This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by siddharth saravanakumar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How A Love For Food Inspired Us To Start India’s First Student-Run Café At IIT Roorkee

Hi, I’m Siddharth Saravanakumar, alumni of the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee – Batch 2019. I started Culinary Club, IIT Roorkee back in 2018 as a way of expressing my love for cooking and a desire to change the way people perceive food in India.

At Shiok Shack, a student-run café of Yale-NUS college aka ‘Buttery,’ students frequently order the ‘Aldin’ (an instant noodles dish topped with a sunny side up and accompanied by a burger patty) that’s inspired by a student of the class of 2017, Aldin Zainal. As students relish the signature dish of this particular buttery, the cooks and managers (all students of Yale-NUS) eagerly design a new menu for their next session, hoping to make it more exciting than ever before; and aspiring architects and design students come up with ideas for a more appealing theme for the buttery. Shiok Shack is just one of many examples of how a student-run café has encouraged students to become more creative, gain a better understanding of how businesses run, and more importantly establish a community-driven culture that brings professors and students of different nationalities together.

One of my friends who majored in sociology had her thesis in a field that studied how many Indian families are, in a way, losing their identity because family recipes are dying out. Think about it, your grandma probably has this amazing recipe which is unique to your family, but you have no idea how it’s made. Family recipes are dying out, and while sociologists may weep at families losing a part of their identity, I weep knowing that I’m missing out on recipes that cannot be brought back.

While I’m not trying to imply that there’s an immediate need for student-run cafés in the country, there aren’t a lot of activities out there that promote cross-cultural exchanges, management, and interpersonal skills, and of course, the essential life skill of cooking as well as running a café does. Ironically, India, a country known for its diverse spices and rich culinary heritage, has generally lacked a culture of encouraging the younger generation to learn to cook, rendering the prospects of an aspiring chef to be unreal. While household names like Sanjeev Kapoor and Vikas Khanna have made a slight difference, India has remained conservative for the most part and lagging behind countries like USA and France in developing and popularizing it’s cuisine techniques.

Last year, the team discussed problems that came up with the students’ internships and found out that many faced food problems (especially the ones with a foreign internship). The lack of basic cooking skills compelled them to eat out regularly, or live on instant noodles and chips, which can be agreed upon to be an unhealthy diet. We’ve also realized, after conversations with some of the international students on campus, that there lacks a platform where all the students can come together and interact on a non-professional basis. A lot of the international students are African men who aren’t used to cooking or the generally spicy Indian cuisine, and this compels some of them to visit their embassy on a monthly or bimonthly basis to have a taste of their home food. When asked as to why they didn’t cook for themselves, the most common reply was that they were never encouraged to do so at home (women were normally in charge of the cooking). This case is quite similar to most Indian students who are studying abroad (especially vegetarian).

The idea of Culinary Club, IIT Roorkee came up for all the aforementioned reasons. Started in 2017 (during the odd semester in July), this group has managed to create a gastronomic buzz on campus and will soon start India’s first student-run café. While the initial idea was to host various events to engage the Indian and international students, the group has caught the attention of a lot of the family members of professors as well, most of whom are excited on teaching their recipes to students. One of our events included a food exhibition which was attended by many international students and they were overjoyed on seeing the Indian students cook. I remember some of telling me that they’d like to start cooking as well.

Finally, we’re making our very own cookbook that can be accessed by any student/faculty on campus, the goal is to encourage people to learn about their family recipes and culture (by the way, feel free to share your recipes with us. We’d be glad to include it in our book with due credit).

Personally, I was skeptical if such a café could exist on campus. The notion that people are ‘busy’ and are already engaged in other campus activities made me think I’d never meet the right group of people. But there’s a twist in this obviously predictable story, I met people who not only cook amazing dishes and are as geeky about food as I am, but also people who really want to become chefs themselves and who found this activity something they’d like to be busy with. Small world, huh? I didn’t know many PhD, post doctoral, or international students before the advent of this club, but the number of people I’ve got to know is astonishing. And what’s even more exciting is that different people are meeting each other and bonding deeply over food and recipes. Well, that was the whole idea!

What surprises people, in hindsight, of course, is that how such a simple idea never occurred to anyone before (not that it struck me either, I was introduced to this idea by my friend at Yale-NUS). While art and creativity are encouraged in every university of India, why is cooking, the one form of art that involves our visual, olfactory, and gustatory senses, held back to such an extent? Well, in my opinion, it’s mostly because cooking is hardly perceived as a form of art and more as unskilled labor by the majority (this sadly includes many working in even the hotel management industry).

Through its activities, Culinary Club IIT Roorkee hopes to spread the enthusiasm about food/culinary art to the multitude of people (from a variety of backgrounds) in our campus and through them, even further beyond. For me, at the end of the day, if people start valuing chefs and taking the art seriously, I’ll feel that the Culinary Club has achieved something. It’s high time the Michelin guide starts reviewing Indian restaurants.

Featured image source: Culinary Club IIT Roorkee/Facebook.
You must be to comment.

More from siddharth saravanakumar

Similar Posts

By Amya Roy

By Simran Pavecha

By Kritika Nautiyal

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below