Sitting with family, unwrapping Christmas gifts and sipping on wine made by his grandmother — these seemingly simple moments are Thomas Zacharias’ most cherished memories of Christmases spent at home in Kochi. “And then followed the feast, the highlight of which would be duck curry, a spicy and seasonal preparation that the women in the family laboured over in the kitchen a day prior,” recounts Zacharias.
This year, at The Bombay Canteen in Mumbai, where he dons the chef’s hat, Zacharias has plucked that family staple from his memories and placed it on the special menu for Christmas. The popular eatery that has come to be known for evoking nostalgia through the food it serves, decided to extend the theme to the festive season. “Several of us have tapped into our roots to bring to our patrons dishes that are closely associated with Christmas yet are local. Such as, chef Floyd Cardoz has shared his recipe of the braised oxtail, a Goan specialty. One of our colleagues gave the menu the Pork Sambari, an east Indian delicacy which is eaten with fugias, a kind of fried bread,” explains Zacharias, who has retained the authentic recipe of duck curry that liberally uses chillies and peppercorns in its preparation.
While the Western staples of Christmas, such as a variety of stuffed roast meat, a pudding, mulled wine, the Yule Log and gingerbread cookies, are now readily available, chefs are increasingly attempting to set their menu apart by reinterpreting the traditional Christmas dishes.
At Delhi’s Olive Bar and Kitchen, chef Sujan Sarkar is eschewing the traditional sit-down format of Christmas meals, and is promoting the idea of a brunch party instead. “We wanted to give Christmas a twist. So while we have all the regular elements of turkey, gammon ham, chicken and basically everything else; but instead of serving it at a table format, we have live counters serving out food in a way that people can eat and stroll,” says Sarkar. The gorgeous courtyard also plays a part in this. “People always complain if they don’t get seating in the courtyard. So this Christmas, we plan to have the courtyard accessible to everyone. Family and friends can roam around, spend time together and of course, eat and drink,” he says.
Similarly, at Mumbai’s Toshin Chocolatier Patissier, chef and owner Toshin Shetty has used elements from the Christmas pudding to create the dessert he calls Eternal. “It’s a tart that uses gingerbread and has nuts, cranberries and some spices,” explains Shetty, who isn’t fond of rum in the traditional pudding. “I like the pecan tart with caramel and used that as my base to design this new dessert. The sourness of cranberries and spices cut the sweetness of caramel and the nuts give it a crunch,” says Shetty.
Meanwhile, Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italian in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj, which launched earlier this year, will be celebrating the festival with its csutomers. Apart from a menu comprising Whole Roast Baby Chicken, Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli, Pan Fried Sole Fillet & Baby Shrimp and the very famous Christmas Plum Pudding served with a boozy sauce, the property will be giving away presents ranging from dessert, drinks, starters and even Jamie Oliver cook books. “The idea is to celebrate Christmas and winter in a big way with great flavours and fresh ingredients. Hearty meats, seasonal fresh veggies, warm sauces and simplicity brings the best out of every meal and thats what we want our guests to enjoy and relish,” says Bakul Kodika, brand chef at Jamie’s Restaurant group India.
At Rachel Goenka and Irfan Pabaney’s south Mumbai restaurant, The Sassy Spoon, the new Christmas menu is a bit of all this, a creative endeavour that retains the festive spirit through presentation and ingredients, some of them local while others are typically “Western”. There is the traditional roast turkey with gravy, glazed carrots, French beans and cranberry compote, and there are also dishes such as Pecan Tarts and Star anise Pannacotta, served with red wine poached pear flavoured with cinnamon that use nuts and spices but not in the conventional way. “Christmas is widely celebrated by people across communities in this city and they aren’t necessarily looking for the festive staples. As long as one is able to offer something different — it also challenges us as chefs and creators — and retains the Christmas spirit, the patrons will welcome it,” says Pabaney.
(With inputs from Shantanu David)