Chef Niyati Rao On Ekaa And How Many Dishes Taste Like Nostalgia

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Food is memories for me. From a very young age, I have seen my family’s lives revolve around food. It was the source of celebrating happiness. At a young age, I understood that food has an unimaginable impact on situations, feelings and moods. It can end wars, make people feel things, and remember things they had forgotten! That is how my mother’s and my grandmother’s food made me feel–it was nothing short of power. And that’s why I decided I wanted to wield that power, and so my journey began.


One’s nascent gastronomic experiences are had at their home. As a creatively bright child, I easily picked up the culinary whats and hows from my family members. (All enthusiasts, remember?) One that pops to mind is of accompanying my father to the fish market with two large buckets to pick out the best crabs for my mom’s curry. Another cherished family memory is of picking out wild mushrooms and berries during the monsoons in the hills of Mahabaleshwar.

And it is these lessons and memories that I bring to my restaurant Ekaa, in Mumbai. Ekaa was born when my former colleague Sagar Neve (now the director at Ekaa) reconnected with me during the pandemic. It was the result of our brainstorming and a year and a half of R&D. Nostalgia plays a huge role when it comes to our menu. Our chefs’ inspirations are often derived from the past; we go back in time and seek inspiration from different generations. So many past trends were life-defining for us; we also survey different people and research those. This way, we enable people to experience nostalgia, and those unaware of the dish are often educated about it by their accompanying loved ones. This creates a beautiful bridge of conversations.

One of the nostalgic elements on Ekaa’s menu is Chuski. These are Pepsi or cola ice pops that strike a beautiful afterschool memory for most. We give our guests a 10 paisa coin at the beginning, which we playfully try to steal, and then exchange the coin for a Chuski; the joy we have seen on people’s faces is priceless! Ours is flavoured with Mahabaleshwar’s black raspberries and basil and black salt; it’s a direct lift from my childhood berry-picking memory. Another memory we have worked into our menu is of Tinkle comics, making it one of Ekaa’s most loved courses. Each of our dishes takes me back to fond times, and it does the same for our diners.


– As told to Isha Mayer

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