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Phones are banned in this unique pop-up meal experience

A unique experience champions conscious dining with strict rules: Phones are switched off, conversations are discouraged and there's just one focus–engage the senses while enjoying the meal

Warm pearl millet salad is part of the winter menu by The Kindness Meal.
Warm pearl millet salad is part of the winter menu by The Kindness Meal.

For me, the decision to eat out is fraught with questions–where to go, what to order, will it be enough, should I opt for experimental menus or play safe. Weighed in by this process, I don't have the bandwidth to ponder over where the ingredients come from, who’s preparing it, why some spices have been used and what’s the nutrient component. The end goal is to make me feel full and have a good time.

This is something that Dipali Khandelwal noticed among most diners and aimed to introduce a few changes. In order to do so, the food enthusiast and marketing consultant from Jaipur launched an experimental pop-up menu, The Kindness Meal (TKM), in March 2022.

TKM is a curated experience based out of Jaipur. It helps diners understand a meal as a multi-sensorial experience. Phones are off the table, conversations are discouraged and there's just one focus–enjoy the dishes with each of your senses. Khandelwal recognised there’s a small and enthusiastic food community sprouting in Jaipur. They are curious and conscious about what they eat, want to know about the source of each ingredient and how she builds a recipe.

Also read | Eating my way through Jaipur

Khandelwal says, after Covid people preferred ordering food at home over dining out, and the entire experience of stepping out to eat, immersing yourself in the ambience of the restaurant and understanding your food was fading away. “Launching TKM at that time made sense. It is different from a mainstream restaurant experience. It piqued curiosity among diners for being experiential, especially in a city like Jaipur,” she points out.

The meals served at TKM include appetisers, a main, dessert and drink–all prepared using local, seasonal ingredients and traditional cooking techniques. The menu for each meal changes as per seasonal produce. The price per person is usually between 1500-3000, depending on the diner's choice of beverage (alcoholic or non-alcoholic), and the overall menu.

The 25-year-old Khandelwal is not a trained chef. Although she heads TKM, she teams up with like-minded people for a meal experience. In the past, she has partnered with Vinayak Agarwal, chef and founder of Arth Spaces, chefs from Jaipur Modern Kitchen and Jaipur Rugs Farm, mixologist Anmol Bhargav and baker Yashashvi Rathore–both from Jaipur—to plan and prepare menus. In that sense, it's not the effort of one person.

The first-of-its-kind food pop-up in the pink city, TKM is hosted at different venues, like Jaipur Modern Kitchen, Jaipur Rugs showroom and a performance space named Maah Studio. Each venue is carefully picked to engage the senses and give a wholesome experience.

One of the traditional cooking techniques to prepare the meal is the Rajasthani dungar method that infuses food with a smoky flavour; chutneys are hand-pounded in sil batta (grounding stone) and food is slow-cooked in the traditional dum method. Local and seasonal ingredients like pearl millet, mango and spices sourced from Kochi are used to prepare the meals.

These ingredients go into dishes borrowed from the West: think kaachri (bitter cucumber) in lasagna with layers of beetroot pasta, virgin mulled wine with ambaadi (rosella flowers), and no-grain pizza with a base of pumpkin and flaxseed.

Khandelwal says in the first few meals, her diners didn’t know what to expect and this uncertainty gave her an edge. Sometimes, the diners would be blindfolded and asked to guess the ingredients as she helped them smell the spices, hear the crackle of that first bite, enjoy an eyeful of their plate, feel the textures and taste all the flavours to the fullest. For instance, to introduce an experimental as well as fun meal experience, just before a dessert course diners were blindfolded and served a mango tiramisu with layers of mango in different textures–pulpy, crispy and pureed.

One of her menus in December celebrated pearl millet with a flatbread, cookie crumble, chargrilled bowl of salad and soyta. Think of soyta as a savoury porridge prepared in ghee. Generally made with lamb, Khandelwal did a veg version with Jodhpuri chakki (whole wheat kofta).

They’ve hosted 11 editions so far with approximately 30 people in each meal. The last one was in early February at Anantaya Decor in Narayan Niwas. The pop-up menu featured ingredients from the Shekhawati region in Rajasthan, which Khandelwal researched in collaboration with Nivaala, a brand dedicated to preserving heirloom recipes through an online shop of food products, books and workshops. Sekhawati's dry and arid climate has impacted the area’s culinary heritage. Pearl millet is found in abundance, lack of fresh fruit means a lot of sundried ingredients are used in everyday cooking and warming foods like ghee, mustard greens, jaggery and nuts (such as cashews) and black pepper are integral to their diet. In the February menu, there was a dish named kankri mirch, a traditional, warming snack with black peppercorn, sugar and gond (edible gum); chargrilled pearl millet salad; paan methi chutney; and paalar ki sabji prepared with carrot and mustard leaves.

TKM is also branching out to different cities in India, such as Delhi and Gurugram. To sign up for the meals, visit their website thekindnessmeal.com.

Poorvi Singhal is a Jaipur-based food and travel writer.

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