Fiona Fernandez: Pop culture

Pop-ups are offering Mumbaikars a unique opportunity to savour secret cooking techniques and culinary aromas from distant communities and regions across India

“What’s a pop-up?” a curious senior colleague in the newsroom inquired, after overhearing an engaging discussion that we were having with a team member on the mushrooming of community driven pop-ups. In course of our explanation, when the time came to roll out examples, we ran out of fingers to count on.

The pop-up is here to stay. From its early days, where word of mouth did the trick, it has slowly but surely elbowed and edged out many other culinary fads to create an impression on Mumbai’s ever-burgeoning homegrown culinary landscape. For this, credit must be given to the battery of home cooks, migrant mums and grand-mums and their ilk who, in their own inimitable, innovative and often humble ways, have managed to catch the eye of the discerning (and often unforgiving) Mumbai foodie. That such initiatives have now roped in PR machinery is a reflection of their enterprise and that they are ready to play with the big boys in a hotly-competitive space.

For pucca Mumbaikars like us, fed on a heady smorgasbord of community-driven flavours, perhaps the biggest and most heartwarming takeaway has been the introduction to lesser-known cuisines, recipes and otherwise unheard-of ingredients to our palates. From red-ant tempered jungle feasts inspired by Assam’s forests to meaty affairs from Coorg, to even rarely-sampled fare of Kolkata’s Jews and an Anglo Indian tribute to babalok and pepper water (our palate did a nostalgic jig here), all kinds have made an appearance in aamchi Mumbai. A couple of years before, one would have to be content with the odd Malwani, Bengali, and Chettinad pop-up. Today, the diversity and steady flow of options is keeping us engaged and eager for aromas from far-flung corners of India.

There’s a pleasant fallout to all of this too (at least, we’d like to imagine there’s a teeny-weeny impact). For a while now, we’ve been noticing that some of the city’s standalone restaurants — especially those serving Indian fare — are revving up their menus and relooking at everything from sourcing rare ingredients to chefs from the hinterland. Another trend is a mini awakening closer home.

More and more local chefs and home cooks from Mumbai’s communities and distant parts of Maharashtra are sharing culinary techniques with the hope to get a slice of this humongous pie.

But we have a word of caution. A Frankenstein (read: foodie with high expectations) is roaming around; now, home chefs will need to constantly think out of the box. Some of the earlier entrants who’ve survived the ebb and flow have tied up with big-ticket restaurants for promotions and engaged in other innovations such that they’ve even been featured on international TV shows.

It’s a great time to be a foodie. And pop-ups are giving the Mumbaikar a great avenue to keep dipping into India’s ever-diverse melting pot. Let’s hope it stays hot.

mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to

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