This month, we got the pleasure of learning more about Seema Bhatia of PranaYum, Hong Kong’s only yogic food business which not only creates holistic teas and delicious natural, organic food that’s fresh and preservative-free, but also supports a charity which benefits children in rural India. Being born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, studying in the UK and living in Mumbai before moving to Hong Kong, Seema has developed a diverse and refined palate which has influenced her in the way she’s shaped her business. A loving mother who is passionate about food, her children and life in general, Seema takes a break from her busy mamapreneur life to dish on her journey to creating PranaYum, her favourite places to eat with her daughters in Hong Kong and the benefits of a prana diet.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? What brought you to Hong Kong?
My parents immigrated to Kenya over 56 years ago. I was born and raised in Nairobi, and went to college in the UK. Upon graduation, instead of venturing out into the corporate world, I joined my mum’s food business. Every Christmas, we would head back to India to meet all our aunts, uncles & cousins. So one fine December I met my husband, and need I say more – love and marriage took me to Bombay or “Mumbai” as it is now known. In 2000, the company my husband worked for transferred him to their head office here in Hong Kong.
What are your favourite services and businesses in Hong Kong that make parenting easy and fun?
My girls are all grown up now and oh boy! how fast they grow. When they were younger, we frequently visited Disneyland and Ocean Park. Now that my eldest is 14 and the younger one is 11, all that has changed. Things have shifted. They are at wonderful ages, extremely exciting and verryyyyyyy interesting. Every stage of motherhood is beautiful, and I love it! Birthday parties have shifted form Ocean Park to RYZE, and morning play parties are now early evening dinners. My husband tends to travel quite a lot so we really emphasise quality family time together. Living in Hong Kong, the food lovers’ paradise that it is, we tend to eat out every so often. We always land up going to girls’ favourites – Arirang, Chilli Club, Café Siam, Paisonos or the LRC.
Can you tell us about your food journey and when it started?
My late mother authored Indian, the Cuisine of The Kings, and she ran a food business in Nairobi. Both my sisters went to boarding school overseas, so I was the baby of the home getting mum and dad all to myself. I started baking cookies and cakes with mum as early as 8. I still remember cooking up a Chinese stir fry on my own when I was 12. My parents and sisters were blown away. It was wonderfully motivating, and that’s where my journey began.
How does cooking play into your life professionally and personally?
Cooking is a ‘sacred’ part of my life; it’s music for my soul. I have literally grown up in the kitchen. In Kenya, the kitchen culture is so very strong. I have to confess, I really have been blessed to have grown up savouring a variety of cuisines – Indian, Chinese, Egyptian, Moroccan, Kenyan, Portuguese, Zanzibari and more! A blessing for sure as this is something I have been able to carry with me and incorporate into my business.
What are your favourite cooking classes in Hong Kong?
I used to help my mum with her cookery classes in Nairobi. I’ve taught in Mumbai and Nairobi, and have been teaching in Hong Kong since 2009.
What celebrity chefs do you look to for inspiration?
All of them. I feel each chef has an individual style. I tend to lean strongly on the flavours and benefits of spices. I love Reza Mahammed for the way in which he combines spices with coconut, Marcus Samuelson for his ‘Swedeopian’, and Bobby Chin for his eastern flavours.
What are your top tips for living a healthy and happy life in Hong Kong?
Since I have grown up in Africa with a huge amount of space and greenery around me, I do feel it is important to take time out for oneself and connect with nature. Thankfully, Bowen Road is just up the road from where I live. I often just take a silent walk there and connect with my inner spirit or do some soft yoga. I do an “Art of Living” breathing technique known as the ‘sudershan kriya’ daily. It has benefitted millions all over in eliminating stress, fatigue, anger and so on. It leaves me feeling calm and energised, ready to cope with Hong Kong’s busy lifestyle. Last but NOT least, a healthy balanced “prana” or “chi” yummy diet filled with super foods, super spices, antioxidant rich fruits, healthy fats, proteins and nutrition.
I’ve heard you’re a very fun mum! What are your favourite activities to plan for your kids?
I love cuddling and kissing them. They’ll always be my babies, no matter how old they grow. We really are a family of foodies, and our favourite time together is spent exploring and savouring different cuisines. Often, I fall a little short for choices as I am a vegetarian, but that doesn’t stop us from exploring. Last year, my daughters and I spent six weeks in Kenya. It was fabulous. We even adopted a baby elephant! When one has teenage daughters, then of course shopping is a must do on our list. Most precious of all are family movie nights cuddled up with our blankets on the sofa with heaps of popcorn. My girls make the best butter, garlic and chilli popcorn!
Can you talk us through your career pre and post babies? How did you get back into the swing of things after having children?
Upon graduation in the UK, I joined mummy’s food business, and after marriage I taught occasionally in Mumbai. Initially in Hong Kong, I was a stay at home mum for a while and then joined the ESF as a supply teacher. I loved to cook for my colleagues, and they’d all say “Seema, you really need to start your own restaurant in Hong Kong.” In 2009, I started teaching cookery at the YWCA and began hosting “The Africa to Asia dining experience”. I always felt the need to do something deeper, something more meaningful, and last year, PranaYum was born. It’s a business that is blessed as we support an AOL charity that uplifts the lives of children in rural India, unique as we draw from ancient schools of thought such as Ayurveda, Incan, Moroccan and Egyptian, and made with love as I honour techniques handed down from grandmother to granddaughter.
How has having kids changed the way you define work?
My mum would always use the phrase ‘equipoise’. Now that I am a mother I can totally understand where she was coming from. Motherhood and work both have their own demands. The key to life is in finding the right balance. I try to make it a point to be home when the kids get back from school because believe me, if I’m not, I always get the phone call, ‘mummy where are you/when are you coming home?’
Favourite activity with the kids in Hong Kong?
Cooking in the kitchen, cuddling and watching movies and oh yes! playing the game “LIFE” – I always land up getting married on the game (which when translated in my family means you’ve lost! Only kidding!)
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Hong Kong?
They are teenagers, so I’d have to say Arirang and Chilli Club.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
Hua Hin & Phuket. We love beach holidays.
Activity that I do not love to do, but do it anyway because my kids love it…
Banana boating. I always topple the boat 😉
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
“The ability to receive genuine love comes with the ability to give it. Love is not just an emotion. It is your very existence.” – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Being more patient, especially when they are both having a temper moment and one of those HUGE disagreements.
My most humbling mama moment was…
When God gifted me with two angels.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Dinner time and family holidays. These are moments to connect, share knowledge, know what is happening in one’s child’s life, enhance open communication and share joy.
Bedtime is always smoother when…
Bedtime is easy now that the girls are all grown up (phew!).
Even when my child has a family of his/her own, I’ll still…
Always be their mummy. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
One thing I won’t sacrifice as a mama is…
My silent moment in prayer (unless there is an emergency).
My favourite moment of the day is…
It’s when the kids come back from school, give me a kiss and share their silly and funny stories always filled with a giggle.