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Food & Drink

Sort-of Secret: Pia, a monthly Mediterranean and Indian fusion pop-up

Think arancini stuffed with spiced chicken biryani

By Liza Agrba| Photography by Jelena Subotic
Sort-of Secret: Pia, a monthly Mediterranean and Indian fusion pop-up

The sort-of secret: Pia, an Indian/Italian/Spanish fusion pop-up from chef Jaydeep Pendse You may have heard of it if: You follow him on social media But you probably haven’t tried it because: It runs monthly, and the first event just wrapped up

At a secret location on a sun-drenched Sunday in late May, chef Jaydeep Pendse expeditiously prepped dishes for Pia, his inaugural Indian/Italian/Spanish fusion pop-up. He stuffed arancini with deeply spiced chicken biryani, checked the seasoning on lamb braised with apricots and Kashmiri chili, and stirred coconut caramel that would blanket Basque-inspired French toast. Pia will run monthly for the remainder of the summer. If you haven’t experienced the surprising harmony of Mediterranean and Indian cuisine, this is your chance to do just that.

Chef Jaydeep Pendse

Pendse started cooking in his native Mumbai. From there, looking to get some international experience, he rather ambitiously applied to 150 of the best restaurants around the world. Three got back to him, and he finally got his break at the Michelin-star Bodegón Alejandro in San Sebastian, Spain, where he spent eight months. Pendse briefly returned to Mumbai before enrolling in a postgraduate course in Italian cuisine at George Brown, which landed him a gig at another Michelin-star kitchen: Villa Maiella in Abruzzo, Italy.

Chef Jaydeep Pendse in the kitchn at his pop-up Pia
Chef Jaydeep Pendse prepping arancini for Pia

He moved to our fair city in earnest in 2019, where he cut his chops at Blackbird Baking Co. and 20 Victoria before striking out on his own. “Pia blends my culinary heritage with everything I’ve learned while travelling,” says Pendse. “It’s a real labour of love.”

The menu will change each month. May’s five-course prix fixe started with arancini, the Sicilian-staple rice balls with cheesy centres, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried to a delectable crisp. Pendse’s are stuffed with mozzarella, like the traditional version—but they also have the very untraditional addition of heady chicken biryani. For that, he marinates chicken in yogurt overnight and flavours it with chili powder, coriander and cumin, among other spices. The arancini are served with a pale-gold dollop of housemade mayo finished with a scarlet Kashmiri chili oil.

Pia's chili oil
Arancini stuffed with deeply spiced chicken biryani

Next was a summer salad. Thin slices of fennel, green apple, and kohlrabi were neatly layered and dressed in a shallot vinaigrette spiked with dried mango powder (a.k.a. amchur)—commonly used north Indian cuisine to add a tangy, fruity bite to curries, chaat and other dishes. Grapefruit segments and toasted hazelnuts added brightness and crunch.

Pia's summer salad

Then came a qeema bolognese. Qeema is an Indian meat ragu—it’s often made with lamb, but Pendse opts for beef—spiced with mint, coriander, and fried onions and shallots. He served it with a tangle of fresh housemade pappardelle and finished it with feta cream and a chili coconut crumble. It’s as if bolognese took an extended sabbatical in Mumbai and acquired an excellent spice collection.

Pia's qeema bolognese
The qeema bolognese

The menu’s sleeper hit was a borderline addictive braise. The generous serving of lamb—stewed for six hours with dried apricots and flavoured with turmeric, chili, cumin and coriander—was as tender as can be. It was topped with crispy fried potato shavings and nori crackling, which worked brilliantly (though it may sound incongruous). It also came with a pillowy milk bun, perfect for making a little makeshift lamb sandwich.

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Pia's braise

The closing course was a Basque-inspired French toast, where the milk used to soak thick slices of pullman loaf was infused with saffron and cardamom. It was finished with coconut caramel, torched sugar and housemade crème fraîche for a delightfully aromatic take on the brunch classic.

Basque-inspired French toast

Pendse is still planning his next menu, but one of the dishes he’s considering is a take on pasta alle vongole (pasta with clams) amped up with roasted coconut and black pepper. And his chicken biryani arancini, among other goodies, will make an appearance at an upcoming snack pop-up in Kensington market. The details are forthcoming, but keep an eye on Pendse’s social media for news about his pop-up adventures.

Guests at a Pia pop-up

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