Helping hands from Mumbai and Delhi amid lockdown! Community kitchens flex their food muscle

Updated: May 03, 2020, 08:54 IST | Phorum Dalal | Mumbai

Mumbai and Delhi exercise their khatirdari muscle with community kitchens to help feed the needy in the time of lockdown

The Feeding From Far team backed by restaurateur Paritosh Pant, at work
The Feeding From Far team backed by restaurateur Paritosh Pant, at work

Food & SwingsThis time last year, I was a week-old in Delhi, filled with anxiety of leaving beloved Mumbai. I had asked myself how would I manage living away from home.

Here I am, writing this piece from Mumbai, away from my "home" in Kalkaji, Delhi.

Restaurateur Suved Lohia's team cooks a variety of dal khichdi in Khar and has tied up with director Abhishek Kapoor and wife Pragya's NGO
Restaurateur Suved Lohia's team cooks a variety of dal khichdi in Khar and has tied up with director Abhishek Kapoor and wife Pragya's NGO

The last 12 months have taught me a thing or two about distance. The mind plays games and makes you long for something that is yours already. Locked in your home, cut off from the rest of the world, you might get what I'm saying.

While there is a fair bit that differentiates Delhi from Mumbai, the largesse of the heart is common. And we are seeing that play out as we negotiate the lockdown.

Saved Lohia, restaurateur

In GK 1's South Block, which houses 1,100 families, residents have come together to feed labourers who are stuck at construction sites, as well as vendors who hawk around the neighbourhood. Pankaj Wadhawan, who is spearheading the initiative, says, "From giving them milk, to homemade cakes and meals, we provide for them by dividing the duties. Some of us cook, others offer financial aid." Wadhawan has identified a network of cooks, donors, and youngsters to distribute the food packets."

Rita Malik, 70, spends her mornings cooking kadhi chawal, aloo puri or bread pakodas, that will then make the rounds of construction sites. "It makes me feel I am part of the solution." That she shares her home with her son, daughter-in-law and their twins means her hands are full, but the 8 am to 10 am slot is her me-time. She says it leaves her with a sense of peace that someone won't go hungry today.

Rita Malik, 70, spends her mornings cooking kadhi chawal, aloo puri or bread pakodas, that will then make the rounds of construction sites around GK 1 South Block where migrant workers are stuck
Rita Malik, 70, spends her mornings cooking kadhi chawal, aloo puri or bread pakodas, that will then make the rounds of construction sites around GK 1 South Block where migrant workers are stuck

In Vasant Vihar, Anita Rai is part of the ladies club of 350 members from A to F block. They have associated with the local police to provide meals for the homeless. "Hum hamare ghar mein hain, par raaste pe kitne log bhookhe hain. On pick-up days, around 60 women prepare food from puri chole to paratha and halwa, each of them for 20 people," says Rai.

With restaurants and delivery kitchens taking a hit, Karan Mahajan, co-owner of MeBo, a cloud kitchen in Gurgaon and Delhi, has the time to spare a thought for those who haven't had a decent meal in days. His special equipment allows them to cook an entire meal with minimum contact, perfect for cooking in bulk. While pitching in personally, he has tied up with the non-profit Rasoi On Wheels to deliver 2,000 meals daily.

Rohan Saraf, owner of Road House in GK 1, New Delhi, prepares meals for distribution and delivery
Rohan Saraf, owner of Road House in GK 1, New Delhi, prepares meals for distribution and delivery

Tatsiana Chykhayeva has been living in Delhi for four years. She has been helping her partner Rohan Saraf run Roadhouse Café, located in GK1 Market, New Delhi. Originally from Belarus, she started Life Talk Delhi, a community that helps expats settle into Dilli life through social events and projects. Along with Vandana Sinha, the founder of the Webcom Foundation and two volunteers, they put together a team to help the needy. They distribute 500 meals in various parts including Okhla Slum School and a disability centre nearby. "The foundation organises the delivery and distribution. We began with ordering food online, and with the lockdown and deliveries closing, decided to open our own kitchen to make meals. The school has 120 children, and an earlier health test had revealed that several of them are malnourished," says Chykhayeva.

The need of the hour is for individuals to come forward and do their bit, believes Atul Kapur, who started Rasoi On Wheels three years ago. Like the CSR model, he initiated ISR: Individual Social Responsibility. Since the lockdown, from supplying 3,500 meals per day, he has now upped capacity to 18,000 daily. "People in Delhi and Gurugram have come forward and opened their hearts. How can we help, they ask. So far, we have a parallel network of 20 homechefs who make between 100 and 200 meals which our vans pick up. We have charted a map of the nearest feeding points," Kapur explains.

 A woman receives a food packet from the team
A woman receives a food packet from the team

Mumbai's hustlers are at work too.

When the lockdown was announced on March 24, restaurateur Paritosh Pant, 28, did the usual: binged on his favourite web show, signed up to participate in Instagram Live sessions and put up posts about his culinary skills. "One day, I was making pao and it struck me that there are people who cannot afford this daily staple," says Pant, who discussed this with friend Pooja Reddy, a high court lawyer.

Cooking in progress at the venue
Cooking in progress at the venue

One thing led to another and the duo created a core team, gathered 150 volunteers who identified another 40 people on ground zero who would help draw up a list of those who needed food in their vicinity. The challenge with community kitchens, he says, is identifying beneficiaries and ensuring food reaches them consistently. "We hired a chef who has experience in catering, and a contact helped identify Govandi as an area that had a lot of people going hungry," says Pant, who started with 2,000 meals a day for the initiative he has called Feeding From Far. A crowdfunding activity on Ketto.org and a corporate funding has raised R1 crore and connections from his event management stint at OML managed to get the attention of celebrities who gave a shoutout on social media. So far, they are feeding 14,000 people two meals a day.

Others are doing what they can on a small scale. Nishant Joshi and his father have opened a space in Vile Parle East for a cook to prepare 150 meals. Joshi got his staff of 20 to identify construction sites where migrant carpenters, plumbers and electricians are taking shelter. "They are all out of jobs and can't go back home. One person from every pocket comes to pick up the meals which are prepared at 8 am and 5 pm daily. From old couples who cannot cook, to anyone who is hungry, everyone is served dal, rice and a vegetable, depending on availability of produce that day," says Joshi.

Nishant Joshi and father Jitendra who have provided a space in Vile Parle East
Nishant Joshi and father Jitendra who have provided a space in Vile Parle East

If you see restaurateur Suved Lohia's Insta stories, they have videos of his team stirring big pots of dal khichdi at Khaosan in Khar. Lohia, who owns Barrel & Co, says, "I am in the business of serving an experience. Community cooking is a privilege. Not everyone gets to feed the needy. We need empathy right now, and while I know we cannot loiter during lockdown, everyone can work with the BMC to identify disadvantaged groups and help them." Lohia is helping filmmaker Abhishek Kapoor and wife Pragya's Eksaath Foundation, which has also received support from actor Shah Rukh Khan, to provide 2,000 meals across the city. "We are making comfort food including a variety of dal khichdi. To ensure the safety of my staff, we start at 7 am. We follow the wash, rinse and sanitise pattern. Gloves and masks are changed every hour and we sanitise the kitchen at regular intervals too."

Meanwhile, actress Tara Deshpande, has been supplying to the aged, blue collar staff like security guards, and the homeless. She is in the midst of setting up a network where five people in close proximity can divide chores: chop vegetables, cook rice and assemble it all in one kitchen. All they have to do is drop off their duty work with the building watchman. "The supplies vary a lot," Deshpande says about rationing, "This is a time for jugaad cooking."

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