Let’s see. What was I doing last Wednesday evening? In a nutshell, I paid to have dinner with a group of strangers … Yes, people whom I have never met till that unforgettable night. Let me introduce you to the concept of underground dining! Oh, and just in case if you were wondering, these parties are absolutely LEGAL despite its rather tricky sounding name. :p
Underground dining parties, also known as supper clubs, is a unique dining concept in Singapore that brings social networking to life! Ignore the black-tie events, professionalism and business networking. Over at Khana Commune, it’s all about unwinding after a hard day at work and enjoying a hearty home-cooked meal in the comfort of a home … and may I also add, in the company of new friends from all over the world! Just at our table (the smaller of the 2), we had amongst us: 1) A Norwegian who is currently calling Kuala Lumpur his home, 2) 2 Indian siblings who have been all over the world and are currently working in the financial sector, 3) An ivy league graduate student from Columbia University who is here on a 6mths work attachment, 4) A Singaporean with roots in Pakistan, 5) Another Singaporean who has lived in USA for 15 years and Shanghai for close to 2 yrs before returning to his homeland and yours truly, who is, if you haven’t realized by now, the most local of them all!
Honestly, having a meal with a table full of strangers can seriously go either way – 1) It can be extremely uncomfortable, with awkward silences in-between “How’s the weather?” conversations or 2) Absolutely fun to be trying out an eclectic fusion of international cuisine with people from all walks of life. The verdict is out: I can safely say that for the 7 of us at the dining table, it was definitely the latter! Our conversation topics range from our favourite cuisine (duh!) to our travel experiences (I feel like a travel noob when the rest started sharing about their visits to the Middle East!) to finding out about our future through this ancient Indian tradition of palm leaf reading (i know, so random!).
I’m in no position to judge but I’ve been to enough parties and gatherings to know that most of us find comfort in numbers/sticking to our own group of friends. Who doesn’t, right? In fact, put different cliques of friends together and you’re most likely to have a party that is pretty much divided. Personally, I think this fear of being alone in a crowd (or perhaps, the sense of belonging with a group we are so familiar with) has deterred many of us from stepping out of the comfort zone to know more people. Many times, it just takes a little courage to steer out of our routine to let our guards down and break the ice. And from my personal experience, the results are usually more satisfying than disappointing.
My advice? Go for a commune with an open mind and a great sense of humour! Better still, go alone and I promise that you will be heading home with nothing but fond memories!
Starter: Stuffed Mushrooms
Bengali Must-Try food: Prawn and Bean bhartha on crackers
Yummy sauces: Mama’s Tomato and Chilli Chutney, Zina’s Tanzanian mango pili-pili sauce
Main Course: Black Pepper Beef & Green Chilli Chicken Burgers
Sweet Treats: Gulab Jamoon
On an ending note, I would like to thank Pooja (A New Yorker who has an awesome blog about the interesting nooks and crannies in Singapore!) for introducing Zina’s Khana Commune to her readers! You’ll be happy to know that despite her fully booked schedule, Zina is in the midst of planning 2 Singles’ Night (similar to a not-so-speedy speed dating dinner) in July! If you’re lucky enough, who knows you might walk away from the dinner with a date in tow? :p Eat.
Oh, and I’m sure the boy doesn’t mind if I were to attend the Singles’ Dinner right? You’re still my favourite boy! :p
Tell us more about yourself!
Of Bangladesh descent, I was born and raised in Singapore till the age of 16. I left to study in the UK at age 16, thereafter spending 8 years away from Singapore. During that time, I lived, studied and worked in London, Cairo and Dhaka (Bangladesh). Since finishing school I have been working as a journalist (TV and print) and did a brief stint as a PR consultant. Today, I am 27 years old and running Khana Commune full-time — I am hoping to kickstart the underground dining movement here in Singapore and bring back a love for traditional home cooking. I’ve been obsessed with cooking since I was in primarily school but the real cooking began in secondary school when I did the Food & Nutrition course for my O’ Levels. It is the only thing I truly learnt in school! Other than that my passion for food comes from extensive travel, and more importantly, eating home cooked food by the best chef in my life, my mother. She is an incredible cook and inspires me every day.
The most memorable moment ever since you started Khana Commune?
Fainting during the main course at one of my communes! I got a bout of food poisoning earlier in the day and hadn’t eaten all day for fear of being ill. I ended up having to lie down on my couch while serving food, and when someone came into the house, I got so embarrassed! Immediately sat up and tried explaining why I was lying down lol. I didn’t want them to think I was being a lazy host, just sitting back and ‘chilling’ while there was still food to be served. Pretty hilarious when you look back on it.
Why are you doing this?
I love food, I love cooking. I also love dinner parties, entertaining, and meeting new people. See where this is going? I’ve also always wanted to share my mother’s cooking with the world. Starting and running a supper club, is also about being part of a movement. It’s about going back to the beauty and simplicity of home cooking. So few people cook at home these days, its seen as such a chore. Supper clubs are about melding dining out with dining in. Singaporeans especially, have no home cooking traditions. People here hardly use their kitchens – when my family moved into this house in 2004, my mum broke the back wall down and incorporated the entire back porch into her kitchen. The kitchen is our favourite place to converge and exchange stories at the end of the day.
*all pics credit to Zina & Khana Commune! Thanks for being such a fantastic host, babe 🙂