For Trideep and Catherine, The NorthEast Store was born simply of the need to give those who were missing home a taste of it
When you think northeast cuisine and food, your mind immediately wanders to pitha from Assam, thukpa from Arunachal Pradesh or various renditions of succulent pork. If you’re forced to think ingredients, you might come up short beyond indigenous teas. Unsurpsingly, mainstream markets across most of India hardly feature the best ingredients (or anything at all!) from the vast and diverse region.
That’s where The NorthEast Store comes in. Brainchild of Trideep Rabha and Catherine Dohling, the store aims to deliver authentic products to interested customers as well as provide a new market for local farmers and artisans.
They pride themselves in sourcing all products straight from the makers and producers as well as from NGOs, government groups & self-help groups who directly support local farmers & artisans.
You know those moments where you’re in the city, craving something specific to your native region? The odds of you being able to track it down at a grocery or an ecommerce platform are pretty decent, all things considered. For most northeast expats in metropolitan cities however, the same doesn’t ring true. That is until Trideep and Catherine set out to remedy the issue of course.
“Both Trideep and I have lived outside of the North East and we have always missed home when we were away, especially all the food! We knew that this was not just us but many of our northeastern friends too were in the same predicament. We all had to make do with bringing back foodstuffs and other unique items back from our two few and far between holidays. So we thought, hey if you can’t go home, how about getting home to you! And our start-up is the answer!,” says Catherine on the emotion that sparked The NorthEast Store.
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The store is a haven for those looking for an alternative to urban chillies that simply aren’t spicy enough. The King Chilli Infused Oil certainly does the trick for anyone looking for that extra kick of heat. The product range is as expansive as it is mouth wateringly impressive, inviting you to explore hitherto unchartered territories. Some of their more interesting items on display include the rice beer starter mix. It is a concoction that the Bodo, Rabha, and other tribes of lower Assam use to make the culturally and religiously important beer out of sticky rice.
There’s also a meat chutney, dry bamboo, and a host of other condiments to indulge in. For tea lovers, what better than some farm sourced organic tea straight from Assam? The NorthEast Store also carries a range of spices that a majority of India might not be familiar with, but should definitely test for themselves!
What gives the store its edge are the founders themselves. While curating the products for The NorthEast Store, Trideep and Catherine are careful to examine the items for a myriad of factors. According to the latter, everything from uniqueness and quality of the finished product to the high quality taste of it is accounted for. It doesn’t hurt that the two come with a healthy amount of corporate experience, allowing them to utilize their skills for everyone’s benefit.
Catherine adds, “Personally, we feel good to employ the skills that we learned while in our corporate jobs in a way where we can see it directly impacting the livelihoods of some of our vendors. The more products we’re able to order and market, the more it has a direct impact on their small businesses as well and there is a great sense of satisfaction in this.”
In spite of being extremely particular about the products they market, the producers are given free reign to exercise their expertise at a manufacturing level. However, they’re quick to assist some small vendors from remote locations in terms of packaging advice, awareness around licensing needs (such as FSSAI) and even upscaling their final product to the standards of an online consumer today.
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The store has proven extremely beneficial for local farmers, artisans, and the like from the northeast, especially in a country that’s quick to ignore the region in its entirety. The same is evident in the lack of representation amongst major retailers, forcing The NorthEast Store and similar stores to claim their spot in the light and create awareness.
According to Catherine however, things are starting to look upward. She says, “There is still a long way to go to be able to brand our products and create an identity. Many of these unique items are getting GI tag recognition which is helping to raise awareness and authenticity. The pre-pandemic levels of increase in tourism to the region too helped. We have had many conversations with customers who recall having eaten or found some product when travelling in the region and ask us for these items again.”
The ability to support and champion local creations skillfully is perhaps The NorthEast Store’s most valuable attribute. Especially for the arts and handicrafts, Catherine admits the industry would likely die out within a few generations without sustained patronage. In due course, the store hopes to be able to tap into international markets with their enticing products as well!