On my trip to Paris last month, I found myself on the streets of Notre-Dame market in Versailles; picking up cherries, herbed olives, slabs of camembert , a freshly baked baguette and loads of garden-fresh veggies like carrots cucumber and tomatoes.
A bottle of wine was duly packed along with condiments like ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise.
The scene seemed right out of an Enid Blyton novel with the lake as blue as a cornflour and the sky flecked with rosy clouds.
My guide, Sonali Harshe, had planned a lunch by the lake in a picnic styled setup. I have always loved picnics and this was no different.
It brought back childhood memories when the entire family would pack themselves in a van or a matador and plan a trip to the park.
Sprawled on nylon mats, we would tuck into a lavish spread of sandwiches, bhelpuri, fruit cakes and lemonade.
Mumbai-based, Rajat Mendhi, co-founder of Bombay Picnics, was struck with this outdoorsy idea, when he wanted to plan a pop-up at his friend’s stunning bungalow- studio in Bandra, Mumbai.
"When I looked at the space, the cooling shade of the Jackfruit tree in her backyard transported me back to summer holidays in Jamshedpur, where the whole family would picnic with freshly fried poori aloos."Rajat Mendhi, co-founder of Bombay Picnics
"As I spoke more of my experience and the idea of picnics with my partner and friends, I discovered it had the essence of nostalgia. Eventually, I put up a post about picnics and opened it up for registrations. In less than twenty four hours, I had hundreds of people signing up for invites", says Mendhi.
In the same vein, Bengaluru based Bhawna Rao, co-founder, The Picnic Company, started organising picnics right in the middle of the pandemic, during October 2020.
“Thanks to Covid, picnics became popular. People love it. Its the ‘in’ thing right now”, says Rao. Her company has tied up with farms on the outskirts of Bengaluru, where they host a picnic-styled setup.
Whether it is the cutesy cushions with jute rugs or the low lying tables with food laid out in the most artistic manner or the wicker basket placed on an old styled trunk, what you experience is pure ineffable joy.
They have organised one hundred and fifty picnics till date and given their popularity, they get atleast ten enquiries per day.
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For nearly two years, the pandemic had confined people to their homes and with lockdown like restrictions leaving restaurants closed for public, there were very few entertainment avenues left.
However, with a fresh impetus on open air activities that allowed for physical distancing due to COVID-19 scare, picnics featured on top of the list due to their fun quotient and an element of nostalgia.
They were like a breath of fresh air that allowed people to rejoice in the open outdoors and bond over food and drinks.
“I believe picnics are thriving across the country”, says Mendhi.
"In the bigger cities and amongst a certain socio-economic set, the trend of curated meals and experiences is growing."Rajat Mendhi, co-founder of Bombay Picnics
Bombay Picnics serves a menu inspired by nostalgia. For example, they do a puff pastry poori with shaada aloo and jhal moori that is reminiscent of memories of picnics in Kolkata and Jamshedpur where Mendhi grew up.
“We do a burnt khichadi arancini with thecha butter and papad, that harks back to another picnic memory. We are constantly adding new stories and dishes to our menu”, he adds.
In another part of India, Delhi NCR based Yashita Dalmia, also curates picnics in and around Gurugram. A lawyer turned home-chef, she gives a desi twist to her picnic basket.
I specialise in bite size food items which are easy to eat as well as attractive to look at. My clients love them!”, she says.
She has sold more than fifty baskets till date with price range between Rs. 1000/- to 4000/- depending on the menu.
Well, that's not all!
She has also tied up with farms where she curates the whole event from food to the setup. “We have successfully done rustic farm events, where a client wanted to introduce their grandchild living abroad, to close friends and family in Delhi. For the menu, they wanted a fusion Rajasthani menu with farm to fork concept”.
"For another event, we did the whole grazing table set up with finger food like Voul au vents, savoury Danish pies, variety of sandwiches, dessert boards, snacks, salads with flower arrangement to go with the table decor” she elaborates. Its a trend that people are definitely warming up to.
"Parks and garden in Delhi like Sunder nursery, Lodhi Gardens, India Gate or Damdama lake make for a fun outing with loved ones in a less expensive setup."Yashita Dalmia
Well, its not only people who picnic, animals are not to be left behind. The Picnic Company had organised a picnic specially for pets.
“We had done a pet picnic last year where we collaborated with “Not Just Hot Sauces” run by Sarita Hegde. We had fifteen people for that picnic with their dogs. Food was Asian and some treats for the pets were arranged. It was immensely popular and fun with the furry babies running all around. We want to do something like that on a large scale in the future”, says Rao.
Tejaswani, co-founder at Unventured Expeditions, an experiential travel company that organises hike, bike and dive tours in India, Bhutan and Srilanka, had engaged with The Picnic Company twice, once for her daughter’s birthday and second time for a get together with her friends from the cycling community.
“Since the pandemic had been hard on us, I wanted to make the birthday special. The Picnic Company curated a beautiful afternoon for us in an outdoor setting by the lake with scrumptious food and cocktails. We connected as a family and the joy of basking in the winter sun was absolutely delightful”, she says.
So, the next time you run out of ideas, bring out your basket of goodies and enjoy the great outdoors!
(A freelance food and fashion blogger, Pranjali Bhonde Pethe aims at getting people and their favourite food and style closer through her blog moipalate. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on @moipalate.)