“Making money doing something I love is the biggest joy,” she says. “Every batch of spices brings me happiness.”

~ Neda Khan

When Neda Khan talks about food, it presents a challenge for your tastebuds; drawing on engrained memories of flavours, sounds and scenes, she describes it so passionately you can’t help but wish to be right by her side, indulging in a North Indian meal. 

“I have such fond memories of my mum using her mortar and pestle every day,” Neda says. “I remember her grinding spices every morning, the aromas in our home every evening … that’s just how I grew up.” 

The eldest of six children, Neda grew up in Bombay (now Mumbai), forming a particularly close relationship with her mother after the death of her father when she was 12. “Money was limited and there were hard days,” Neda says. “We might not have had expensive stuff, but my mum always made sure we had nutritious, homemade food, like hot dahl, steaming rice, vegetable curries … That was her priority. This was a time when processed foods were becoming more popular, but my mum was very strict and always said no! It would have been so much easier for her to send us off to school with processed food in our lunchboxes, but every day we were fed with fresh food for each meal.” 

The ingredients Neda’s mum used were often influenced by nearby Pakistan, Afghanistan and even Turkey. “We used a lot of dried fruits in our cooking,” says Neda. “My mum would also use poppy seeds instead of cashews to add creaminess to our curries. Our house would be full of big jars full of rice and dried fruits. I can taste and smell them all now like it was yesterday.” 

With such a broad and flavoursome food history, it is not surprising to learn that Neda was somewhat underwhelmed by the Indian food on offer when she arrived in Australia in 2009. “I loved the multicultural food, but the Indian food was nothing like it was at home – I missed it so much!” 

An arranged marriage brought Neda to Australia at the age of 25. Neda says, “We had a long distance relationship for 13 months before our wedding – I saw my husband for the first time on our wedding day.” This massive change in circumstances coincided with the Global Financial Crisis – Neda and her husband had to start from absolute scratch.

Working for a bank in a 9 to 5 role and building a family with young children, Neda says it took her ten years to emerge from her shell. “I didn’t have time to think about what I wanted to do with my life, but I did know that I really missed Indian food. Every day, my mum would say, ‘You need to start grinding your own spices!’”

Gradually, Neda realised her mother might have been on to something, but it wasn’t an overnight business success story. Neda was accustomed to to sharing food whilst living in India, but the practice had not been met with a resounding reception in Australia. “I knew I had an idea for a business, but I was always looking for validation from people. I would take food to neighbours, hoping to start a conversation, but that didn’t always happen.”

If suffering an injury and abruptly stopping work can be described as ‘serendipitous’, it was this event that would kick start Bombay Spices. Neda’s mum mother came from India and said, “I’ll help you. Let’s just do it.” Starting with a market stall selling roasted cumin, roasted coriander and her own garam masala, Neda received the positive feedback she needed “I realised I could do this.” 

And doing it, she is! Now available via the Made By Many Hands online marketplace, Neda follows her mum’s technique of blending, roasting, and grinding her spices, and each mix has been created to bring authentic Indian aromas and flavours into Australian homes in an easy, hassle-free way. “Making money doing something I love is the biggest joy,” she says. “Every batch of spices brings me happiness.”

Published by Amy Malpass-Hahn, Freelance Writer