Provider of unusual feasts
Gitika Saikia’s home-dining venture Gitika’s Pakghor is one of the best known on the home chef circuit in Mumbai. She started hosting meals for food enthusiasts in her home with the view to creating awareness and educating Mumbai about the unexplored cuisines of the North East. She was confident that the exotic and out of the ordinary ingredients would lure the adventurous eaters in the city. It wasn’t just ant’s eggs and silk worms that brought eager eaters to her door, it was the equally enticing seasonal greens and vegetables, smoked pork and other local ingredients that had her events booked to capacity. From Bihu specials to customised menus (like a pork-centric menu for a bunch of pork lovers), Gitika’s Pakghor has made the cuisines from the North East a familiar part of the Mumbai dining scene. Many of us now casually mention how we’ve had ant eggs or silk worms, pigeon meat, goose, or even the elusive Mithun. All thanks to Gitika.
Fueled by enthusiasm
Gitika started doing pop-ups in restaurants and venues outside her own home in March 2015, making her North Eastern meals accessible to a wider public. Eventually she also did pop ups in other cities like Pune and Kolkata, and also in New York. On being asked what it was that appealed to her the most about cooking food from her homeland for people who have no idea about it she said “The excitement of presenting new dishes, procuring stuff from home and then the wait for reactions to every new dish is something that is unparalleled!” If you were at her table you’d see her excitement- her anticipation as she reveals yet another new offering looking keenly at the reactions from her entranced audience.
Gitika’s Secret Menu Lunch
After her last trip home on a shopping trip she sent me an urgent message saying, “Save the date, I have exciting new stuff again. You have to come!” I dutifully went over on the appointed date for a Secret Menu lunch. Such is the confidence that her devoted patrons have in her, this lunch was another houseful event even without knowing what’s on the menu! We were in for a treat. There was a smoked pond fish chutney (Rosun Paat aru Hukaan Maas chutney), stir fried baby potatoes (Kon Guti Alu Bhaji), peppery wild buffalo (Mithun Manxoh Jalukiya), pork with mezenga leaves (Mezenga Gahori), pork innards with brinjals (Gahori Petu Bengena), rice cooked with pork blood (Jadoh), masoor daal (Masur Dali), and plain white rice.
As we ate our way through this incredible spread Gitika regaled us with stories of her forays into remote villages and her raids of the local markets, her visits to her in-laws’ village and the new recipes she learned from her mother in law, and of course her adventures at the airports explaining to ground staff why she’s carrying vegetables and preserved meats instead of clothes and gifts like everyone else!
Authenticity in every bite
There are many home chefs hosting diners in their homes, showcasing cuisines that are otherwise not available in the regular restaurants. What keeps Gitika on top of the game is her constant search for new dishes and ingredients to present at her table. The fact that the ingredients are the real thing from the actual source, and not conveniently available replacements, ensures that diners get to eat the real thing and not an approximation of the original. So when I say I ate Jadoh in Mumbai, I know I ate the authentic dish. And that is what makes me go back for more and more.