HEADLINES:
September 20 2017
A home-grown culinary revolution
12 September 2017

Millet lagers, desi cheese and hisalu berries... 2017 has been an exciting year for Indian food so far. What lies ahead?

We will most likely reflect on 2017 as the year when home-delivered, gourmet food from the best restaurants came at the touch of a button; cuisine agnostic tacos were a thing; liquid nitrogen seeped down to even the corner QSR ice cream shop (and in a rare and horrific accident, nearly killed someone at a bar in Gurgaon); and the word ‘foodie’ went from being a proud tag to being one that’s now scoffed at.

Is it safe to say that we’re likely to get over the whole kale and avocado frenzy too? However, there are a bunch of exciting trends that are likely to evolve further over the next few years. The most promising of these is that of provenance. With more and more people getting interested in food, the conversation seems to be moving towards educating people about their food: what goes into producing it, where it comes from, and what impact it has on our health.

While those amongst us living in urban cities are by now quite familiar with desi ingredients such as bajrakathal and Gondhoraj lebu (limes), we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of exploring local foods. Indian grains (kodo millet, kavuni rice), Indian-origin cheeses (topli nu paneerbandel) and even foraged produce (moras greens, hisalu berries, and straw mushrooms) are priming to face the spotlight. This new-found fascination for local isn’t restricted to just everything indigenous either.

With increased restrictions and taxes on imports a few years ago, there came the necessity (read: opportunity) to produce international products locally, and many companies jumped on this bandwagon.

The idea of home-grown artisanal foods, which until a few years ago was restricted to the quaint alleys of Puducherry, is now being championed across the country. You can now buy great-quality anything — chocolate (Earth Loaf, Mosaic), meat (Artisan Meats, Kaavo), cheese (The Spotted Cow Fromagerie, The Cheese Collective), coffee (Koinonia, Indian Bean Co., Sleepy Owl) and more.

There are also significant advances in the domestic beverages segment, with contributions from people like brewery owner Suketu Talekar (Doolally), mixologist Arijit Bose and entrepreneur Vaibhav Singh (Perch).

The styles and ingredients in microbreweries are getting even more experimental (think millet lagers and jaggery pale ales); fermentation is finding its way into cocktails in a big way; and the health drink sector is expanding rapidly. We’re seeing Indian-made craft gins, agave beers, and even honey-based mead making appearances.

Considerable headway has also been made towards recognising and promoting sustainability. And this doesn’t just mean sustainable for the environment. Taking care of those who provide us our food, whether it’s the farmers, producers or even the ones preparing and serving it, is gaining focus.

Companies such as Original Indian Table are working directly with farmer groups to source non-GMO grains and pulses from across the country. Happy Roots works to save indigenous varieties threatened by modern hybrids. Similar efforts are being made in dairy (Pride of Cows) and fresh produce (First Agro). Initiatives such as Know Your Fish are finally taking the idea of sustainability to educate people about seafood along the Indian coasts as well. Sadly, however, advances in sustainable, grass-fed, or free-range meat are not yet on the horizon.

Experiential dining is on the rise. There is a new breed of food entrepreneurs who walk the line between home chefs and professionals. Dinners organised by ventures such as Bengaluru Oota Company, and Khar Danda Project are affordable, intimate and play on relevant themes (Gowda cuisine, food inspired by a local fish market, or potluck with strangers).

With a continued surge in food tech and food programming concepts such as Airbnb Experiences expanding beyond New Delhi, there could potentially be other exciting things coming up in this space as well.

This was the year when modern interpretations of Indian food trickled down from fine dining spaces in major metropolitan cities to casual and even traditional restaurants in tier 2 cities.

Let’s face it: We are on the brink of a home-grown culinary revolution. Whether it’s in the world of hospitality, FMCG or even food tech, we have finally turned our gaze inwards.

Indian is undeniably the flavour of the year abroad as well. Ingredients such as coconut oil and drumstick, which have long been part of our culture, are garnering attention as superfoods. Our whiskeys and wines are now not only competing with global brands, but beating them at it too. Heck, now there are even foreign chefs like Alex Moser (Andaz, New Delhi) and Will Bowlby (Kricket, London) cooking Indian food!

San Sebastian Gastronomika, the highly anticipated, international culinary congress attended by scores of Michelin starred chefs from around the globe, has chosen Indian cuisine as the theme this year. It’s evident that the time is finally ripe for Indian ingredients, flavours and cuisines to get their due credit on the world stage, and that’s a trend we can (and should) all get on board with back home.

Thomas Zacharias is partner and Executive Chef at The Bombay Canteen, Mumbai. He studied at The Culinary Institute of America in New York and has travelled extensively across 18 Indian states to entrench himself in the different elements of home-cooking.

 

 

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