THE RISE OF FOOD GROUPS IN PANDEMIC TIMES

The pandemic has brought out the inner chef in many of us. Many tried and some succeeded in their food ventures and the community at large benefited from it. The year 2020 saw a big change with delivery partners like Swiggy and Zomato doing huge businesses, and cloud kitchens and home chefs really come to the fore. Each one started figuring out what can be done in a situation like this and started working on their cooking skills; some were able to monetise it in a big way too, which is great. On my first trip to Goa two decades ago, I figured out why that place was so magical. The term ‘Goa is Goa’ fitted in each way possible—from the night life to the shacks on the beach, the local beer to the food which I ate at people’s homes—it was all happening there. The idea of putting out a small blackboard with what is being cooked for the folk at home for people was not something that you see in other parts of India. For years, I wondered why such a densely populated Delhi did not have something as basic as putting out the food that is being cooked in their homes daily for people. One of the reasons I could see was that routines were set; household helps were coming in and doing whatever was needed; or the stay-at-home spouse/partner was doing the cooking: Each one for himself or herself. And eating out at restaurants was much in vogue for as long as I can remember.

The second wave of the pandemic saw more changes: Big hotels and cloud kitchens curated health-packed, nutritious meals for Covid infected or recovered people in their vicinity, bringing relief to hundreds and thousands of folks who couldn’t cook each day. The USPs were many—from the nutritional value to the convenience to the cost to the delivery, everything just fit for the times. However, what caught my attention was the other thing that happened, which was food groups being built within societies. What initially started off as helping out with food during the pandemic, came up in a big way and households that could churn out meals started to take their skill and connections to the next level. These daily menus that may have begun due to the pandemic or one’s passion eventually began to reduce the hassle of cooking for many homes for three main reasons: 1. The food is home-cooked and we know the person and their setup since they’re in close proximity; 2. It is easy on the pocket and convenient; hiring a cook costs around the same as ordering in from them; and 3. Slowly, these home kitchens have taken over at least one major meal once or twice a week at all homes within a society because of their quality, sheer convenience, variety, and the cost. The best part is that one has the option of getting either a fully cooked meal or a preparation like a sambhar paste with the veggies or a moong-dal batter, which can be quickly put together, saving a huge amount of time.

While a lot of people are working from home, many have started working full time, even if it is once or twice a week. However, for both kinds of people, putting nutritious, home cooked meals on the table each day for the family is a task, especially since variety is not possible for most of us. Home food that is made and shared in groups is a fabulous option for every household because one can plan their day ahead without having to worry about cooking all the meals and can focus on their work and spend time with their families (since children are at home right now). Even for people who live alone, if their meals are taken care of from breakfast to dinner as well as evening snacks, which are easy on the pocket and homemade, it is a win-win situation for both the consumer and the business! The best part is that one can order small things as per their requirement like just a side dish or just dessert or an evening snack when you want to lie back and enjoy some crisp homemade samosas or a fish fry that are hygienically made, using clean oil and fresh ingredients.

With most people either working outside or from home, time is a key ingredient that we all crave more of. Sunita Chaudhry was working as an Associate Director at a travel company, and she lost her job in November 2020. It was her passion to cook but more so her idea was about reducing the time taken for people to cook a meal at home, since the prep time takes the longest. Therefore, she decided to plug the gap by starting her own venture by supplying fresh batters for not only idlis and dosas, but also for vadas, cheelas, dahi vadas, etc. She also now supplies hundreds of fresh idlis to hotels nearby and to households for breakfast! Not only is this a great business opportunity, it is a boon to everyone in the society who is trying to cook something innovative for the family each day.

One of the biggest advantages of these food groups is that one can do it full time, part time, meal-wise, or on weekends only. So, for example, if I am making a traditional Bengali mutton curry on Saturday afternoon, I could post about it either on the same day in the morning or a day in advance so that people have a chance to order a portion or two. Raya (name changed), a full-time working professional, wanted to live her dream and grandmother’s legacy through her venture, Bongfiesta, where she does traditional Bengali food only on weekends. The idea was to serve a delightful meal without having to worry about the pocket, health concerns or quality. The key ingredients, as she says, are “a handful of health consciousness, a cup of authentic taste, a tablespoon of simplicity, and a bowl full of happiness.” This works for most of us living in the vicinity and crave for ‘mom’s cooking’ without the worry of having to order from an expensive restaurant or a home chef, both of which would be high on the budget and more home-like.

These are everyday meals and for people like me, who have butter fingers and cannot flip an omelet to save their lives, the option of being able to get fresh, hot meals throughout the day full of variety, depending on my mood or craving, is a great option. My neighbours introduced me to one of these food groups and I realised that each pocket/sector in different parts of Delhi-NCR has one of them, which has made life easier for almost everyone. Even for someone like my mother who is around 70 it is something that she can easily order on WhatsApp and doesn’t have to worry about using an app and linking a card or Paytm account.

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