The doorstep pantry

Shabnam Minwalla | Updated on June 25, 2020

The lockdown has spawned a breed of suppliers who bring farm-fresh produce to the hood

Today is Day 93 of the lockdown, at least in Mumbai. For other parts of the country it’s Day 18 of Unlock 1.0. And for my household and the rest of Colaba, it’s Day 14 of Thank God It’s Delivering.

Like everywhere else in India, we’ve been through the various stages of what deluded souls call the ‘new normal’. And which actually is, and forever will be, the ‘always abnormal’. There were the panicky weeks at the beginning, when scoring a 200g packet of butter and a kilo of maida was a major victory. When I stood in a socially-distanced queue outside a local shop for over an hour one evening, only to be allowed into a cramped space teetering with jumbo packets of unknown Indonesian biscuits, unfamiliar flavoured milks, imported Cadbury’s chocolates, Maggi, Maggi and more Maggi — and a bunch of masked and whirling dervishes snatching and stuffing baskets with these peculiar wares.

Those were the days when I kept filling virtual baskets, hoping for miracles. When a woman on my neighbourhood chat had a meltdown because she couldn’t find olive oil anywhere. When the bhajiwala made surreptitious late-night calls to say, “The market is shutting for 10 days. If you want vegetables, tell me now.” When I spent hours googling recipes for cakes baked with atta and rice bran oil.

I actually found a chocolate cake recipe that used these ingredients, but was worried that it would turn into a mutant chapati. I dithered for days, till it was no longer necessary to take the risk. Maida and butter are back on the shelves of the neighbourhood stores. Fat slabs of baking chocolate — dark, milk and white — have wended their way to my door in a brown Amazon box. And even wafers, chakli and other treats are now a 15-minute walk away.

Every time I step out in my white mask, I rejoice to see one more shutter up. But I also know that I won’t panic if it goes down again. For although I never really believed that cosy assurance that when one door shuts, another opens — it does. Even in the middle of a lockdown.

The other door opened so quietly, and so one-centimetre-at-a-timely, that I barely noticed. The first indication was a message on the phone. Obviously.

“Get safe, hygienic and healthy fruits and vegetables delivered to your society,” announced a Nashik-based farm cooperative that offered fruit and vegetable baskets to housing societies that could guarantee a tempo-sized order. A day later, two other farms had jumped into the fray. Then came the grape farmers, who drove through the silent city on sleepier-than-usual Sunday evenings and sold fat and fresh grapes for affordable rates. On their heels came the mango farmers, promising tree-ripened, organic hafuz, pairi, rajapuri and kesar. Their offers were so tempting that they were often sold out an hour after the WhatsApp messages started bouncing from phone to phone.

After which, it felt like a veritable bazaar had set up shop in my phone. Here were fresh avocados from South India and boxes of cherries from Kashmir. Bhoot jholokia chillies from Nagaland and turmeric latte from the depths of a wild imagination. And, of course, the wares sold by a temperamental gent from Dahanu, who takes orders over WhatsApp and then distributes parcels from a street corner on Sunday evenings. His “Covid Product List” — which carries the stern warning “Minimum order qty is mentioned below, if not ordered accordingly the item will be skipped in the order” — includes chikoo chips, sun-dried hibiscus, raisins of black seedless grapes dried under open sky, aloe vera gel and red rice. And, sometimes, even freshwater fish.

Perhaps it’s the promise of “farm fresh” and “organic” and “dried under open skies”. Perhaps it’s the novelty of queuing up behind a van that has just trundled in from the dusty countryside. Whatever it is, my family has taken to this new form of food-shopping with glee. My mother checks her phone, grabs her mask and beetles off as soon as the grape truck clanks into Colaba. My husband — not usually a patient soul — spends all weekend waiting for erratic Mr Dahanu to arrive at his street corner with his van, his pickles and his vegetables.

More than the coronavirus farmers, it’s the coronavirus caterers who thrill me to bits. And they are everywhere. Aunties who live three buildings away, 16-year-old boys who till a few months ago were exploding chemistry labs, families that in different times had different jobs — they’re all slicing and dicing and posting their weekly menus.

Every time I turn on my phone I find rosewater-pista-white-chocolate cakes. Khao suey. Chicken shawarma. Peanut-butter burgers. Ham-and-cheese crepes. They provide the silver, saffron, rose lining to these grey days.

Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and author

Chocolate ganache – the ultimate lockdown pick-me-up


My daughters are obsessed with chocolate ganache — which is something you can’t find for love or money. And it is also our favourite lockdown indulgence.


  • 400g fresh cream
  • 400g chocolate, chopped fine

(The recipes ask for semi-sweet cooking chocolate. But the first time I tried my hand at it, I pulled out all the Dairy Milks, chunks of old bitter chocolate, some mystery milk chocolate bars from Russia. The mix-and-match worked fine.)


  • Put the chopped chocolate in a glass bowl.
  • Warm the cream on low heat till it simmers.
  • Pour it on the chocolate and stir briskly till the chocolate melts. Then leave it to cool for about an hour, and transfer to a jar. Refrigerate and eat whenever the mood strikes you.


Published on June 24, 2020

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