Avni Biyani on How Coronavirus Is Changing hOW We Cook & Eat

From a global obsession with homemade banana bread to scratch cooking, the ongoing pandemic has precipitated a pivotal lifestyle change that’s due to last long after lockdowns across the world are lifted.

With home cooking now our go-to form of occupational therapy – I recently had a sit-down with food entrepreneur and concept head at Foodhall India, Avni Biyani, to discuss how the crisis is changing the ways in which we cook and what we eat. Here are the key trends she shone a spotlight on…

Cooking for comfort and as a distraction

‘Don’t play with your food’ is the old adage, but that’s exactly what people are leaning towards. Cereal pancakes, garden focaccia and Dalgona coffee have been trending for a reason – they prompt us to approach our daily food with a dash of child-like whimsy and curiosity. And as these trends show, social media continues to be the driving influence behind what we eat and how we eat it!

The kitchen has become the central focus of our homes, drawing in all family members, down to the little ones. Cooking offers us comfort, distraction and a welcome escape from the unsettling reality outside.

Scratch cooking

We finally have a free window to dedicate to time-intensive projects we’ve long-since been fascinated by (starter for sourdough!), but haven’t ever had the time for. From  breads to curry pastes and stir-fry sauces – we’re swapping store-bought staples for the homemade versions.

The most adventurous are experimenting with recreating their favourite dine-out dishes at home, be it a Neapolitan pizza or hand-rolled pasta, fresh dumplings or Thai curries simmered with a touch of authenticity.

In tandem, kitchen gadgets and small appliances have jumped to the top of shopping wish lists, with consumers seeking to bring home anything and everything from lemon squeezers and spiralizers to bread makers and OTG ovens.

Adapting to the times, Foodhall Cookery Studio has started conducting online, virtual classes catering to the growing interest in innovating with new cuisines at home. 

Back to Basics & Clever cooking

We’re reviving the recipes handed down generations, rediscovering our heritage, as well as exploring more of local and regional cuisines. Eating local and seasonal is more in trend now due to necessity and limited availability of produce. Hyderabadi biryani, awadhi mirchi salan, appams and Kerala style vegetable stews are just some examples of this.

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Dhungar is an ancient technique of smoking and infusing a smoky flavour that gives curries, kebabs, biryani and many more dishes a flavourful kick. This method can also be used at home to give your dishes that tandoori effect. Here’s how: What you need: – 1 onion, peeled and the center hollowed out – 1 small piece (about 2 inches) of natural lump charcoal – 1/4 tsp ghee which can also be mixed with some whole spices lightly ground, if desired Procedure: – Place the piece of charcoal directly on top of a gas burner. With the heat on full, burn the charcoal directly over the flames, turning the charcoal around using long tongs. – Center the onion in the dish (a lid is needed) containing the food ready for smoking, make sure the onion is not completely submerged in the food. Once the coal is ready, transfer it into the center of the onion. – Taking a quarter teaspoon of clarified butter or ghee (maybe mixed with some spices), drop this over the hot coal. The coal will immediately start emitting a dense white smoke, have the lid ready and quickly cover the saucepan or dish. This smoke trapped inside will infuse a unique smokey flavour into the food. We can’t do biryani without adding a smoky flavour to it! And using this technique, you can achieve the perfect Dum Biryani at home. Join us for our Ramadan Special Virtual Cook-Along with @manpreetdhody and learn how to make Dum Biryani, along with many more Iftaar delicacies! When: 15th May 2020 | 4:30 pm – 6:30 pm DM us for more details and to sign up for the class. #CookWithFCS #ForTheLoveOfCooking #VirtualCookingClass #HomeCooking #CookingAtHome #RamadanSpecials #Recipes #CookingSession #CookingClass #QuarantineCooking #CookingVideo #MumbaiWorkshops #ThingsToDoInMumbai #InteractiveCooking

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The lockdown is teaching us to be more self-reliant, with many turning to meal prep to add a layer of efficiency to hectic WFH schedules. Always a favourite go-to for the busy cook, one-pot meals have taken on a special significance during this time, as they minimise clean up without compromising on flavour.

The paucity of ingredients has also led us to adopt a zero-waste approach, making the most of what we have – from up-cycling veggie scraps into stocks and soups, to using citrus peels to make alcohol syrups and infusions!

Given limited supplies, many are also improvising simple kitchen gardens at home. Trends we’ve observed include growing micro-greens using masala box staples (such as mustard seeds), to re-germinating lettuce cores & spring onions.

More on clever cooking in the time of Corona, here.

Snack Attack

Even when the lockdown is lifted, people will be eating out far less and reducing their reliance on restaurant deliveries. With home-cooked meals becoming a permanent lifestyle change, we’re stockpiling on anything and everything from instant noodles to condiments such as mustards and hot sauces, to add a flavour-boost to home cooking.

WFH and distance learning are also increasing our propensity to snack, as we reach for more biscuits, cookies, chips and other such goodies.

Simultaneously, we’re seeing a shift towards customers seeking out the local artisanal produce on our shelves over imported counterparts. Having always championed the homegrown movement, this is particularly gratifying to see! Here are some of the many local brands and small businesses that Foodhall is proud to support:

For cheese and chocolate: 

Eleftheria; Spotted Cow Fromagerie; Begum Victoria; Soklet; Mason & Co; Ccocoacraft

For artisanal breads:

La Folie; Bakers Dozen; Pure Brot; Sour House

For a caffeine fix: 

KCRoasters, Cohoma

For pantry essentials:

Sprig’s range of spices & essences; Ishka Farms Capers; Urban Platter

For healthy snacking:

TBH, Snack Library, Natch, Gouri’s Granola, Slurrp Farm Mixes

For gut-friendly foods:

Bombucha; Happy Booch; Mo’s Kefir

For the tonic to go with our gin:

Svami, Sepoy & Co

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