From carts to charts

 

By eschewing curry-house preconceptions and serving food from lesser-known parts of the nation, a new wave of Indian restaurants overseas is helping the country's cuisine rise to the top of the global culinary rankings

by

Anam Khan

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Published: Thu 26 Jan 2023, 10:03 AM

Last updated: Thu 26 Jan 2023, 2:30 PM

Not everyone would enjoy running an Indian restaurant in a foreign country. It might be difficult to create menus, work with materials that are readily available locally, and provide experiences and foods that have a strong connection to the motherland. However, we have observed several outstanding chefs and restaurants in the UAE who are doing a fantastic job with Indian food

Indian food on the global stage


Farzified Shawarma Biryani by Farzi Cafe.
Farzified Shawarma Biryani by Farzi Cafe.

It is challenging to discuss Indian food as a single, cohesive thing. There cannot be a single European cuisine; Hungarian food will differ from Italian food, which will differ from Spanish food, and so on. India presents a trickier situation. There are several religions, each with its eating traditions. There are many climate conditions as well. Modern-Indian cuisine is now a buzzword in the restaurant business. Indian cuisine is shedding its traditional-and-good image in a slew of contemporary restaurants across the UAE. From Dubai to Ajman, there is a growing number of Indian restaurants, serving both modern and progressive styles of cuisine, and revamping classic dishes such as chicken tikka, tandoori chicken and rasam in a whimsical array of textures and flavours. Breaking new ground in redefining Indian cuisine is Farzi Cafe, located at several locations in Dubai. The restaurant is synonymous with envelope-pushing progressive cooking that involves variety-filled menus, inspirations from Indian street food and renowned dishes such as Farzified Shawarma Biryani and Dal Chawal Arancini. According to Zorawar Kalra, Founder of Farzi Café, the team at Farzi Dubai went adventurous to find new food ideas. “Within our latest menu evolution rolled out at Farzi Dubai, we have incorporated unique spices and tastes from various regions and states in India each representing their different culture and heritage. To story tell these plates and their history of them, we do this through the visual plating and through incorporating live at-table presentations of dishes where the Chef and culinary team can interact and explain dishes to diners.”

Zorawar Kalra, Founder, Farzi Cafe.
Zorawar Kalra, Founder, Farzi Cafe.

Featured at the top


Lamb Chops by Mohalla.
Lamb Chops by Mohalla.

In February 2022 survey, Chef’s Pencil, a food magazine based in Australia, ranked international cuisines on Instagram in 2021 over 12 months. Japanese cuisine is topped with over 15.5 million hashtags. Italian and Indian cuisines –the buzzing cuisines— came second and third. Indian cuisine emerged as the second most popular international cuisine and had the fastest growth rate of 41 per cent and inching closer to overtaking Italian food. But what distinguishes it from other cuisines so significantly?

Adwait Anantwar, Head Chef, Mohalla Restaurant.
Adwait Anantwar, Head Chef, Mohalla Restaurant.

Besides ingredients, technique plays a big part in shaping a cuisine. At Mohalla Restaurant, located in Dubai Design District, Head Chef, Adwait Anantwar, believes in bridging the gap between a restaurant and Indian street food. “I believe that the accessibility of Indian ingredients is growing, and chefs around the world have been trying to retain the original ethos of the Indian flavour profiles. However, there is always an influence of the local palate and slight adjustments done to cater to the local palate.”

Flavour, taste, and variety are some of the reasons why Indian cuisine has become so popular. Another fact is the presence of the Indian community abroad, which has also been a major reason behind the success and popularity of Indian food abroad. Today popular desi fares such as chicken tikka, kebabs, tandoori chicken, biryani, masala dosa, naan, and curries are hot favourites and are available everywhere.

Cultural connection on the modern world’s culinary map

Rang Mahal by JW Marquis.
Rang Mahal by JW Marquis.

Saket Ranjan, Chef De Cuisine of Kitchen6 and Rang Mahal, at JW Marriott Marquis, Indian cuisine is multi-faceted and vibrant due to the many regional influences. With modern Indian cuisine growing in prominence, more chefs are optimistic that Indian food can make its mark on the world’s dining landscape. "With a lot of exodus from India to different parts of the world, traditional Indian dishes have evolved and been adapted to suit the local palates around the globe.

Take England for example, where ‘Chicken Tikka Masala’ has become a national dish with heavy usage of cream, toning down the dish to suit the local palate. ‘Bunny chow’ is the South African take on Indian food, a popular dish where a hollowed-out loaf of bread is filled with curry and served with a side of salad," explains Ranjan.

The demand for Indian spices has gone up in the world markets in recent times. Previously, it was only curry powder or some selected ready-to-use spice mixes that were in demand. Today whole Indian spices are becoming popular and are found in the spice markets and also in the kitchens of some fine dining restaurants. You would be finding some signature Indian spice markets today. Spices such as cinnamon, cloves, star anise, black cardamom, tamarind seeds and coriander (dhania) are quite popular abroad. The impeccable taste, complex flavour, richness, texture, ethnicity, unique blend of spices and variety has made Indian cuisine very popular worldwide.

Sanjay Vazirani, CEO of Foodlink Global Restaurants.
Sanjay Vazirani, CEO of Foodlink Global Restaurants.

Sanjay Vazirani, CEO of Foodlink Global Restaurants and Catering Services, highlights that diverse Indian diaspora populations with original cultures are significant to credit for the development of numerous fusion cuisines when discussing how the flavours of Indian restaurants outside of India have changed. "Indian flavours are adored all over the world. Different methods, ingredients, cooking techniques, styles, and presentation patterns are being borrowed by other global cuisines, leading to fusion cuisines or food mash-ups that combine contrasting culinary traditions or techniques into a single dish, and this is one of the fastest-growing food trends."

Vazirani further adds: "I believe adding a little twist can always add to the charm, but the soul of the Indian dish should stay intact. For example, our ‘Burrata Butter Chicken’ is prepared most authentically with char smoked chicken in creamy tomato sauce, scented with fenugreek leaves. But the dish is then finished off with a twist of Italian Cheese. It is also given a tempting twist with the quirky addition of Burrata cheese on the top that elevates the flavour profiling of this classic curry."

Kalra sees this intervention of Indian spices as a concoction of history and resources. “Indian food has had a big impact on world cuisine. This is because Indian cuisine includes a diverse spectrum of regional and traditional foods. Indian food is different in terms of soil type, climate, and culture. There are several states in India, and the cuisines of each vary greatly from one another, dependent on ingredients that may be found nearby such as spices, herbs, vegetables, and fruits.”

He further added: “Other nations in the global market have shown an interest in Indian food due to its flavour, texture, ethnicity, and flavourful taste. Global cuisine, including Italian, Mexican, South African, UK and US cuisine, has adopted many Indian cooking methods, ingredients, techniques, and presentation styles. in particular, the way we prepare meat and the way we use ingredients like onion, garlic, and spices.”

Blends of happiness and taste

Chef Kamini Jha from The Cinnamon Club.
Chef Kamini Jha from The Cinnamon Club.

There are few, if any, other cuisines in the world that use flavour combinations as unusual as those found in Indian food. Additionally, Indian food is quite adaptable, because the recipes are suitable for all tastes, ranging from very sweet to very salty, peppery, or sour. Indian food is diverse. Taking customers on a tasty trail Chef Kamini Jha from The Cinnamon Club ensures that food helps customers to explore the culture of India. "In our menu at The Cinnamon Club, we offer dishes from various parts of India and a variety of options outside of 'Butter Chicken' and 'Biryani'. Diners can choose from street-style food known as 'chaats like 'Bhalla' and 'Papdi Chaat', as well as more traditional dishes like 'Rajasthani Lamb' and 'Malabari Fish Curry' to modern 'Gulab Jamun Cheese Cake'. We make sure to keep the authenticity of the dishes by not altering the ingredients and giving customers a true Indian dining experience."

However, the most distinctive feature of Indian cuisine is that it is very hard to identify or pinpoint a particular trend or taste. It is hard to adequately express in a phrase, much less a single word. However, if we were to categorise it, we would say that it is distinctively unique. Indicating Indian food as a prominent cuisine, Anantwar highlights the complexities of Indian flavours as a driving force behind its popularity. “The sheer variety of foods, flavours, and ingredients that are offered throughout the Indian subcontinent, in my opinion, allows chefs to explore much more. Once you get a grasp on the intricacy of flavour profiles and ingredient textures, you can create extraordinary experiences. Worldwide, chefs have been greatly impacted by this. On a global scale, you may find Indian characteristics in progressive tasting menus.”



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