On a rainy Sunday afternoon, 10 diners gather for a pop-up meal at a home in Bandra. Banana leaves are laid out in front of traditional chatais for a Keralite sadhya meal at 27-year-old Sneha Nair’s living room. After a round of introductions, Nair begins to bring in an array of dishes that will be served over grandma’s tales and folklore.
Since June this year, Nair, an economic researcher on weekdays, has opened her home for those interested in experiencing a traditional Keralite meal on weekends. “People rarely know the different kinds of cuisine available within the region. Since I had a lot of time over the weekends, I decided to use it for my passion,” says Nair, who picked an apt name for her pop-up venture — Poppadum. Apart from the staples such as sambar and rasam, these meals also include authentic items such as yoghurt-based dish Kallan, coconut-based curry Olan and stir-fried veggies Thoran, among others. Her Malabar mutton meals include Aadu stew — a traditional Syrian Christian mutton preparation; Appams — steamed rice pancakes; and Malabar mutton biryani — which is influenced by Mughal cuisine. After the meal, Nair serves Suleimani, a drink which is made with light black tea and fresh lime juice.
In Delhi, 35-year-old Sumedha Jain runs Nomad Pattissier’s, a travelling pop-up tea party, which for now is being held at her Greater Kailash-II residence. Every Saturday, 10 diners gather to experience this trained pastry chef’s sweet treats over tea and conversations. Priced at Rs 1,000 a person, Jain’s sugary feasts — which range from Cornflakes pann acotta served with Nutella crunch and banana cream to Ginger cake served with pear sorbet and spiced pumpkin caramel — are fast gaining popularity amongst Delhi’s foodies. Jain has trained at the Culinary Institute of America and worked under some of the top chefs of Michelin-starred restaurants in New York. “I returned to India three months ago and wanted to do something in the food industry. That’s when I decided to set up Nomad Pattissier’s. I find great comfort when complete strangers from different walks of life bond over food,” says Jain.
Home chefs are taking the concept of a pop-up meal to the next level, by inviting people for an intimate gastronomical experience. These ventures are sprouting across the country — Bangalore is home to Coorg, a weekend-only pop-up that specialises in Coorgi food. Mumbai also has home chef Perzen Patel who runs a food blog and a catering service called Bawi Bride. She held her first event, #beerandbhonu at Bandra’s Pint Room. While food related pop-ups have been a trend in the hospitality industry for a while, these pop-ups offer a personalised experience. Insia Lacewalla is a food consultant who runs Small Fry Co with her partner Paresh Chhabria. The company curates F&B related pop-ups and events, and also is a consultant for Poppadum. “Eating in someone’s home is a different kind of experience. We also try and bring a cultural aspect to our events. For instance, meals at Poppadum always begin with coconut water and we do a sit-down lunch on banana leaves,” says Lacewalla.
Apart from creating a unique experience, these home-based pop-ups also help hobby chefs cut down on costs of opening a full-fledged restaurant. “These pop-ups offer hobbyists an opportunity to turn their passion into a profession,” comments Lacewalla. With zero investment required on rent and equipment, these ventures give them independence and flexibility. “I didn’t want to conform to the pressures of a commercial kitchen. Having worked at many, I realised I wanted to cook with love and passion in a happy environment,” says Jain, who works out of her mother’s kitchen. Lacewalla believes that a growing focus on regional cuisine and the need to break out of a routine will drive this trend forward. She says, “We are already getting requests from housewives, mothers of our friends asking us to help them start pop-ups at home. For instance, there is someone who wants to do a pop-up for Goan cuisine and another for Sindhi.”