Growing up in Kolkata, Gaggan Anand attended plenty of Big Fat Indian Weddings, complete with band, baraat and khaana. One of his more vivid memories from the ceremony consists of little ceramic cups in which “expresso” coffee was served, to rally the wedding party through the long hours of the ceremony.
When he began his eponymous restaurant in Bangkok, Anand played around with that memory and came up with the Truffle Cappuccino, a silky soup. “I’m inspired by the common man’s food and snacks, dhokla to papdi chaat. And people seem to like it,” he says over the phone.
He has good reason to be pleased with his efforts. His restaurant, Gaggan’s “progressive Indian cuisine” was recently listed at number three in the Restaurant Magazine’s list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2014, jumping up seven places from last year.
Anand specialises in applying molecular gastronomy to desi khaana, the results of which are both whimsical and wonderful. His Chowpati 2050 is a futuristic take on the papdi chaat with spherified yoghurt (shaping the liquid into spheres) and mango chutney stretched out on crisp papdi; his Indian foie gras is a delicate coddling of mutton brains with tangy fresh ginger and sour cream. “When people come to eat at Gaggan, they’re astonished to be eating something so familiar but which looks so different.
Once, a 75-year-old Jain lady came with her family and they ordered a Chowpati 2050. The lady said she didn’t want to eat something that looked like a raw egg yolk. I convinced her to try it. The expression on her face, when she tasted the flavours, was priceless,” he says.
Among the other five Indian cuisine restaurants (four of them are Delhi-based, new entry Karavalli is in Bangalore), two are contemporary Indian and are heralding a change in taste. Apart from Gaggan, restaurants such as Indian Accent and Varq are changing the nature of Indian cuisine, using modern techniques and exotic ingredients without compromising their roots. It is a move that is being embraced by food aficionados.
“India has an ancient culinary heritage and the restaurant business is still a relatively new custom. We’ve always had a culture of eating at home, and we used to go out mainly to eat foreign food. When we went out to eat Indian, we wanted it to be masaledar and full of butter. That’s changed now. While there is a plethora of restaurants doing an admirable job of preserving the legacy of Indian food, you have a breed of new chefs and restaurants who are pushing boundaries and innovating Indian food and making a huge impact on our palate,” says Rashmi Uday Singh, food writer and the Indian-subcontinent chair of both the World’s and Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
No one does this better than Manish Mehrotra continued…