The idea behind her initiative came as a result of her desire to interact with guests and discuss Northeast culture and food habits Credit: File Photo

It’s like a haven within a boisterous city; an escape of sort, except that the city constantly announces its presence with occasional sounds. Inside, a different air greets you – sweet mixture of aroma fills it – awakening your taste buds.. It is the home of Sneha Saikia, in South Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park, whose love for good food has transformed into a passion.

One look around, and you’re likely to find her in the kitchen, playing host on a special occasion. The serene and warm atmosphere perfectly complements the mood. Homechef-cum-host, Saikia is cooking up an exquisite lunch for a couple of guests seated in her teak wood six-seater dining table.

Sneha Saikia (standing) with her guests

On the table, there are several mouth watering dishes like the Kothal Guti Khar (alkaline dish cooked with jackfruit seeds), Squah with Cream, Outenga Ombol (sweet and sour chutney of elephant apple), Mosur Dali xoite Brahmi aru Noroxinho Jul (red lentil dumplings in herb curry), Pork with Anishi, Koldil diya Murgi (chicken cooked with banana blossom), Fish Egg Fritters, Marigold Flowers Fritters, Pumpkin Fritters, and more.

Drinks and desserts are not left out. Carefully served on the table are Kadwi Dawai (health drink) and Mango Kheer (pudding) which have been selected to go with the theme of this impressively balanced meal which represents traditional Northeast Indian flavours.

One guest whom Saikia’s amazing treat has obviously left an impression on is Himanshu Arora. His excitement is clearly expressed in these words; “That experience of having regional food done in the most authentic manner, following traditional ways of cooking can only be truly experienced while sitting around the dining table of someone who has roots and upbringing in that region. And that’s exactly how the experience of having North East food at Table for 6 is. Simple, honest and delicious.”

As a product of a strict army background, Saikia learnt several valuable lessons on discipline while growing up, and it’s these lessons that have guided her all through her journey. Unfortunately, Saikia lost her dad at a young age. But thank God for family; her brother and mother gave her all the support she needed. She spent some time in New Zealand, and ever since her return, Saikia, also an accessories designer by profession, has been on only one mission; to redeem the image of Northeastern cuisines.

Saikia began the Table for 6 Luncheon in January 2019, she says the idea behind it came as a result of her desire “to interact with guests and discuss our culture and food habits.” Also, Saikia engaged in pop-ups in various restaurants and hotels for over five years. These pop-ups didn’t offer her the opportunity to interact with the customers about her Assamese culture and food habits. That led to the commencement of Table for 6 Luncheon, every weekend, for six lucky strangers, whom she gave an unforgettable experience.

A Northeastern platter

Saikia discovered her passion for food ever since her childhood. She would help her mother with grinding the masala. She went on from there to bake her first cake over a stove. The warmth she feels every time she recounts the “joy and pride in her father’s eyes”

The secret of Saikia’s brilliant cooking is in her unique cooking style, which includes cooking to retain the flavour and originality of the process. Saikia says when it comes to cooking at home, she focuses on comfort foods. “Foods like Masor Tenga (fish in sour gravy), Dal (lentil), Rice, and Egg Curry, along with fresh herbs are my comfort food,” she says.

As a truly experimental chef, Saikia does not compromise her heritage. Saikia specialises in delicacies made from red ant eggs, grasshoppers, silkworm, and more.There are some ingredients in her kitchen that are always constant. She lists “bhoot jolokia, dry flowers, Schezwan pepper, dry bhoot jolokia (ghost chilli), dry outenga (elephant apple), both fermented, and dry bamboo”, as some of them. As for her favorite delicacy, she highlights Masor Tenga and varieties of Pitikas (a mashed version of boiled or fire-grilled vegetables served as a side dish).

Saikia is often referred to as an expert in Northeastern cuisines. She takes pride in being able to showcase forgotten Assamese and other Northeastern recipes. Being at the forefront in promoting Northeastern cuisines has been a lifelong task and passion for her. Saikia has travelled far and wide showcasing her Northeastern delicacies to the world. There are some unique memories from her travels.

At a food fest in Nepal, Saikia’s guests were dignitaries of various embassies in different countries around the world and they all applauded her culinary talent

At a food fest in Nepal, Saikia’s guests were dignitaries of various embassies in different countries around the world and they all applauded her culinary talent.

Speaking about motivation and inspiration, she says there are some chefs that have served that purpose in her journey. Atul Kochar of Kanishka, in London, Asma Syed of Darjeeling Express, London, and Chef Atul Lahkar of Assam have all inspired her alone way or another.

With establishments like Chef Kochar and Syed’s in London paving the way for other Indian restaurants to gain more global recognition, Saikia is optimistic about the hope of the future of Northeast Indian cuisines in the global market. Saikia’s charges are usually based on the quality and use of ingredients she uses for that particular meal. For obvious reasons, her gourmet meals tend to price higher than simple dishes.

There is a generous use of local Indian herbs and edible flowers in a variety of her cooking. For her, this is one way to promote the culture and heritage of Northeast India. The herbs available to Saikia determine the menu. She makes a menu consisting of all the edible flowers of Northeast India and, sometimes, the fruits and roots of a plant.

The current pandemic has halted a lot of Saikia’s plans. She hasn’t been able to host any luncheon since March 22nd. Although she has continued to receive home delivery requests which she unfortunately has had to turn down for safety concerns. She intends to resume pretty soon, hosting the luncheon in her home, to once again explore her passion of telling stories with Indian meals.

Besides cooking, Saikia also loves listening to good music, sketching and gardening.

Saikia’s initiative Table for 6 Luncheon has won her several awards on national level

As a decorated home-chef, she has been recognised a great number of times. Some of these achievements have encouraged her to continue to forge on. “I am a national awardee 2016 as a women entrepreneur. My Table for 6 Luncheon has been awarded as best Startup for 2019 by GL Bajaj University of Business Management, Noida. I have also been invited for workshops to showcase Northeast cuisine in various hotel management institutions, and also as a guest speaker in various business management institutes in Delhi, Jaipur and Pune.

“I have also been awarded persona 2020 by MIT Institute of Business Management and Technology University, Pune,” she adds.

Not many chefs have the culinary dexterity that Saikia possesses. As she continues delighting customers with several unforgettable experiences, it is great to see that she also uses the opportunity to spread the good news about some of her Northeastern cuisines to the rest of the world, thereby showcasing the delicacies and culture in a new light.

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