Home >News >India >From burritos to burrah kebabs, Indians refine culinary skills during lockdown

Megha Balani, 36, director, strategy and development, of a music institution in Greater Noida, has spent the past two months refining her culinary skills. “Cooking has always been a part of my life, but the lockdown has pushed me to experiment." Balani has baked spinach burger buns from scratch, tried her hand at bean burritos, kala chana tikki with hummus and basil rocket pesto, and fixed some Thai-style mango peanut cold soup.

Recipes from Instagram food bloggers and on WhatsApp family and friend groups have come handy. Balani is among thousands of urban Indians who have turned to cooking in a big way during the lockdown—whipping up new dishes, baking breads and desserts, which has led to a spike in demand for cooking oils, flour, spices, condiments and baking products, such as yeast and vanilla essence.

What started as routine cooking during the initial lockdown days, quickly shifted to elaborate dishes and national and international cuisines. They sought variety as eating out at restaurants remained out of bounds.

In a recent video call with reporters, Suresh Narayanan, chairman and managing director, Nestlé India Ltd, said consumers indulged in “small pleasures", making treats for themselves and their family.

“Because of lockdown conditions, instances of home consumption has definitely increased. People are seeking different platforms of engagement—whether it is convenience or experimenting with new forms of cooking," he said. This helped shore up demand for Nestle’s milk powder, chocolates and condiments

MTR Foods marketing head Sunay Bhasin said the packaged-food firm saw a shift in demand from households seeking quick, convenient foods to asking for more variety halfway into the lockdown.

“The need for excitement and to create something which is not just routine stuff was definitely there," he said. As a result, consumers sought new recipes for snacks, breakfast and desserts, he added.

Self-taught baker Shivesh Bhatia, 23, who runs a popular YouTube channel Bake with Shivesh, said he was inundated with requests for recipes that people would normally eat at restaurants. “In the first few weeks of the lockdown, people were looking for recipes with few ingredients. However, with relatively easy availability of food items now, they are ready to try elaborate recipes with fancy ingredients such as cocoa powder and yeast."

Even though most people struggled to find ingredients with the lockdown creating supply constraints, many said they turned to simple recipes and switched to alternative ingredients they could find easily in supermarkets.

For instance, several grocery retailers Mint spoke to said they were stocked out of vanilla essence by mid-April and some even fell short on supplies of yeast and maida. Balani turned to online sellers such as The Prodigal Farms and Krishi Cress, given that her residence in Greater Noida fell in a red zone.

In Patna, Aditi Halder, 27, who has been experimenting with burrah kebabs and spaghetti in Bolognese sauce, said specific ingredients like yeast and gelatin were hard to find in general stores.

However, the struggle to find ingredients hasn’t hindered the prospect of elaborate meals and led to a big spike in viewership of food-related videos across languages.

Among the top searches on YouTube, viewers looked for recipes of KFC-style chicken burgers, restaurant-style matar paneer recipe in Hindi, wheat pizza in pan, vegetable dry restaurant cabbage manchurian, market-style pani puri and matar ke chole, etc.

Even as the lockdown appears to ease, companies said the trend of home cooking is likely to stick around.

“With a near cessation of out-of-home consumption and increasing in-home savoury meals consumption, we will focus on broad-basing of the foods portfolio through innovation to serve the evolving consumer needs," said Sanjay Mishra, Marico’s chief operating officer, India sales and Bangladesh business.

Saumya Tewari contributed to this story.

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