Mumbai Food: New pop-up in Madh Island serves delicacies from Northeast

Updated: Jan 29, 2018, 17:23 IST | Shunashir Sen

A new pop-up in Madh Island brings people together with food from the northeast

Pomfret with mashed potatoes
Pomfret with mashed potatoes

We arrive at a pop-up in Madh Island called Aal's Kitchen just after a party has ended there. Alistair Lethorn, the home chef who's hosting it, tells us that over the past few hours, around 60 people have been in and out of his 2BHK. The emptied glasses and bottles of beverages left behind wrestle for space on the kitchen table. The sofas are vacant, but still warm, and the house feels as if it's finally breathing easy after the constant banter of foodies packed within its walls, sharing drinks and dinner apart from conversation. Now, there is a quietness settling in, broken only by a chat that we start with Lethorn before the chef serves us the final helping of food remaining.

Dishes laid out on a table at Aal's Kitchen
Dishes laid out on a table at Aal's Kitchen

The entire idea behind this event, Lethorn tells us, is to open his doors to people who are looking to socialise in Madh on a Friday evening. "I first cooked professionally at the age of 17, when I was flat broke in Goa. A guy who runs a shack gave me the job in exchange for food and a place to stay," the 34-year-old says, adding, "But I started cooking much earlier, because my father was in the hotels business, and I developed an interest in food at a really young age." So, even though his 20s saw him working with a software company, the thought of returning to cooking as a full-time job remained at the back of Lethorn's mind, like a half-read novel waiting to be picked up again. Finally, he quit his corporate routine around a couple of months ago and started hosting these pop-ups, which take him an entire day to prepare along with a helper he's hired.

Smoked tomato and bhut jolokia chutney
Smoked tomato and bhut jolokia chutney

The menu consists of out-and-out Naga dishes. It's a type of cuisine that's relatively rare in this part of the country, and which Lethorn first picked up in Dimapur, where he spent his formative years. Not a single speck of spice goes into the food, and the meat is instead stewed in its own juices with only a handful of ingredients. The first gravy dish we have, for instance, is pork with bamboo shoots and apples, the fruit lending it a sweetness we have never tasted in a curry. It comes accompanied with two types of chutneys. One is bhut jolokia-based and would have definitely set our mouths on fire had it not been tempered with smoked tomatoes. The other is made of green chillies and garlic, where the balance is such that, again, the potential heat in it is kept within limits.

Chilly pork
Chilly pork

We move on to fish cooked with bamboo shoots and mustard leaves. The sauce in it is made of squash, another ingredient that people in Mumbai might be hard-pressed to find in a recipe. Here, too, the flavours seem simple, but the dish has an intensity that would only be sullied with spices. In fact, less is more is a theme that runs through the dishes, which, Lethorn tells us, lies at the heart of Naga cuisine.

Alistair Lethorn
Alistair Lethorn

He adds that he sources the indigenous ingredients from a shop in Khar, and the plan now is to host these pop-ups every week. "I've noticed that people in Madh have started keeping their Fridays free for this, because it gives them something to do outside of going over to friends' places or to the club in my complex, which is pretty much the only place around for dinner," Lethorn says, before continuing, "But I was surprised to find that more than half my guests today came from outside the island, like from Bandra for instance, and that tells me that the word is spreading."

And so it should, we feel, because given the absolutely drool-worthy food that we have just had, we make a mental note of coming back next Friday. Except, this time we also plan to make it in time for the party.

ON: Every Friday, 8.30 pm onwards
AT: Raheja Exotica, Madh Island
CALL: 7039613392
COST: Rs 500

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