Earlier this month, lauded modern Indian restaurant Indian Accent popped up at Singapore’s Mandala Club for 17 days as part of the private members-only club’s culinary residency programme. They served up elaborate four to nine-course set menus for lunch and dinner led by chefs Manish Mehrotra and Shantanu Mehrotra. Though this was not their maiden pop-up—in the past, the restaurant has presented their tasting menus in cities like Mumbai, Pune, and Bengaluru.
Closer home, Ekaa, the cuisine-agnostic and ingredient-driven restaurant, led by Chef Niyati Rao, which was listed on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023, is hosting a pop-up in June in collaboration with Naga Chef winner Salangyanger Jamir. The event will be a gastronomic journey into Nagaland’s dishes and culinary traditions.
In Delhi, Chef Taiyaba Ali collaborated with Rooh, a contemporary Indian restaurant, for an Awadhi pop-up that ran for a week and spotlighted food from the region through a modern avatar.
The trend is not limited to Indian restaurants going abroad or collaborating within the country, international brands are flocking to India as well to cook up a storm—award-winning Filipino restaurant Toyo Eatery has landed in Mumbai for a pop-up with Masque, which is known for pioneering the concept of pop-ups in the Indian fine-dining sphere.
All this is to say that pop-ups are having their moment, in a big way. But where did they come from and are they here to stay? We find out.
What are pop-ups?
The term 'pop-up', in culinary speak, are one-of-a-kind micro-events that are all about exclusivity. Usually, a famous restaurant or chef will collaborate with the host restaurant to bring either a never-seen-before menu or an amalgamation of their signature dishes that diners might not have access to. There is also an element of intrigue and surprise involved for the diner as it's a highly anticipated event where you don't know what awaits you.
Pop-ups are not new—they have existed in different forms throughout history
While it may seem that pop-ups are a novel concept, they have existed in the Indian culinary fabric for ages. It started with khansamas (male cooks) travelling to other kingdoms to cross-pollinate ideas and learn new techniques and traditions of food and cooking. Today’s pop-ups are similar in that way—they are built on the same pillar of learning and collaboration. The only thing that has changed is the way these collaborations happen—it could be as local as a home chef working with a restaurant for a one-time event, as is the case with Ekaa’s Naga pop-up or could involve a longer association with an international restaurant like the Indian Accent pop-up in Singapore.
Globally, the trend of supper clubs and pop-up restaurants can be attributed to the iconic Michelin-starred Copenhagen restaurant Noma by chef René Redzepi—its months-long residencies in locations like Tulum and Tokyo are well-known.
They offer an exciting, new experience to diners
Fine-dining pop-ups present a one-of-a-kind opportunity for adventurous diners as they get to experience food from around the world. No longer bound by geographical constraints, it’s akin to having the (culinary) world at their fingertips. They get to try something that their go-to restaurant might not usually have, adding to the exclusivity. Plus, it’s important to note that the clientele for these kinds of fine-dining pop-ups is well-travelled, experimental with their palates, and willing to shell top dollar for a special dining experience.
They help restaurants experiment with their menu and reach a wider audience
Pop-ups are just as exciting for restaurants. For one, it lets them showcase their menus to a wider audience who might not get to taste their offerings otherwise. On a deeper level, it opens up the minds and palates of the audience, making them more aware of different dishes and cuisines. Pop-ups also give a platform for chefs to show their talent and gain insights into consumer tastes and preferences. They also play a major role in allowing for more creativity and collaboration in the culinary industry, leading to innovation on the plate. It’s a win-win for all!
Future of pop-ups in India
According to the Godrej Food Trend Report 2023, pop-ups are here to stay. It says that restaurants will use them as a way to test new ideas, concepts, themes, and cuisines not only with their existing audience but with new diners as well. And by the frequency that pop-ups are being organised, be it in India, or abroad, looks like they are growing more popular every day.
Lead image: Masque's pop-up with Hyatt Regency