Neither of us could get to sleep. We’d said we’d get an early night, but Europe doesn’t create all its early nights the same, and after a day driving out to a scorching lake and forest, cycling around a cooling Kreuzberg and 4th of July sparklers in a pitch-black park, sleeping felt impossible. Heather whisper-shouted from her double bed on the opposite side of the room to mine (yeah, rooms are this big in Berlin) that we couldn’t forget to test the aubergine the next morning. I thought about ice, the blender, the blender breaking, forgetting something pivotal and burning everything. The night before our first ever pop-up was pretty impossible to sleep through.
We held our first Poppadom Preach on a Sunday in Berlin, in the middle of a heatwave, a day of the week when only the newsagents open, so any forgotten ingredients would have to remain forgotten. We wanted to create a vegan, Indian pop-up for one night only, that would be the antithesis to the creamy kormas and chicken tikkas served to tourists a few roads away. We wanted the food to be fresh, spicy, and as homemade as possible. Having sold out our tickets in the space of two days, we spent a third of the budget on rent, and close to two thirds on ingredients. On Saturday morning we piled up IKEA bags full of mangos, spices, aubergines, tomatoes and beetroots into our restaurant, ran the taps in the sink that was now full of herbs, and hoped the sun wouldn't shine to hard on Neukölln.
By 8am on Sunday it was rapidly approaching 40° C on the streets. Heather and I decided attempting to sleep was now futile, the city already sweltered. We walked the three blocks to our restaurant for a day, Miet & Eat, and opened up the shutters. Heather chopped 40 beetroots while I sliced 30 onions. We stopped for tea, Liv arrived and began draining and chopping tofu. Zenib arrived and finished preparing her homemade mango chutney. In a few short hours, the thing that had felt impossible for months had suddenly come into being. It was the best feeling I’ve had this year.
I stared at the kitchen clock, wondering how on earth 11am had turned to 3pm, as the 50 pakoras I had made sat soaking off their oil in the restaurant windows and passers-by on the street tried to buy them off us. We kept up the pace, (so easy to lose when one dish goes to plan), realising the dishes you make for six take three times as long when you’re making them for 25. Grappling around in my memory for every shred of experience I learnt as a hungover teenager working in cafes and waitressing, I kept pushing, insisted on making tea rounds for every one (v English, sorry, can’t help myself), and leapfrogged from one dish to the other.
By 5pm I had made pakoras, a smoked dahl and mejadra. They sat in pans bigger than I have ever cooked in as the ginormous bags of produce we schlepped from market to apartment to kitchen turned into soup, dressing and toppings. Everyone's dishes seemed to be on their final stages. We were doing okay. I ran back to Heather’s to shower. By the time I made it back, Liv had been on a beer run, Heather had made the restaurant look gorgeous and Zenib was rolling out freshly made naan breads stuffed with raisins and coconut that smelt absolutely phenomenal.
Fuelled on grit and determination, we somehow arrived at 7pm, our opening hour. Our friends were already stood out front smoking and drinking, carrier bags full of beer for the fridge. In the kitchen, without any experience of running a restaurant between us, we shared out each course’s tasks, made final decisions on the plating, drank more nervous beer and cleaned down the benches ready for service.
Heather’s first course of spicy beet soup and chickpea croutons turned into the second, Liv’s seed-toasted tofu, pickled cucumber and mint and coriander yoghurt in the space of an hour. We decided to break for a long enough time for everyone to take a breather outside: the heat was relentless, and the next course of dahl, Zenib’s naan and mejadra, wasn’t going to help.
We finished on Liv’s roasted banana ice cream with salted caramel and pistachios. The pressure dropped, and even from the kitchen, where our windows were reluctantly closed by 10pm, we could feel the storm was coming.
The rain began and our guests were split into risking the first sheets of storm, full stomachs sent running down the streets home, or waiting it out in our humid little pop-up. Heather, Liv, Zenib and I found ourselves with a fresh beer in hand, squeezed on to the front doorstep, having eaten about a portion of the food we’d spent all day making between us. Could everyone do October? Has anyone heard of bhel puri? Can we do less rice next time? We planned our next pop-up whilst cleaning up for our first one, the bin bags running out, beetroot juice spilling all over the kitchen floor, and still nothing could dampen that pure high of pulling off a trick you’ve been terrified of for months.
There’re plenty of idioms about too many cooks and business with friends and there should be some idioms about cooking curry in a heatwave, but we actually got through it because everyone cared enough, didn’t have a shred of an ego to let get in the way and just powered through. I hadn’t ever met Liv or Zenib until three days before the pop-up, and Heather is one of my oldest friends. It’s a recipe for disaster, but instead, fuelled on girl power if nothing else, we put in the hours and began to realise on Monday morning we’d made it.
It was an absolute pleasure cooking in Berlin with such amazing women. Thank you to everyone who came along and spent the night with us. I can’t wait for take two.