Kochi, Feb 28: Foodies in Kerala have discovered a new destination to enjoy mouth-watering biryani and chicken delicacies. The eatery is not your regular restaurant but a food counter, aptly named--"Food for Freedom"--where dishes prepared by inmates of the district jail in Kochi are served for the hungry souls. Right from biryani, chicken curries to chicken 65, foodies make a beeline in front of the eatery to enjoy delicious and affordable meals every day. While a plate of chicken dum biryani is priced at Rs 60, a meal of chapatti and chilli chicken costs Rs 40.
According to regular patrons, various dishes served in the joint are not only delicious and affordable but are healthy and hygienic. While food lovers in the port city are having a gala time digging into chicken and vegetable meals, the food joint has become a "reformation and rehabilitation cell" for the prisoners as they wait from their freedom.
Moreover, the delicious dishes cooked by the jail inmates have turned the counter into a profitable business venture for the jail authorities. Talking to The Indian Express, Jail Superintendent G Chandra Babu, said that every day the food counter earns Rs 80,000 easily. Until July last year, the food joint was earning Rs 25,000-Rs 30,000 daily. The surge in business was the result of recent additions to the menu. Earlier, the joint used to serve only chapatti-egg curry/vegetable curry.
On popular demand, biryani and chicken dishes like chicken curry, chicken 65, and chilli chicken have been added to the menu which the foodies are enjoying to the hilt.
Talking about the popularity of dishes, Babu said that biryani and chapatti are the most popular among the buyers. The food joint at the entrance of the jail is strategically located which definitely helps in its business. There are a lot of apartments in the nearby areas and that ensures a steady flow of customers to the joint.
A total of 28 prisoners cook, clean and serve food in the canteen every day. For their work, each jail inmate earns Rs 148 a day. The profit earned by the canteen goes to the government treasury, inform jail officials.
Explaining about the main motive behind starting the food counter by the jail authorities, Babu told The Indian Express that being involved in activities like cooking and gardening help in improving the mental faculties of the prisoners. "They are not sitting around in cells, hatching plans or gossipping with others. They are cooking food for our people. They are giving something back to society," said the superintendent.
The whole concept of "Food for Freedom", where jail inmates cook food and service to patrons, was first started as an experiment at the Central Prison in Thiruvananthapuram in 2010 by the Kerala Prisons and Correctional Services Department. Since then, similar joints have been opened in other jails of Kerala indicating its success.
Initially, many had expressed apprehensions about starting a food business by jail authorities where food is being cooked and served by prisoners. After all, jail and prisoners are dreaded words. However, the hard work, sincerity and honesty of everyone involved in the venture ensured its success.
"I come to eat biryani here almost every day. It does not matter to me who is cooking the food, as long as it is delicious, healthy and affordable. Moreover, they are prisoners and undergoing reformation and rehabilitation. They are humans too. Nobody is a born criminal. The jail authorities are doing a good job by training the inmates to cook food. It will help them to earn a livelihood once their jail term gets over," said Suchitha P, a teacher in Kochi.
So next time you visit Kochi, do go and enjoy food at the "Food for Freedom" joint. It will definitely boost the morale of the prisoners, otherwise ostracised from society, and tickle your taste buds too.