Brinjals stuffed with meat, chhole paired with boiled eggs, a planter’s lunch in Assam — events by home chefs explore niche micro-cuisines
Local dishes influenced by colonial rulers, the rediscovery of niche, hyper-local cuisines, forgotten recipes carried from one land to the other by migrants… pop-ups are beginning to explore the relationships between food and culture. Here’s a look at some of the most interesting attempts to explore micro-cuisines through events that combine cultural, cuisine and anecdote.
United Punjab in Pune
When home chef Sherry Malhotra’s grandmother migrated from Pakistan during the Partition, she brought with her recipes from a Punjabi cuisine completely unlike the butter chicken-dal makhani we know today. So at her pop-ups, Malhotra, 33, serves Punjabi food from across the border, inspired by the streets of Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar. “There’s a lot of fish, and no tomato-based gravies,” she says. Instead, you’ll find Lahori ande chhole, and bharwan karela, but with a filling of minced meat.
Pakhtooni Food in Bengaluru
Filmmaker Himayath and his wife Azra Khan, a homemaker,
regularly open up their home to visitors, for a Pakhtooni meal — a marriage of
Pakistani and Afghani cuisine. Azra is Pakistani, Himayath of Afghan origin, so
the menu is carefully designed to create a balance between the light,
flavoursome Afghani cuisine and the spice-heavy Pakistani food. Food is served
at on a dastarkhan, a traditional low dining space, where the couple explains
the significance of each course, interspersed with anecdotes about their
ancestors. “The meal usually starts with the mildly spiced dum Afghan mutton
and sweet Kabuli pilaf and moves on to richer fare,” says
Kolkata home chef Iti Misra, 78, has been collaborating with chefs across the country to host pop-ups that serve authentic Bengali Rajbari cuisine, inspired by the food of the colonial-era zamindars. The surprising feature is that the menu involves several vegetarian dishes (and little fish). There’s shukto, a summer speciality that is a mix of drumstick vegetable and bitter gourd; mocha or banana flower cutlets; and lau ghonto, which is bottle gourd cooked in milk.
The Planter’s Lunch in Assam
Delhi-based food researcher Tanushree Bhowmik, who works in the development sector, curates a Planter’s Lunch at a heritage tea plantation in Jorhat, Assam, that explores the rarely discussed link between Anglo-Indian and Assamese food. “It’s interesting how we know the British established the largest tea plantation in Assam, but we do not know much about their life there or about how the local food influenced their eating habits,” says Bhowmik. One of the dishes on the Gora Sahib’s Table menu is steamed pabda (butter catfish) in a butter-ginger-lemon sauce. “The use of young ginger, which is not a European spice, gives it the perfect Indian twist,” she says. The meals are held annually on an invite-only basis, and is organised by her pop-up called Fork Tales.
While Sherry Malhotra has her roots in Pakistan, she was brought up in Shimla, which has inspired her to launch another pop-up called A Girl From The Hills, which focuses on rustic food from the Himalayas. On this menu are the traditional ‘dhaam’ or temple food that is lentil-based and Rajput dishes which feature the rich meat recipes like chha gosht or slow-cooked mutton simmered in buttermilk, and channa madra, which is chickpeas in a spice-rich yoghurt gravy. “An interesting tradition in serving dhaam food is starting with a boondi meetha first, which is considered the bhog,” she says.