What India is Dishing Up Across the Globe

Shivangana Vasudeva  |  Updated: June 27, 2016 12:14 IST

What India is Dishing Up Across the Globe
Indian food is hot on the global table. It’s omnipresent and is slowly conquering world kitchens. There are restaurants from Dubai to New York dedicated to desi fare but there’s more to it than chicken tikkaand masala dosa. Indian cuisine is complex and mature still there is a lot of room for intuition. Some of India's best recognized faces in the culinary world and masters of their trade are reinventing classic dishes and combining them with global cuisines to capture newer audiences.

Talk to anyone about a new wave of Indian restaurateurs in England, and they will point to Atul Kochhar as an inspiration. The first Indian chef to win a Michelin Star, he runs three Indian restaurants in London – Benaras, Indian Essence and Sindhu. “I realized that Indian food is not perceived in the same way by the British as it is by Indians. I wanted to present Indian food abroad in a way that people will appreciate it. Each one of my restaurants has a different character and style. At Benaras you can enjoy a Scottish Crab Kofta while at Indian Essence the Chicken Tikka Pie served with Spiced Prune Compote is everyone’s favourite,” he tells me.
To innovate and personalize a dish without totally stripping a recipe of its originality is a masterful craft. Zorawar Kalra’s Farzi Café has created a market for designer Indian food where classics are dressed differently but with rich, traditional flavours and is gaining recognition on an international stage with the newly opened outlet in Dubai. “While Farzi Café in India focuses on elevating and re-introducing Indian cuisine in a new avatar, Farzi Café in Dubai offers global cuisine with a combination of Arabic and Indian influences. Like one of our most ordered Arabic influenced dish on the Dubai menu is Farzified Shawarma Biryani, crusted layered rice biryani with grilled chicken served along with fried egg, green chili curry and labneh raita,” says Zorawar Kalra.

The influence of Indian food is strong with dishes like Okra Salad in Semolina Shell, Dal Chawal Arancini and Pita Golgappas on the tapas menu and in the mains, there's Charmoula Crusted Paneer Tikka and Crab and Spinach Poriyal while some dishes have been given plot twists with local ingredients ingredients like dates, zatar spice and sumac powder.
Over the years, people’s palettes have developed to crave flavours that are exotic and varied. New York, for instance is hungry for more sophisticated and truly delicious food. Indian food was introduced majorly by immigrants and has been accepted rather slowly in the Big Apple. The rise of modern Indian cooking is a reflection of a change in this scenario. Indian chefs are now demonstrating their imaginative blends of cuisines, instilling the philosophy of Indian cuisine into familiar ingredients and incorporating new methods to create an appetite for something more adventurous.

Since Indian Accent’s debut in the city, Chef Manish Mehrotra has been a busy man trying to reinterpret nostalgic Indian dishes with modern techniques, “The idea is to give the diners the real flavours of India which are usually under represented outside the country but in a contemporary style. We use local and seasonal ingredients and marry them with Indian flavours. We are using ramps that go very well with Soft Paneer, my all-time favourite Soft Shell Crabs which we’re getting fresh and we also have Pathar Kebab made with beef.”

When two cultures meet, slight changes are bound occur naturally. After a successful stint in Mumbai, chef and consultant of international renown, Flyod Cardoz has moved to New York to take Indian food to the next level. I ask him how he translates Indian food to the American palate, “Indian cuisine has an increasing appeal for American palates but not heavy, greasy curries with unrecognized ingredients. There is also a difference in preferences. For instance, Indians may like their meat soft and tender while American love medium-rare. I may change the way ingredients are used or use traditional flavours to enhance local ingredients like Black Sea Bass, Quail, Brussel Sprouts or Squashes but my food is still very Indian at its core. This sort of fusion is good to make them understand what our food is all about. My Cheddar Cheese Naan was one of the highest recognized dishes and so was the Duck Samosa. At Paowalla, I’ll be playing a lot with whole grains like sabundana, nachini and poha.”

Some will argue that the modern interpretation of Indian cuisine comes at the cost of authenticity but Chef Kunal Kapoor disagrees. He believes that we need to revolutionize Indian food to represent its accomplishments and diversity on foreign shores,“To be able to innovate you have to go back to tradition. It's about adapting your food to local cultures and palates and at the same time reviving old forgotten Indian dishes by giving them a modern makeover to attract the attention it deserves." With one foot in the future and one in the past, the menu at Patiala in Dubai reads like a romantic fairy-tale of desi khaana marrying innovative Indian food. Simple classics like the Bhuna Pyaaz, Dal Takda, Ajwain Naan compete for your attention against creative dishes like the Chilean Sea Bass wrapped in Kasundi Mustard, Strawberry-Balsamic Chutney or the Mango Lassi Ice Cream.

CommentsOne chef who is determined to modernize Indian cuisine without sacrificing its distinctive character is Chef Sanjeev Kapoor. His restaurant Signature has curried a lot of favour in Dubai where the menu showcases a medley of quintessential Indian ingredients and cooking techniques. “The idea is not to alter the ‘Indianness’ of the dishes but give them a little twist to suit the western palate, " says Chef Kapoor. Be it the Blue Lobster Biryani, the tangy Mango Murgh Makhani or the stone-flamed Lamb Chops with Haleem, all reveal the heritage of our national cuisine. 

Indian food has always been synonymous with home comfort but now may be the time to move away from the mainstream to a more contemporary setting. This new embrace allows people to dream. It’s a challenge these Indian chefs have happily taken on to introduce niche Indian dishes to a larger and more curious audience. Will this be a pivotal chapter in the epic story of Indian cuisine? Only time will tell. 

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