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How non-delivery led to self-reliance

The yearning for exotic cuisine during the lockdown meant such dishes had to be rustled up in one’s own kitchen. When eating out at restaurants becomes safe, a habit of eagerly scanning delivery apps will no doubt be revived — with a vengeance  

For quite some time, browsing Zomato was my bedtime story, scanning what I could have ordered if it wasn’t 2 am. Sodium and MSG-rich Chinese, greasy artery-blocking north Indian, fries, fried chicken, burgers, sometimes even salad – nothing was off-limit. I craved variety.

I love food. With one parent from Nagaland and the other from Kerala, I believe I’ve had the best cuisine on my table since I could eat solid food. And with that enriched palate, I have not been a fussy eater, but I don’t take kindly to bad food – which is anything too sweet, too salty, too bitter, too sour… and how can I forget, too spicy.

Anyway, eating out, discovering new places, revisiting my old haunts used to be a ritual. I would get food delivered and or eat out at least twice a week. Even when I went out reporting, when possible, especially with a colleague (I have eaten alone a few times, yes) after a long hard day’s work, or in between, when we couldn’t stand the emptiness of our twisting stomachs and the thought of something delicious close by – we would go eat.

Usually, it was Majnu ka Tila, or Jama Masjid, once the Jantar Mantar south Indian snacks joint, when protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act were in full swing. After spending the entire day on the ground running from Delhi University to Jantar Mantar with our next stop at India Gate – a late lunch was decidedly necessary.

Now with the lockdown since 25 March, what was my coping mechanism? The first couple of weeks included a lot of dreaming. Since then it’s going pretty well, thank you very much. My family has not ordered anything from a restaurant. Contactless or not, whatever they may call it, someone had to have cooked the food and packed it and brought it in a bag that had been touched a gazillion times – I wouldn’t be taking that kind of a risk during these mad Coronavirus times we live in.

I stopped looking at Zomato, what was the point? Instead, I discovered the world of food bloggers on YouTube.  I first saw Mike Wiens in the coastal town of Kozhikode, Kerala enjoying some authentic delicious Malayali cuisine, but I get that at home. I then chanced upon The Best Food Review Show hosted by Will Sonbuchner. Street food from Hong Kong, Bangkok, Malaysia look mouthwatering. The fried food in America, chicken, and ‘she who must not be named’ – the morbidly obese person who lives inside my brain – was loving it.

Pork Char Siu

So, I did what I could have but never did in my work life (free time only used to be for chilling) – I cooked. I made what I craved. One of my first experiments was to find a recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken. It turned out to be pretty good. The best part was that I still had a couple of beers in stock – oh, what a combo that was.

But what I really craved was some Asian food, so I made some Peking chicken. It helped that I had the Chinese five-spice already with me. Good intentions of wanting to make the food I desired was obviously not a new one, so such stocks of herbs and spices lay in our kitchen pantry.

With no exaggeration I report to you, the dishes were exquisite. I made Char Sui pork, soups, noodles, many different types of fish, calamari – every fresh/raw product bought online – I even learnt how to clean the fish out myself (my sister thinks I finally have a career to fall back on, selling fish – insert laughter with indignation and slight worry and sadness of present-day life).

Now I’ve been craving sushi but because I will most certainly not have any raw seafood at the moment, I will settle for some cooked tuna. The sticky sushi rice has just been delivered and I await the seaweed and sushi-making mat. Hopefully, they’ll be here soon.

Basically, the moral of the story is that I conquered my love for eating out, by being self-reliant – atma nirbhar! (sorry I couldn’t help myself). Of course, by next year as things return to normalcy and I don’t have a few hours every day to spare, I’ll be back to my foraging ways. It turns out I am not a bad cook though, as much as I love food, I don’t think I could have possibly been one.

The other part of this discovery is that workers in the food industry are losing jobs because of the pandemic. The severe impact on the hospitality sector has of course also impacted food delivery. By mid-May, Zomato had laid off 520 employees and temporarily cut salaries of the rest. Swiggy announced it is cutting 1,100 jobs of its staff.

In late May, there was a news report that an Israeli firm called Superfly Insights had found India’s online food delivery platforms had seen volumes down by over 60% when compared to the peak in the first two weeks of March before the lockdown. That was still better than the first few weeks of the lockdown, which saw a 90% fall in orders.

Now, with lockdown easing and all restaurants opening up, the numbers of food delivering should see an increase. What will also push us privileged lot to get food delivered home is the monotony of home food. I will just turn to YouTube and find other offerings to salivate over.

(Cover: Alfredo zuchini noodles)