October 4, 2021 12:30:46 pm
Chef Saransh Goila is setting his culinary footprints in the country, one food initiative at a time. From opening the popular restaurant ‘Goila Butter Chicken’ in various cities, writing the food travelogue India on my Platter to leaving everyone in awe of his interesting food videos on social media accounts, Goila is the young Indian chef to look out for.
Currently hosting Zee Zest’s food show, Grand Trunk Rasoi Season 2, the chef will take viewers on an epicurean expedition and share food anecdotes, trivia and recipes from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.
How was the experience of travelling to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh during the show from a culinary perspective?
Grand Trunk Rasoi Season 2 has made a close place in my heart because it maps the Grand Trunk road all the way from Afghanistan to Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Since my maternal grandfather hails from Sindh, it gave me a reason to look back into the flavours and stories, to learn about the cultures and how people and food have travelled across this route. There has been massive learning for me as a chef. I didn’t know all the recipes. Generally, when you are doing a recipe show, you know everything from scratch. It was a way for me to learn about different cultures, history and new recipes that I never cooked before. It is different from a recipe show as it involves a lot of research and travelling.
What is the most bizarre food fact you came to know during this journey?
One of the most bizarre things I learned was how ingredients have come to India and then gone back to Afghanistan. Also, the recipes which used to be simpler have become fully unique because of this trade route. There’s this dish in Afghanistan that has dumplings in it and that’s pretty much because of this trade. I had imagined Afghani and Pakistani cuisines to be a certain way. But then when you really go deep into it, you realise that small things have huge differences. In Bangladesh, they make tehri biryani. Their chicken biryani is tehri and that’s the only way they make biryani and take pride in it. In India, we debate about veg and non-veg biryani. While in Bangladesh, it’s the most acceptable truth that their biryani is actually the only biryani.
There’s something called purdah biryani in Pakistan where you envelop biryani from all sides with the dough which makes it very intriguing and difficult to make. That was very fascinating. It is exciting because it makes you want to cook again. It really opens your eyes and reminds you that what you think of food may not be the truth as soon as you cross the border. From a historical perspective, there was a lot to learn from the eyes of food and cuisine. As a kid, I thought dry fruits are Indian but I learnt they came from Afghanistan.
One dish from each of these four countries that one must try.
From Afghanistan, one must try ashak which is essentially a dumpling made the Afghani way and served with yoghurt. From Pakistan, I would select Purdah biryani and Lahori kadhai chicken. From India, the closest to my heart would be dal pakwaan. From Bangladesh, there’s this recipe called doi maach which is a medley of two fish.
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From writing a food travelogue to now hosting a food travel show–what piques your interest towards discovering regional cuisines?
I love meeting new people and learning on the ground. I love learning culture of another town, city or country. In the show, we have a segment where we are interacting with a local in the cities we are travelling to. We did a lot of research online and found chefs, historians, bloggers and custodians of cuisines in those places. We found at least one person who could give us a local flavour or touch to be able to look at the recipe or city from a local person’s eye. They were able to add value to facts as they corrected us and made us a lot more aware. That’s why I love travelling. My peg to travel is to make new friends. Prior to this show, I knew no one in these three countries. It helped me connect to at least 3-4 people in these countries who shared common interests in food and culture.
How do you think regional cuisines can find a place in mainstream restaurants?
When somebody goes to a restaurant as a consumer, they are looking for an experience, a story. You want to go and have a good time. A lot of times, regional cuisines and dishes are presented very boringly. By presentation, I don’t mean food presentation. As soon as people start thinking of regional cuisines, they think it is old-world. They also start presenting and marketing it like that. I feel that is where there’s a mismatch. One needs to look at these recipes and cuisines from the lens of the world that we live in today where you revive these recipes but you present and market them in today’s fashion.
If I have to serve purdah biryani from Pakistan or a classic thandai from Banaras in my restaurant, it needs to be presented in a cool and accessible manner. That bridge is what needs to be built. To make this not a battle to revive these recipes but for them to naturally integrate into today’s dining scene. It’s more of a marketing outlook than a recipe outlook. The recipe is tasty enough for a diner but what sometimes doesn’t excite them is the way we approach them. Some chefs and restaurants have already begun understanding this and more will follow gradually.
From papad pasta to papad lasagna — your Instagram feed is all about your food experiments. Tell us more.
I think a lot of is sitting at home during the lockdown and going crazy. I really feel the kitchen is like a playground for a chef or people who love to cook. I had a lot of papad leftover in my drawer. I realised it would get spoiled if left there for months. I asked myself, what can I do with this? That’s something which is very important for a chef to ask. I’ve been eating papad ki sabzi since childhood. So, I experimented and came up with these dishes. Sometimes, the experiments do wonders, sometimes they fail. In this case, I was lucky. When I ate it, I realised it totally worked and I knew I was going to make it again. I think it’s mostly about not being bound by conventional notions of how certain things need to be made. You need to be open to experimenting.
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What has been your favourite lockdown experiment?
I think papad pasta is my favourite lockdown experiment. From trying to finish a papad packet in my home to now having tens of such packets, it has become my most loved and prized ingredient. I, in fact, want to go to old-school papad making shops where I can go and talk to people who make papad. I really want to know why papad is so important to us and what is it that people love about it. It is also gluten-free which makes it such a great food item.
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What has been the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on the food industry?
I think it has been a really tough time for the food industry. I know a lot of chefs who lost their jobs and restaurants. We would have definitely loved more support from the government for the hospitality sector. A lot of us have been working online. The industry is still very stressed and it has gone back by few years, to say the least, financially and resource-wise. It is not the rosiest of times and it’s been very demotivating for the whole sector. I really hope for somebody to realise that the sector needs to be saved. Otherwise, we are looking at the slow death of legendary restaurants and places that you don’t want to see since India is all about food.
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