With more people stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not surprising to see a rise in home cooks all across the U.S. From sourdough bread to spam musubis, countless recipes are flooding social media, many of them trending towards the return to comfort food. And that is also true in the home kitchen of Palbasha and Durjoy Siddique.
“We never expected to be cooking up batches and batches of Achaar,” said Palbasha, “but it’s been great, especially for my husband who gets to eat it and reminisce about his childhood in Bangladesh.”
Palbasha, like her husband Durjoy, was born in Bangladesh. She moved to the U.S. when she was 10. The couple met in 2017, got married and Palbasha moved to Seattle where Durjoy was a PhD student in civil engineering at the University of Washington. They recently relocated to a suburb of Chicago for Durjoy’s new job, and almost right away had to quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic. To pass the time, Palbasha started spending more time in the kitchen and came up with her version of ”Achaar”, a popular condiment in South Asia.
“Achaar is a pickle”, said Palbasha. “It can be made from a variety of fruits and vegetables. But mine is made mainly from tamarind and mustard oil. It’s sour, sweet and spicy all at the same time. The texture is similar to chutney but more concentrated.”
It turned out Achaar is one of Durjoy’s favorite snacks growing up. One his mother did not fully approve of.
“I used to get in trouble because the best Achaar were the ones you buy from the street vendors right outside my school,” said Durjoy. “My mom would get mad at me because she thought it wasn’t very hygienic, but I remember that my friends and I would save up our money to buy them anyway. It was such a delicious treat.”
After tasting his wife’s Achaar, Durjoy posted a picture of it on his Facebook page. To their surprise, the post created quite a buzz among their friends on social media and requests started coming in from across the country.
“They were saying, ‘Wow we want some! How can we get them?’”, said Palbasha. “And that’s how Jamai-Bou Achaar was born. The name means ‘Husband & Wife’ in Bengali. So just like that, we are in the Achaar business!”
And business picked up quickly for the couple. In the first week alone, they shipped 250 4-oz packets of the Achaar with a side of ground spices to 16 different states. Palbasha said many of her customers said they love eating them right out of the plastic wrap with the spices sprinkled on top for extra heat.
“You can compare it to eating peanut butter out of a jar,” said Durjoy. “And we made them this size because it reminds me of the small packets I used to buy when I was a kid back home. A lot of people are also buying them to give away as gifts which is great!”
The couple said making each batch of Achaar can take close to a week and they also spend a lot of time on the packaging, which comes complete with a fun drawing of the couple tied up with a colorful bow.
“The process of packing the Achaar is actually quite therapeutic for both of us,” said Palbasha. “I was depressed for awhile when this pandemic started. We had just moved to a new city. We didn’t know anyone. And this venture is really what we needed.”
Palbasha is also a singer and songwriter and said quite a few of her music fans have also become the newest customers of Jamai-Bou Achaar. Despite the brand catching on quickly among friends and family, Palbasha said she and Durjoy still have a long way to go to make this a sustainable business. She also wants to eventually write a cookbook showcasing different Achaar recipes.
About a month into the business, Palbasha and Durjoy are now also selling a 2-pound size of Achaar, on top of the 4-oz ones. They said the products can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a year, due to its vinegar content.
Palbasha said she can’t wait to see what’s next for this new culinary adventure, especially after the worst of this pandemic is over. But so far, Palbasha said something good had come out of this quarantine. A chance for she and her husband to create something new together that also brings back nostalgic memories of their native country.
“It really has been a roller coaster of emotions,” said Palbasha. “We hope to one day make our products available in local stores and reach a wider audience beyond the Bangladeshi community. For now, we are happy to hear we are bringing a delicious piece of childhood back to so many people.”