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A monthly round up of lockdown eating

My favourite George W Bush joke is about the time when Bush and few other leaders take a break from a global summit in Paris and retreat to the cafeteria to have a quick snack.

Some order sandwiches and some stick to little cakes but when it is Bush’s turn, he looks straight at the waitress and says, “I’ll have a quickie.”

 

The waitress looks shocked and the other leaders are nonplussed. Only Tony Blair who knows that Bush is not much of a globalist understands what’s going on.

 

   “It’s pronounced quiche, George,” he tells him.

 

   I have been thinking of quiches (though not so much of Bush) as I have been compiling my monthly round up of things to eat at home during the lockdown. Last month I wrote about an outstanding quiche from Sahil Mehta and this month, I have been delighted by the quiches made by Yummies, a home bakery operation run out of Maharani Bagh by two very gifted sisters, Lalita and Geetika.

 

   Their specialties are said to be their New York style cheesecake and a wonderful apple crumble. The quiche was also very nice but my favourite were the patties.

 

   You don’t actually get great patties anywhere in India these days because a) most people don’t know how to make a tasty filling or are able to work out the right proportion of dough to filling and b) it is really tough to get a pastry that is flaky and yet firm. I certainly have never found anyone who makes them as well as Yummies.

 

   A class act.

 

   Beyond Designs Bistro is a relatively new restaurant on MG Road on the outskirts of Delhi. It serves casual Oriental food with a stylish bistro type presentation. Unfortunately with the lockdown in effect the restaurant has not had the opportunity to show off its skills.

 

   So, like all sensible restaurateurs, they have switched to home delivery for the duration of the lockdown. Not only will they deliver full meals but they are also sending out DIY kits where you can finish the food at home. And of course, they sanitise their kitchen every morning, follow the most stringent hygiene SOPs etc.

 

   I ordered a full meal and was quite taken with the way in which the restaurant merges East Asian flavours with healthy/trendy foods. There was a spicy quinoa bowl and the menu includes a Turkish immunity-building bowl (which I did not try) and various healthy options like a curried cauliflower bowl and a roasted pumpkin glory bowl.

 

   Of the dishes I did eat, the Thai fish was delicate and outstanding and there was also what looked like an Asian chicken roulade. The noodles were very good and all of it came with excellent sauces.

 

   There is something for everyone including a paneer gassi and pasta made to your taste. They delivered (all the way from MG Road) to South Extension on the dot so I guess you can order the food no matter where you live.

 

   Many journalists will remember Nicole Juneja from her days in PR. For the last three years, she has worked with her mother in the food space with a venture called MOOD. Before the lockdown, Mood would organise pop-ups and special experiences. But in the present situation, they have had to switch to doing delivery.

 

   The food is all home-cooked by Kusuma Juneja who (if I remember correctly) is a Nepali from Darjeeling district. So the food she makes is not typically Nepali (and Nepal boasts of many great cuisines) but captures the flavours of Darjeeling with its mix of people and lack of ethnic exclusivity. You will find Bhutanese and Tibetan and Lepcha flavours.

 

   In normal times, Kusuma and Nicole would host dinners at their home in Delhi’s Vasant Vihar but these days it is all delivery. It is worth trying because even if you were to go to Darjeeling you won’t get this kind of food at local restaurants.

 

"Cloud kitchen food is as good as restaurant food and it is cheaper."

   Some of you may recall that I have been writing about cloud kitchens and virtual brands long before the lockdown. A cloud kitchen is one that is not attached to a restaurant but makes restaurant-quality food. As nobody actually visits it, the kitchen can be located in any low-rent area. (Restaurant kitchens on the other hand have to be attached to restaurants in relatively expensive areas.) A good cloud kitchen runs on a delivery model and so the food can be one third the price of restaurant food – no air conditioning, no server salaries, no décor, and none of the other expenses that restaurants incur.

 

   The one advantage restaurants have over cloud kitchens is branding. Most restaurants have spent years creating their brands. If you order from say Mamagoto you can be sure of getting the sort of high quality food that the brand is associated with.

 

   So cloud kitchen operations have been working to create their own brands. I wrote several weeks ago about Biryani by Kilo. And a fortnight ago, I profiled Cross Border Kitchens, which runs many successful brands, all of them dedicated to making their food in different sections of the same cloud kitchen.

 

   I have always maintained that this model represents a real threat to the restaurant sector though many restaurateurs used to dismiss my view. Well, the lockdown has changed everything. While cloud kitchen sales are down (contrary to the impression you may get, there is no real post-lockdown boom in delivery – sales are actually down from the pre-lockdown phase), their existence has made it much more difficult for restaurants to enter this space. Cloud kitchen food is as good as restaurant food and it is cheaper.

 

   One of the early pioneers of the food business (and later of cloud kitchens) in Gujarat is Karan Tanna. Though he has got all the usual awards that magazines give to people under 30 who show promise, he is not yet as well-known as India’s top restaurateurs are. I reckon that will change.

 

   Though his CV sounds impressive (he even had a stint at McKinsey) he is a small town boy from Veraval in Gujarat. His family was, he says, progressive by the standards of Veraval (his father ran a textile business and his mother ran a beauty salon) but they moved to Ahmedabad largely because his father thought there would be more educational opportunities for Karan.

 

   Karan started young, partnering with the owners of a successful bakery business and then linking up with a fast food chain dedicated to the dabeli (the Kutchi ancestor of vada-pav) before deciding that cloud kitchens were the future.

 

   His company Ghost Kitchens has a mixture of franchised brands (from abroad) and local creations. Many of his operations are in what used to be called B and C class centres, which is where the growth for the F&B industry will come from in this decade.

 

   He manages to combine Western concepts such as New York Waffles and Dinges (no, I don’t know what a dinge is, either) and Starboy Pizza and Shakes with others called Biryani Hazir Ho, Badmash Biryani (great name!) and Arey O Sambhar.

 

   There are more launches planned including the tastefully named Indian-Chinese chain Ching Chong.

 

  It’s people like Karan who, I suspect, will hold the key to the future of the F&B industry in India because they go beyond set notions of how things work and, coming from small towns themselves, understand the India that lives outside the big cities. In any case, he is also planning a more upmarket operation, along with some of India’s better known chefs.

 

   And finally, here’s a little tip for people who don’t want to order in for whatever reason but find it too tiring to cook food from scratch every day. You can do what I do: try some of the new frozen meals that have hit the market.

 

   I know ITC Foods because of the high quality of its frozen prawns (which I wrote about a couple of years ago) and their version of Dal Bukhara, which tastes like the real thing once you empty a pint of dairy products into it.

 

   What I did not realise is that they have introduced a new range of chicken and vegetarian frozen foods. Some of them work best as cocktail snacks: there are crispy chicken nuggets, little falafels and (my favourite) vada-pav pops. But there are also things you can eat at meal times. They have chicken fingers (like fish fingers), which will be devoured by kids and fried chicken strips which are aimed at a similar market.

 

   The one I eat the most of is the one that sounds the worst. Chicken Burger Patties are usually made by breading a chicken keema patty. You are supposed to put it in a bun and pretend it’s a burger. That’s not something I am prepared to do.

 

 However, I have taken to having the patties on their own at dinner (two patties is usually enough) with a little lemon sprayed on them. Okay, it is not quite Chicken Milanese. But for a dish that takes only a few minutes, it comes pretty damn close!

 

  And finally: if you have a product or a delivery service you want me to try, do get in touch!

 

 

Posted On: 20 Jun 2020 12:52 PM
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