How Women-Led Pop Ups Are Shaping New India’s Palate?
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The women are taking over the F&B scene of India and how, not only do you see them dominating the kitchen as head chefs, but they are also fearlessly investing in businesses that are turning benchmarks. Ritu Dalmia to Pooja Dhingra, there are tons of successful Indian restaurateurs and entrepreneurs who are defying odds, one stereotype at a time. In addition to women-led restaurants, foodies are also becoming increasingly enthusiastic about food ‘pop-ups', a lot of them which are hosted by women from all walks of life.  

For the uninitiated, pop-ups are a smaller, intimate affair. Where a smaller group of people sit down for an authentic meal prepared by the host. Since these pop-ups happen on a weekly or monthly basis, all you need to do is know, about the date and venue of the pop-up and book your seats. In my interaction, with cookbook author and chef Roopa Nabar I learned, that the concept of pop is not new at all, women in Maharashtra have been hosting a small group of people for a full-course meal or a ‘Khanawal’, “Pop-up kitchen’ might be a new word to the world, but the concept is an old one at least in GSB community in the coastal region from where I come and is called ‘Khanawal.’ The lady of the house hosts a full course sit down meal for the guests. The seats are limited and the menu is fixed. It is usually a staple fish thali comprising of rice, fish curry, fried fish, a sukke (stir fry preparation of clams or tisrya, crabs or kurli, kalwa or oyster), Kishmoor and sol kadhi,” she remarks.

Not just in the west, but even in East India, the tradition of Ananda Mela, where women bring home-cooked dishes in their everyday vessels to the Durga Puja Pandal for sale, is a fine example of how the concept of a ‘pop-up’ is perhaps not new to us Indians at all, but it is the ‘buzz word’ now, and if you do not know about your city’s best pop-ups, you are obviously missing out. 

So why are ‘pop-ups’ becoming so big? They are a healthy departure from the standard restaurant setting. The gatherings are much more intimate, often comprising people with a genuine curiosity for the cuisine. Which brings us to the food itself, plenty of home chefs are taking this opportunity to present their traditional cuisine as they’ve known it forever. Some pride themselves in exhibiting the most authentic fare, some are simply happy in capturing their fondest childhood memories in the dishes and serving the same to the fellow foodies. Another very interesting aspect about ‘pop-up’ kitchens is that ‘experience’ dons a new meaning here. From ‘seasoned’ ex- chefs, to writers and even actors, the pop-up kitchen community, is a whole gamut. Take noted homechef, Crescentia Scolt Fernandez Ecole Ducasse. Formerly associated with UNICEF, is also hosting an authentic Goan pop-up in Gurgaon, Sector 83 currently. Signature dishes include Chicken Cafreal With Sannas and Balchao, the menu keeps seeing new additions. Enjoying the best of Goa and Gurgaon, doesn’t seem like a distant dream now, does it?  

Not just Gurgaon, pop-ups are big across Bangalore. Kolkata, Mumbai and Pune too. If in Bangalore, you are fancying some satiating Datshi, Tigmo and Jhol Momos, then you can try out The Hungry Himlayan pop-up by Thsering Bhutia. Similarly, in Kolkata, someone like Nilufer Babaycon, is bringing the best of Sri Lankan and Parsi home cooking.   

There are plenty of pop-ups old and new to watch out across India, did we miss out on your favourite?