January 4, 2021
Anyone who loves papad is likely familiar with the clear, compact package with the pink bunny and “Lijjat” emblazoned in bold Hindi print. Since its humble beginnings in 1959, the Lijjat brand has cultivated a devoted following for its crisp, shatteringly thin papad — and grown to ₹1,800 crores (about $244 million) in annual sales.
Like Kleenex, Sharpie, or Google, for many in South Asia and its diaspora, the word “Lijjat” — “taste” in Gujarati — is synonymous with papad. But unlike those other brands, Lijjat Papad is not part of a corporate behemoth. It’s not even a for-profit company. Headquartered in Mumbai, Lijjat Papad — or, formally, Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad — is a women’s co-operative meant to make its members financially independent.
“I used to call Lijjat the pollinators of India,” said Vikas Khanna, the chef who started the Michelin-starred Indian restaurant, Junoon. “They were pollinating different tastes in different homes in different regions so seamlessly.” Papad, often made at home according to regional tastes — masala papad in Punjab, for instance, is made with urad flour and speckled with spices like asafoetida and black pepper, or potato papad in Varanasi — is a South Asian staple. As convenience foods grew more popular worldwide, especially in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Lijjat Papad became ubiquitous with its array of regional offerings. “They became part of every dining table."
“Ever since I can remember, my family has eaten packaged Lijjat Papad, and we continue to do so,” said Shraddha Kamdar, a production editor at Femina, India’s oldest English magazine for women. “It is considered the top standard.”
So how did a women’s co-operative of seven members with 80 rupees as seed money become so popular worldwide?
It starts with the product they chose. Papad is a typical food throughout South Asia — and one that the women who founded Lijjat could make. It’s affordable and can be eaten at any time of day, in myriad ways — popped in the microwave until puffy and crisp, roasted and fried, and then with achaar, crumpled up over dal, as a snack, topped with tomatoes and onions. Papad was sustenance for Indian soldiers during World War I, and it continues to fuel South Asian families, students, and office workers alike.