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A side angle photo of Indian paneer dish in a metal tray on a stone table.
Kadai paneer
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Hollywood’s New Underground Indian Restaurant Offers a Taste of Home

Pop-up Dabbu has been busy during Diwali, providing comfort to a tight clientele of in-the-know Indians eager for a home-cooked meal.

“Food has always been my love language,” says Akshada Rawat, owner and chef of home kitchen pop-up Dabbu. “I just love to cook, and to enjoy Indian food with everyone.”

Rawat’s venture, serving weekly meals for homesick students and workers from India out of her Hollywood apartment, is a new twist on her life. The project only started in September and is still limited in scope; it’s an unlicensed home kitchen setup, for one, and Rawat also works as a digital marketing strategist when not preparing meals. What’s more, she has no formal restaurant experience whatsoever.

But for people seeking familiar flavors in a comforting home delivery package, Dabbu is not only instantly familiar, it’s also comforting in a way that few other foods can be. There are plenty of popular and deserving sourdough bakers and at-home cake-makers around Los Angeles, but relatively few places — Dabbu and the Indonesian street-food-centered Bungkus Bagus in Glendale among them — for food that feels, for some, this deeply personal.

“I used to make these meals with friends and family,” Rawat says of her tight menus served in rotation twice per week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. While some dishes are more labor-intensive than others, Rawat says, her leisurely meals (particularly over various holidays) with friends were always made with love and spices brought back from India. Over time, says Rawat, “we thought about how we could share our fresh homestyle food” with more people. The idea of an even more Instagram-friendly take on India’s dabbawala home food delivery culture, done in LA, was born.

The first day of operation was September 12, with Rawat turning out a dozen or so vegetarian dishes mostly to folks she encountered after posting about the pop-up on Reddit. So far the menu has been fairly standardized, though Rawat will do one-off catered meals for groups that go beyond her current dishes. There is daal makhani, the slow-simmered staple made with lentils, and amritsari chole, a rich Punjabi chickpea curry dish that leans into staple ingredients like onions, green peppers, tomato, and ginger. Each is offered as a combo with kadai paneer, served bowl-style over rice for $20 a piece.

“It’s like a tiffin service,” says Rawat, who takes preorders a few days in advance of each drop. Her clientele is almost exclusively Indians living in the Hollywood area — at least so far. And for the price, Rawat says, “we can cater them a fresh homemade meal, give them that satisfaction.”

The desire for a home-cooked meal is particularly strong during Diwali, adds Rawat, the annual festival of lights celebrated by more than a billion Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and others. “Diwali is about your friends getting together and having a party,” she says. “It’s all about that taste of home. It’s part of the culture, the way we grow up, especially during festive seasons.”

With growing interest, there’s hope that Dabbu can move to a more robust weekly schedule, meaning more total orders, a broader menu, and more nights of service per week. Rawat may even branch out to a more public-facing food event down the line. All of the usual limitations on non-permitted home restaurants are still there, Rawat knows, but she also sees a growing desire beyond the big delivery companies and millionaire-backed ghost kitchens for profoundly familiar and delicious home-cooked meals. Just like the fully licensed home restaurants out in Riverside County, California, there is an eager audience — and Instagram and Reddit offer a platform. The specifics can come later; for now, it’s about the simple comforts of home. “Sometimes,” says Rawat simply (and with a laugh), “you just want to enjoy being at home, relaxing with some food.”

Dabbu offers homemade Indian food weekly out of an undisclosed location in Hollywood. Preorders for Tuesday and Friday service can be made directly with the restaurant online.

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