By Madhulika Dash
From Indian Accent going to New York to meal in a box going out and high end gourmet sit downs making it big- here’s what played on the palate theatre the past 12 months
Demonetization may have dulled 2016, but when it comes to food, this has been an equally great year of Movers & Shakers - and by that we just don’t mean the top game changers, but in entirety. This year, in fact, has been the year of doers, gainers and brilliant concept makers. It has also been the year of Indian Cuisine shell-breaking the “butter-chicken and paneer tikka” mould, finally!
So what has been the best on the plate, here are a few:
From Big Tickets in India… to Bigger Abroad Delhi got Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra; Mumbai got Lima, New York got Indian Accent, Dubai welcomed Farzi Café and Singapore said hello to Saha (Chef Abhijit Saha’s modern Indian dining restaurant). And just when we thought nothing else would open, 2015 Pan Asian toast, Pa Pa Ya graced Delhi-land with interiors, space and a menu that will give the next big opening some serious time to rethink. But it wasn’t just the only Breaking News, it was the accolades that followed and how: While Farzi Café took Dubai by storm with its smoked beef patthar ke kebab and spinach poriyal, and even became one of the restaurants nominated for an award, Indian Accent not only broke the “chicken tikka” glass ceiling with its black carrot halwa topped with salted tikki and pork belly vindaloo served with traditional Goan red rice making it among the top new openings to reckon with.
Didn’t happen: The famous Chef Gaggan restaurant in Mumbai. And if the rumour mills are to be believed it may be some miles away!
From DIY box… to meal in a box (and bowl)
On books, it seems to be Idea Grande: who wouldn’t like to make the famous kali dal from ingredients cherry picked by a top chef who also gave you the secret recipe to the dish. And doing it from scratch, it was the stuff MasterChefs were made of. The only niggle; it really didn’t pan out as envisioned. No sooner it started, it faded too – but not before paving the way for one more interesting concept – of course tried, tested and perfected by Dabba walas, albeit without the oomph. Behold the meal in a box. Prepared by a trained team, this meal delivery redux, gourmet style, worked like a charm. Who doesn’t like eating – more so, if it’s one of the not-made-in-home now dishes, cuisine or even a particular comfort food.
Their success scripted the comeback of the famous meal in a bowl – but with filling that was multi-cuisine and even healthy, and at times minus the bowl. Example: Kale salad with Harissa Chicken and Jowar Gnocchi and Mushroom Fricasse, Grilled Cheese and Papaya Salad with Amarnath Granola (Smoke House Delhi), Burrito in a Bowl (Sanchos) and Radhuni sea bass, pui saag (Masala Library By Jiggs Kalra).
From casual to high-end… street is in
What item numbers have been to films, street food has been for the Indian dining space – more so in the past five decades. From being amuse-bouche to palate cleanser to dinner finale, these nifty treats have not only worked the ladder for the restaurant (Mister Chai and Social are excellent examples) but also been that single amazing bite to go back to the restaurant – be it the Popeye Paaji Ki Favourite Chaat of Made In Punjab, the truly delicious Kala Khatta Sorbet served in a mini pressure cooker and potato sphere chaat in Indian Accent, the Pao menu of Mister Chai, Shakarkandi Chaat, the famous muri mixture in Mineority By Saby and Channa tempura Chaat (Masala Bar). In fact, the last two years have been big on Golgappa innovations – with this year’s addition including chocolate to mango and even a butter chicken golgappas, with a Thai spin of course.
Superfood India… beyond kale and quinoa
If there is one place that Indian dining has scored better than the world – to an extent that even Google had to take note –is with Superfoods. Yes, we have finally taken your ‘produce is fabulous advice’ just as well and have been fairing much better than our Western peers by revisiting our traditional basket for tasty, healthy food. So what has been our addition to the Google list of jackfruit, cauliflower and turmeric (haldi doodh has been our best export this year) published mid of this year? To begin with Poi Saag (Radhuni sea bass, pui saag), Buckwheat (buckwheat samosa), Red and Black Rice (kefir soaked chicken with organic red rice, Miso stew and red rice pancake), Barnyard Millet (Millet and kale soup) Moringa leaves (Moringa leaves pesto in 212) and of course the famous kurmura. What ups the ante isn’t just the awareness of the hyper local produce, but with dishes that will make it sure shot success: Chef Manish Mehrotra’s black carrot halwa is an ode to North specialty the black carrot, while the Dehati Fish n Chips at Mineority By Saby is an ode to the traditional art of cooking veggies with fish and Colocasia leaves.
From chef’s table… to a table for chef
If 2015 belonged to chef’s table, 2016 was all about gourmet style dining. So while the year was big on regional and chef’s pop up where the menu was pre decided and remained the same; it was also a year of experimental dining that pushed the envelope both on chef’s table and community dining. Excellent case - The St Jude Project. The brain child of Impressario team (that got us Social, Smoke House Deli and others), this was one of the first by invitation concept where much like your co-diner the menu was unknown. Headed by Chef Gresham Fernandes, it followed the original chef table, where you could see the chef cook, talk to him and sample food that just didn’t showcase his skills but his thought too. The other to benchmark gourmet dining was The Table folks’ Magazine Street Kitchen. Built to resemble a MasterChef kitchen, it has redefined community and private dining by creating the first culinary playground. And since has India’s best cooking their hearts out.
Masala …. from the bar
From being the most ignored but essential part of a restaurant to becoming the crowd puller, bars have seen a Lion King rise this year with drinking spaces built around it. From Tamasha to Pling to Mumbai’s new watering hole, Masala Bar, it has been the year of the bar – and by this we don’t mean just fantastic looking bar spaces and food (that was done in 2015 with The Lord of the Drinks), but also the well thought of cocktails. In other words, it’s Indian speakeasy time, albeit with the necessary theatrics and glamour - Filter Kaafi Uska and served in a skull Bollywood Bhang.
From Regional … to community
Authentic – the word – may have been a topic of big debate, but the search has led to a new leaf in the dining space: of regional specific cuisine. So while 2015 had interesting regional cuisine specializing restaurants like Potbelly (Bihari), Ki Hangla (Bangla and Dhakai cuisine), Mizo Diner, Hornbill (Naga food) among others opening up, 2016’s interesting addition has been community based cuisine. Like Café Lungta that serves Himalayan cuisine from the regions of Darjeeling, Nepal and Bhutan (essentially where Lama’s lived) and Mineority By Saby, which serves mining food from the regions of Bihar, Odisha, Bengal and North East. So if you ever wanted to know what was the equivalent of Burrito, head to Mineority!
Forums… and all things food
If a kalimpong cheese roll, a guchchi kebab and mochar puff seem like familiar names today, then there is a good chance that both the chefs and 2016 have to be given their due credit. Aside the usual array of F&B forums, this year saw some interesting initiatives that not only brought together the best names in the business (chefs, writers and influencers) but also presented platform for each to showcase their knowledge, findings and even food with a larger audience. Like EatWithIndia, that got home chefs to present their food, Famers Market in Vedic Village (a conglomeration of writers, chefs and artisanal producers), SAAG’s Food For Thought Fest, the Great Culinary Exchange at Rastrapathi Bhavan to name a few.
Adding to this culinary fiesta was the year end brunch hosted by the likes of Rocky Mohan. Clearly food wasn’t just a means of survival or entertaining this year – it was a big part of learning.