Restaurant chains, independent food businesses and home chefs are fulfilling a ravenous appetite across the country for simple, home-cooked and nutritious food delivered at the doorstep as family members fall sick in droves in India's raging second wave of Covid-19.
With a staggering case load of more than two crores, several parts of India are under lockdowns and restrictions of some degree. Left with no household help and in a scramble for life-saving medicines, hospital beds and oxygen cylinders for their loved ones, preparing much-needed healthy food for those recovering has taken a backseat for many.
Popular chains Sangeetha Veg Restaurant and Namma Veedu Vasantha Bhavan in Chennai have started special full-day packages at Rs 650 and Rs 499 per person per day, respectively. They include healthy options for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner delivered thrice a day, with a focus on less spice and oil, more dishes with lentils, vitamin C, green vegetables along with ginger tea, turmeric milk and health concoctions.
"A lot of people, especially regular customers, have been asking us if we have any nutritious meal plan that even Covid patients can avail of. It's difficult to cook many items at home and people are looking for alternatives," said Namma Veedu Vasantha Bhavan director Anand Krishnan. With safety being the prime concern, people prefer branded chains rather than going in for unknown places where they don't know the source of the food, he added.
Krishnan said they started the concept after getting 15-20 requests from each of their 16 outlets across Chennai.
Delhi's Bikanervala chain has also announced a thali meal for Rs 100 for Covid patients in NCR with a simple, rotating menu.
The measures come at a time when Covid has dealt a body blow to the food and beverage industry due to large-scale closures of dine-in services across the country. While governments have permitted take-aways, restaurants have pointed out that food delivery accounts for only 10% of the revenue in most cases.
Inter-state food delivery startup JustMyRoots has also turned its focus to delivering lunch and dinner in Delhi and Gurgaon, servicing around 300 orders every day. The startup has tied up with Andhra Bhavan in Delhi and a few other home chefs in Gurgaon, while their 15-20 riders collect the food and deliver to the customers. "Our home chefs are FSSAI certified and we give them the menu based on suggestions from a nutritionist for an easily digestible meal that is rich in protein and greens. Even non-Covid patients are ordering from us because they don't have a cook or help," said JustMyRoots' customer services & operations in-charge Kajal Singh.
Food delivery startups Zomato and Swiggy have also curated lists of healthy and nutritious foods that users can quickly search for on their apps. Zomato founder Deepinder Goyal tweeted about home-style mini menus, while a Swiggy spokesperson said their HealthHub has over 1,00,000 healthy dishes in major cities.
Meanwhile, Mumbai-based chef Saransh Goila's Google Spreadsheet with a list of home chefs, kitchens and volunteers providing simple meals to Covid patients blew up on social media so much so that a Delhi-based tech company Fastor helped him convert it into a functional website called Covidmealsforindia.com.
"It's not a business model. This is just a connecting tool between volunteers, home chefs, kitchens and those looking for meals. They are free to charge a nominal rate, which people are anyway happy to pay. But we don't get involved in delivery and there is no commission involved here."
What started off as a list of 200 people from 12 cities has now grown into a database of 2,500 service providers across 200 cities.
"Over 2 lakh people have accessed the website in the 10 days it has been live. It's not actually something to be proud. It means these many people are sitting without access to meals and that's a large problem."