On a breezy Sunday this November, a dozen photographers, lawyers, app-makers and more were introduced over a pop-up brunch at the home of a fashion journalist. There’s no punchline: with a staggering ten dishes and the last of the guests melting away well after midnight, Varun Rana’s new venture -- home-cooked brunch for strangers, once a month -- is properly serious. The neighbourhood? Nizamuddin (f)east, naturally.
Rana ka Khana has three aims: first, to bring to the table dishes unlikely to be found on restaurant menus; second, to give diners a chance to meet new people in a relaxed setting, where they’re not expected to leave immediately after a meal; and last, to educate people about regional food and new, unexpected flavours. (All three goals are great, but we’ll let you in on a secret: make friends with Varun and he’ll also give you the best advice on what shade of pistachio green will pair best with your new turmeric-yellow saree.)
A NIFT graduate who’s now a visiting professor at the institute, Varun formerly worked as a designer for Sabyasachi and JJ Valaya before he was lured away by fashion journalism. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because his byline has leapt at you from the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and GQ. For as long as his close friends have known him, he’s also been a stellar cook who loves feeding up his friends (and once even taught a bpb editor how to powder whole spices without a mortar and pestle in a pinch).
After talking of throwing his extremely hospitable kitchen open for years, Varun finally decided to take the plunge a couple of months ago, over breakfast with his supportive flatmates. He posted his first menu on Facebook to see if it would generate any interest. He got fifty inquiries in two hours for all of ten spots; on that November Sunday, two of his guests flew in from Mumbai.
The next Rana ka Khana will take place this Sunday and feature fifteen dishes, all of which Varun will prepare himself. There’s murg ki sewiyaan (a Rampuri dish with fried chicken floss), karari bhindi ka raita (raita with crispy okra) and a Hyderabadi shalgam gosht (mutton and turnips), among others. These are recipes he has learnt from his mother and aunts, from friends and their families; some even come from strangers. His chicken bharta, a big hit at the first brunch, was a recipe he learnt from the dadas at Calcutta’s Azad Hind dhaba.
Having dined chez Rana ourselves, we know that Varun can whip up a mean range of salads, dips and mezze, but are pleased to find an elaborate brunch menu that swaps out poached eggs and French toast for baingan raita and a karela(!) and chana dal salad. We’re caught off-gourd when Varun tells us that he hates the term ‘Indian food’ - just as we are about to ask about the decision to stick to, erm, Indian food. “I want people to know and love regional dishes from different parts of India,” he says, “and not just club it all together”.
Varun hopes to bring a touch of nose-to-tail philosophy to his pop-up menus and make use of parts of ingredients that other home cooks often discard. This month, the pea pods left behind after the tender peas go into a Sindhi matar chiwda will be served in a matar ke chilke ki sabzi. Radish leaves will become Bihari mooli ke pattey ki chutney. In the months to come, he has grand plans for cauliflower stalks and arbi leaves. For an invitation to sample these experiments, await his next announcement, ready to play fastest (ladies) finger first.
Getting there: The next Rana ka Khana is on December 17. Send Varun a message at @varunrana16 on Instagram with inquiries.
This story was contributed by Amrita Mahale, a former rocket scientist working on her first novel.
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