Tamil Nadu. We speak different languages; I learnt his language and he pretended to learn mine!

How did you get into the food business?
We started making South Indian vegetarian food and giving it to friends and neighbours a long time ago. They said, ‘this is really good, you must do this commercially’. We decided to try selling it here at the market for a couple of weeks, and we’re still here!

What do you enjoy about Harbourside Market?
The variety of cuisine on offer and the lovely people. It’s not just Wellingtonians, but travellers from all over. From the organisational side of things, the market is really well managed.

What’s something surprising about you and Balu?
Last year we were both working other jobs (in IT and advisory roles) fulltime and only doing this on Sundays. The prep takes a long time – about five days – there’s a lot of commitment. So we stopped working and now we are just doing this.