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As Durga Puja nears, Kolkata gears up to ‘eat in’

A man in personal protective equipment (PPE) suit sanitises an idol of Goddess Durga ahead of the ‘Durga Puja’ festival, in Kolkata on October 13, 2020.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Food delivery is set to be one of the biggest — if not the biggest — business this Durga Puja in Kolkata, where the concepts of ‘cloud kitchen’ and ‘home chef’ have gained overnight popularity due to the restrictions forced by COVID-19.

A cloud kitchen is one where food is prepared not to be served on the premises but for takeaway; in the period following the lockdown most restaurants, including popular ones, have been functioning as one. Home chefs are those who deliver home-cooked food, and their number in Kolkata has spiralled over the past few months, their popularity spreading word of mouth, as many people still haven’t mustered the courage to eat out.

They are all bracing to meet the pressure during Durga Puja, which, in Kolkata, is more about food than religious rituals. “This year Durga Puja will be about ‘eating in’ instead of ‘eating out.’ People will stay home or meet at a friend’s place and order food,” said brand strategist Luna Chatterjee.

“With the growing popularity of apps like Nanighar, it is quite clear that people will prefer to have food delivered instead of queuing up at restaurants. Peerless Hotel is arranging to home-deliver even their signature Bhuribhoj platter (an extensive spread meant to grow a potbelly),” Ms. Chatterjee said.

With ‘eating in’ becoming the new normal, and with online payments becoming easier than ever, more and more people who take pride in their cooking are turning into home chefs. “I have a knack for cooking, and it was my [hotelier] daughter who nudged me into this business. She said I was wasting my talent,” said Srabani Mukherjee, a retired hotelier herself, who recently launched Soul Kitchen and has just released her Puja menu.

Baking tea cakes

On Sunday, food blogger Ranjini Guha, whose day job is to teach history at a college, also formally launched herself as a home chef: she will be baking tea cakes on order. “The primary idea was to help a couple of young women earn something extra because they are finding it hard to run families due to the lockdown. Also, parents are facing a constant demand for snacks from kids who are now home and find online classes tedious,” Ms. Guha said.

Ishani Priyadarshini, who runs the popular restaurant SurFire: The Coastal Cafe, is also making arrangements to home-deliver Kerala’s Thalassery mutton and chicken biryani, which are among her signature dishes, besides some of the popular Bengali fare. “I would ask people to stay away from crowds. This is not the time to queue up outside restaurants,” she said.

Essential services

Every Durga Puja, one views people providing essential services — such as policemen and doctors — with pity and admiration: who remain on duty so that others can enjoy the festival. This year, they will be joined by delivery boys and those numerous homemakers who will be cooking at a time when kitchens in Bengali homes are closed. Delivery of good food — not just food — is, after all, an essential service in Kolkata.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 11:40:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/as-durga-puja-nears-kolkata-gears-up-to-eat-in/article32845626.ece

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