Dining with no reservations
From a Koli meal in a fishing village to a slow discovery of Mapilla cuisine, meet the home chefs offering novel dining experiences
With the rise of Indian home chefs, and sprouting of aggregator apps like Authenticook and Meal Tango, diners are finding new ways to sample local, homestyle flavours. Beyond collaborative pop-ups at restaurants, you can step into homes of all shapes and sizes to trade modern gastronomy for local flavours, and forge new connections on the way. These meals vary from seafood-heavy Koli fare to a meaty Pashtooni spread, and are layered with personal and culinary history. Here are five ways to skip the usual tables for a taste of something special:
Dine with Mumbai’s Koli community
Home-chef aggregator Authenticook curates this coastal dining experience with one of Mumbai oldest communities, the Kolis. At the city’s busy Versova fishing village, a member of the Tapke family escorts diners to their home (Google Maps won’t bring you here) for a 5-minute orientation walk through the village. The traditional seafood meal, prepared by family matriarch Rajini ajji and her three daughters, includes kolumbi cha ambat (prawns in tangy gravy), tisrya (clams) masala, and khobrya cha khirapat (a dessert made of roasted coconut and mawa).
Each menu is determined by fresh catch, but some all-time favourites include the squid kheema and ribbon fish soup (a thin, kokum-spiced soup); the insights into Mumbai’s coastal communities are a bonus. “Today when you think of the Kolis, you think of them as sellers of fish. But when you dine with them, you get to know the extent of their knowledge, their understandings of the seasons, or even how the name Versova come about," says Authenticook co-founder Ameya Deshpande.
The company, which launched in 2015, has since grown a network of chefs in 35 cities, covering 55 kinds of cuisine. “Most of our chefs are women above the age of 45, and most are homemakers. This has become a way for them to showcase their skill, and interact with a range of people," says Deshpande. Bookings available on Authenticook.com; ₹ 1,250.
Dig into a home-style Assamese meal
Last July, Delhi-based food writer Plavaneeta Borah began hosting monthly pop-ups (twice a month during the festive season), to correct the limited understanding of Assamese food in the Capital. “People assume that because Assam and Bengal are close to each other, the food will be similar, but that’s not true," she says. “Bengalis use strong, whole flavours while Assamese food is more subtle. We have the bhut jalokia, but that’s always a side."
The buffet-style six-course meal usually follows a traditional course structure, starting with khar, a pulpy appetizer made from banana ash. “You always start with an alkaline dish and you end with a sour dish, which we call a tenga. But we don’t always follow the alkaline to sour format, there are times we start with aloo pitika, which is everyone’s favourite—mashed potatoes with chillies and onions." says Borah. Pork is generally the meat of choice, often served as succulent skewers (khoresha), and at least two courses dedicated to seasonal vegetarians, with an emphasis on gourds and greens.
While there are various regional variations to consider, Borah says she prefers dialling down the drama associated with Assamese cuisine. “There’s a lady in Mumbai who does tribal pop-ups with thrilling ingredients like silkworms, but I don’t want to shock people. I want people to know that Assamese food is like any other Indian meal." Facebook.com/groups/assamtrackmind. ₹ 850 per person.
Take a culinary holiday in Kozhikode
Abida Rasheed is a champion of Mappila cuisine, indigenous to the Malabari Muslim community in north Kerala and influenced by Arab, Portuguese and French traders. “Vasco da Gama had first arrived here in Calicut (now Kozhikode), and influences from that time have remained in our food," says Rasheed. Apart from catering for private events and collaborating with luxury hotels like the Taj Group, Rasheed hosts culinary holidays at her family home in Kozhikode, introducing guests to this lesser-known strand of Kerala cuisine.
The experience begins with a trip to the nearby harbour for fresh fish, followed by a market visit and a cooking demo. Over the course of the day, you will sample the cuisine’s signature dishes—puttu (steamed rice cakes) is a breakfast essential, erachi pathiri (fried rotis stuffed with chicken masala) is a common iftaar delicacy, and the famed, nutty thalassery biryani is the star of Rasheed’s main course. While spice plantations are commonly found in the region, Mapilla cuisine itself is restrained, limited to three main spices: cardamom, cinnamon and clove.
Along with slow, deliberate feasting, the package includes cooking lessons, a tour of the family-owned spice plantation, and a traditional village meal at a nearby property. Rasheed’s culinary holidays are available for ₹ 10,000 for two people for a day (you can also request for single meals). Email
Get a taste of Pakhtoon cuisine
For a spot on Benagaluru couple Himayath and Azra Khan’s Ghiza Kitchen, a Pakhtooni home-dining experience, you need to clear your schedule. The leisurely six-course meal begins with a cooling pakhair raghlay (welcome drink) and ends about 2 hours later with the khoog or dessert, a sewaiyan-and-cream-based fruit custard called lab-e-janan. The food coma that follows is complimented with gentle rabab music and extended banter. “We’ve had guests who stayed on till 5 in the evening...we didn’t want customers who just eat and rush. We want people to share conversations along with the food," says Himayath.
This marriage of Pakistani and Afghani cuisine is an ode to the couple’s roots—Aza’s family is based in Karachi while Himayath’s horse-trading Pathan ancestors landed in Bengaluru three generations ago. The most common preparations at these meaty Sunday lunches include the dum afhan, a slow-marinated mutton preparation, nalli nihari and charsi teekha, a popular Karachi street food.
According to Himayath, the two flavours are paired to create a balanced palate. “They balance each other out, because Afghan food is pretty bland, and more focused on the meat." Facebook.com/GhizaKitchen; ₹ 1,550 per seat.
Sample recipes from an Old Delhi cookbook
In her food memoir Jasmines & Jinns: Memories and Recipes Of My Delhi, journalist and author Sadia Dehlvi recalls her experiences of growing up in the city’s famed Shama Kothi on Sardar Patel Marg. With 40 rooms and more than a dozen family members, the house welcomed illustrious visitors (Dehlvi’s family published the reputed Urdu magazine Shama), hosted grand mehfils, and was infused with heady aromas of salans, bhartas, kheemas and nihari.
Now, at her Nizamuddin East apartment, Dehlvi gives curious eaters a taste of that time by hosting home-cooked meals crafted with recipes from her cookbook. Last Ramazan, Dehlvi also hosted elaborate Iftar-E-Dastarkhwan spreads in collaboration with home-chef aggregator Commeat, which featured classics like gosht karahi, chana dal karela, and mango rice kheer. “These dining experiences featuring Old Delhi cuisine are mostly on request, especially from travel agencies. But I’m hoping to make my home more accessible this winter," says Dehlvi. While the largely meat-based menu is redesigned each time, her legendary aloo salan remains a permanent fixture. “People say it’s my signature dish," she says, while her yakhni pulao comes a close second.
Those that find a seat at the table of one of the city’s oldest families can expect to be treated to culinary stories that predate the recipes on the table. “My family has a long association with Delhi, and it’s a city I love, so its history is very much a part of dinner conversation." Sadiadehlvi.com.