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16.07.2018

This is an abashed love letter to Nature Soul, the new-ish neighbourhood organic shop in Defence Colony that hosts many miracles, and is itself the object of one: it is the only store in the market that’s become bigger and stronger post the sealing tragedy. Initially a basement shop frequented by tote-carrying folk who look like they read The Guardian every morning (irrespective of timezone), Nature Soul is different now. For one, it’s shuffled up and located bang next to the Sagar Empire.

You’ll miss it only if you’re trying, because the air-conditioning that preserves all its glistening meat (including exotics such as octopus) is so effective that it cools even those walking by. Though I keep hearing it being called ‘Organic Tree, and ‘Soul Search,’ it’s actively being discovered by all the cool aunties of the neighbourhood, especially those who are fed up of the cornershop Sardarji’s disgruntled attitude but depend greatly on his jewelled produce.

Finally, we say, an alternative: a family-run shop, where at least two of the members are always present to personally bag your bananas and black organic rice, offer opinions on one type of cow ghee versus the other, and throw in an extra in-season cherry for you, if your Strand Books tote allows.

I imagine this is how the American chain Trader Joe’s began, purveying feel-good, fair-priced, fraternity-style retail. Even the music is kind of similar – easy hits, turned up to sing-along volume, a nice complement to your discussion about the variety of kombuchas on offer. Nature Soul, however may be even better than Trader’s: not only do they not white-label products, but go the extra mile to reveal their partnerships (Gayatri Farms for much of their meat, Cambay for seafood).

This kind of goodness also reflects in the store organization: shelves are lovingly divided to accommodate your needs head-to-toe, inside out. Under one roof, you’ll find handmade rosewater, de-veined organic shrimp, fleshy avocados, artisanal feta cheese, raw cacao powder, coconut flour, and anything else your prized Ottolenghi recipe simply cannot do without.

I’ve personally become addicted to their fresh bags of rocket – which you take half of, if you wish – and their pitted olives, which again, are weighed and given to you in a re-usable glass jar. The products and produce straddle the local-to-foreign ratio carefully. Also, co-working hipsters in the area: if you’re in between meetings and need a quick fix, I highly recommend their made-on-the-spot juices and smoothies with a side of dessert. A slice of that quinoa-organic-chocolate cake checks a whole lot of boxes.

If I could, I’d buy everything here, and embody the shop’s sweetly totalising impulse.  The only thing I have to go anywhere else for, really, is wine. I’ve put in the request for some Bio Vino, and I believe it when the management says its taking it seriously. How can I tell? I don’t know for sure, but I think the same man who doesn’t charge me for hummus on expiry date, and who delivers to my doorstep at the exact time he says (this is rare for Delhi) imbues the whole process with great sincerity.

If there’s finally a hybrid between that rock-solid un-professionalised grocer of pre-lib India, and the wealth of fancy-shmancy chains like FoodHall, this is it: small batch and cornucopian, personalized and promising. Come share my rocket.

Getting there: Nature Soul, 16, Defence Colony main market, Rs. 400 for a smoothie and a slice of cake; Rs 200 for a bag of fresh rocket leaves. They also have an online store.

Accessibility: A few steps above ground level.

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