Ash You Like It
Perhaps, in retaliation to the ubiquity of rainbow-coloured, glitter-dusted food, edibles across the globe got a goth makeover this year. The monochromatic fixation was courtesy an ingredient called activated charcoal, also known as activated carbon or coconut ash, produced by heating coconut shells until they carbonise and are then processed with steam. Introduced by the fast-food giant Burger King in 2015 in India, activated charcoal was seen lending an inky hue to desserts, detoxifying drinks and breads. Its purported benefits, which include cleansing or minimising gastrointestinal distress, lowering cholesterol and assisting weight management, have ensured its presence on the menu for detox fanatics. However, in all likeliness, its Insta-worthiness has catapulted it to fame.
All the Rage
Remember how amaranth’s rise to stardom elsewhere ensured its presence on Indian kitchen shelves? Well, unlike quinoa, amaranth isn’t quite yet passe. But more ubiquitous Indian ingredients have taken the world by storm. Moringa or drumsticks, makhana or lotus pods and turmeric have made a name for themselves in the West. Trickling eastward from there, moringa tea and powders and flavoured (and ridiculously priced) lotus pods have begun posing tantalisingly in departmental stores. Grains, especially those that are gluten-free or low in gluten, have peaked this year. The fibrous jowar or sorghum, for instance, has featured on most superfood listicles. Grown abundantly across the country, the millet is a rich source of protein and is packed with vitamins and minerals. Other gluten-free grains include quinoa, maize, buckwheat and amaranth. Just as quinoa gave way to sorghum, seaweed is the answer to kale. Apart from sushi, the nautical green was found in soups, salads and sauces and was even added to burgers, chips, bread and beer given its alluring umami flavour. Packed with antioxidants, it is rich in iodine, can fight obesity and even tackle osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disorders. Moreover, the sustainable crop leaves no negative carbon footprint and is touted to be the answer to chronic malnutrition.
On the World Map
The few Indian restaurants to have clinched the highest culinary honour — approval from the Michelin Guide — retained their respective stars this year. In the UK, Quilon by Sriram Aylur and Benares by Atul Kochhar upheld their one-star status. Vineet Bhatia reopened Vineet Bhatia London and was awarded a star. Soon after, he shut its doors permanently. Leela Palace Hotel’s Jamavar in London received its first Michelin star this year. Song of India by Manjunath Mural in Singapore and Vikas Khanna’s Junoon in New York City, too, kept hold of their sole Michelin stars. Khanna also ranked at sixth place in the Gazette Review’s list of Top 10 Chefs in the World, sharing space with Heston Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White, and Anth-ony Bourdain, among others.
Meanwhile, India was the guest country at the 19th edition of San Sebastian Gastronomika held in October. Star chefs Gaggan Anand (Gaggan, Bangkok), Sriram Aylur (Quilon, London), Vineet Bhatia (Vineet Bhatia, London), Srijith Gopinathan (Campton Place, San Francisco), Manish Mehrotra (Indian Accent, Delhi), Gulam Qureshi (Dum Pukht, Delhi) and JP Singh (Bukhara, Delhi) presented the diverse culinary traditions of the country to the world.
Home-cooked food from different regions of India asserted their individuality at luncheons organised at homes or at food pop-ups. From a traditional Assamese feast to a dham from Himachal Pradesh, food enthusiasts — at least in the major Indian cities — had a wide array of local delicacies to sample. Start-ups like COMMEAT that focus on building an online community linking home chefs and city gourmands are further enabling this much-needed drift towards region-specific cuisines. Increasingly, Indian chefs, too, were seen falling back on locally sourced ingredients and traditional recipes, moulded in accordance with their food philosophies.
All in One
The global food scene unanimously fetishised the humble one-bowl meal that was earlier the prerogative of Asians alone. Perfectly suited for ramen, khao suey and noodles, the bowl meal, given the endless combinations it lends itself to, became the ultimate vessel for bites of goodness. Thus began the proliferation of the Buddha Bowls, Breakfast Bowls, Curry Bowls, Power Bowls, and others, topped with caramalised onions, avocado and black beans or whatever else might be readily to hand. Given that it interacts well with the ilk of the casual diner, the one-bowl meal sashayed out of restaurant kitchens across the country. While many conjured meals inspired by the West, others decided to play with Indian dishes — wild mushroom khichdi, kadhi chawal topped with fried bhindi and kasundi marinated fish, among others.
Heavyweights in the culinary world made their way westward this year. Ritu Dalmia launched her latest venture Cittamani in Milan that serves Indian food but deviates from the standard Indian restaurant menu with dishes such as Matar ki Puri, Poha Pakora and Porcini Mushrooms wrapped in a Bikaneri Roti. Manish Mehrotra opened yet another Indian Accent on London’s Mayfair that features Soy Keema, Quail Egg and Lime Leaf Butter Pao, Kashmiri Morels and Parmesan Papad on its bill of fare, and Sujaan Singh established a foothold in New York with Baar Baar. The modern Indian restaurant offers a range of Indian flavours matched by contemporary culinary sensibilities — potato and bone-marrow kulcha, cauliflower mousse, Kashmiri-style lamb ribs, and of course, butter chicken.
It’s time to quaff home-grown liquor. After Bira, India now has its own gin — Hapusa and Greater Than (>). Known to most Delhiites as the gracious owner of Perch, Vaibhav Singh and Anand Virmani partnered to create India’s own craft gins. There’s also Rohan Rehani and Nitin Vishwas who are hoping to bring mead back to our tables. An alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey, the drink is said to find mention in the Rigveda. However, it may be more easily encountered in JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings – The Fellowship of The Ring, George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones and the poem Beowulf.
Game of Texture
A resolute move to add crisp and crunch to meals was seen on most menus — mostly done by way of using panko. Traditionally used in Japanese cooking, Indian chefs have turned to panko to fry or bake food to enhance the texture of their dishes. On its own, panko has no flavour, making it easy to pair and a light coating ensures crispiness that is retained for some time for panko absorbs very little oil.
The state’s intrusion into what thy plate shall cradle rocketed this year. From enforcing beef ban, imposing a liquor ban, curbing drunken driving and labelling momos carcinogenic, to the Prime Minister expressing concern over food wastage and insinuating a policy to regulate portions served at restaurants during his Man Ki Baat address, the country’s diet was fiddled with. In this game of mine-and-yours, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee jumped in when the state won the GI tag for the rosogulla. In other news, the humble khichdi exponentially grew in importance when it was labelled the brand food of India during the World Food India convention in Delhi. Union Minister for Food Processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Minister of State for Food Processing Sadhvi Niranjan, and yoga guru Baba Ramdev posed alongside a gigantic vessel as 918 kg of khichdi was prepared by 30 chefs led by Sanjeev Kapoor to create a world record.