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Dhungar Paneer Tikka Masal at Sagar Ratna
Dhungar Paneer Tikka Masal at Sagar Ratna

Regional chefs and restauranteurs give insightful 'food for thought' about the popularity and challenges of Indian curries in a country with global diaspora

By Sherry Gupta

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Published: Wed 26 Jan 2022, 11:54 AM

Last updated: Wed 26 Jan 2022, 11:56 AM

The intrigued and intense flavours of Indian cuisine has always allured people across the globe, especially the Indian curries and desserts. Indian curries garnered regionally diverse influences and together created a sumptuous banquet of smells, colours, and flavours. The meaty traditions of Mughalai curries, the healthy vegetarian fare of Southern region, the glowing tandoori gravies from Punjab, and the Euro-Indian fusion dishes, is loved by all the other nationalities in the UAE and worldwide.

Connects Very Well with all expats

Sanjay Vazirani, Chairman and Managing Director of Foodlink, says: “Indian cuisine certainly connects very well with all expats in UAE. As per the recent KPMG survey, top three cuisines here are Indian, Chinese and Italian. Samosa and Biryani with the most popular Butter chicken can connect everyone here quite easily.”

Lagan Ka Murgh at Dhaba Lane
Lagan Ka Murgh at Dhaba Lane

Broad Range of Regional Curries

Indian Curries varies in its flavour and texture from state to state based on the local produce and climate. “There’s hundreds of varieties of Indian curry bringing the taste of Indian culture to one’s plate. The taste and texture vary as we travel from one region to another. However, the soul and warmth remain the same across with the outburst of flavours. The UAE is probably the only destination where one can experience a broad range of regional Indian curries and everyone has their own favourite,” explains Chef Sawai Singh, Executive Chef at Sagar Ratna.

As Varied as UAE’s Population

Coconut Prawn Curry at Punjab Grill
Coconut Prawn Curry at Punjab Grill

UAE enjoys a very unique and cosmopolitan status where more than 190 nationalities live and enjoy global cuisines with different flavourings.

“Likewise, Indian curries offers diverse bases that range from mild spice (Yogurt white base or Onion Tomatoes base) to the red-hot spice (Goan style Vindaloo). In other words, Indian curries are as varied as the population of the UAE, so there are multiple options to choose from,” says Jitendra Negi, Executive Chef at Dhaba Lane.

Indian Curry for Emirati Palette

In the world of culinary science, it’s a must to address the needs as per the country and demographics of guests and their palate. Many Indian restaurants in the UAE have nailed the curry game to make suitable to the Emirati palette who love the richness of Indian cuisines. Chef Sandeep Ail, Executive Chef at Punjab Grill, also notes: “In my 12 years cooking in the UAE, our butter chicken is by far the most popular Indian dish on the menu. I believe that the smokiness of the chicken tikka with the umami rich tomato curry, moderately spiced is what makes butter chicken very popular with Emiratis.”

Extra Dollop of Butter Always Works

Chef Mohammed Ali of India Bistro says: “Arabic guests like their Indian food mild less spicy, but love the richness of the cuisine, an extra dollop of butter is always a winner. Seafood and meat take the front row instead of vegetarian options for Arabic guests. Gulab jamun and jalebi’s are of course all-time hits.”

Staying Truthful to Authenticity

“We stay authentic to our roots because we feel Indian food has a lot of history and culture and process to it and we want our guests to experience the same tradition. The only aspect we keep in mind is health and using high quality minimal fat and oils providing the same taste,” according to Panchali Mahendra, Managing Director of Atelier House Hospitality.

Common Misconceptions in the UAE

There are numerous misconceptions about Indian food. Some of these misconceptions include that all Indian food is spicy and Indian food is pretty much the same across the entire nation. Indian Chefs/Restauranteurs in the UAE look at these common misconceptions and try to provide accurate image.

All Indian Curries have Curry Powder: Curry powder is not commonly found in Indian kitchen. Curry powder is usually a blend of many different spices that are traditionally used in Indian cooking. However different dishes call for different spice mix and no one uses a standard spice mix. Chef Negi says: “Indian curry is cooked with Curry Powder. Garam Masala, could be the closest to being amalgamation of popular Indian spices, nothing like Curry Powder can be remotely defined. In fact, Curry bases are so varied in nature that it wouldn't be possible to have a quick fix spice for the same.”

Indian curries are always hot: Chef Ali of India Bistro says, “The belief that Indian curries are always hot is a myth. You have to try it to find out how every spice has its own personality.”

Indian Food and Curry Are The Same Thing: Chef Sawai Singh of Sagar Ratna says: “India is a large country and several regions consume different items. E.g. South Indian food is very different to North Indian food. Almost every state in India has its own cuisine. Besides that, not all dishes in India are curry based. There are many popular dishes which are non-gravy based and are consumed on regular basis.”

Latest Trends In the UAE

From local produce being the hero, to visual appearance and plant based eating, Indian restaurants are expanding its reach following the latest trends among its global patrons residing in the UAE.

Amalgamation of Local Produce and Indian Spices: Chef Ail of Punjab Grill says, “Being in the UAE, no ingredient is unobtainable. We serve fresh Dibba Bay oysters-fresh, fried or baked with Indian inspired accompaniments. We make a lovely baked Chilean Seabass with Punjabi Kadhi or Roast French Duck Breasts with Vindaloo curry. These are all examples where we take superb quality ingredients and display them using contemporary Indian cooking.

Reasonably Priced Indian Concepts: Chef Amrish Sood of Jehangirs says, “Craze for Indian street food dishes is on the high, they are cost-effective, brings in an element of entertainment and fun on the table.”

Chef Negi of Dhaba Lane adds, “I still feel although an old concept, Thali is still popular amongst many nationalities. This could be primarily attributed to the rise in Thali-based concepts in the UAE F&B market as well as the demand for all you can eat at a reasonable price in moderate portions.”

Visually Appealing: Sanjay Vazirani of Foodlink says, “The craze is to shoot that Pani Puri and Biryani on your camera and put it out on Instagram. Refinement and modernisation is the winner and our chefs are bringing that to life and how. Making the same curry look beautiful with a visual appeal that's unmatchable. To make you eat with your eyes first is a top trend amongst many modern Indian chefs.”

Plant-Based Eating: Chef Singh of Sagar Ratna says, “Loads of people are slowly enjoying plant based food more due to its nutritional and environmental benefits. It mwakes Indian cuisine and recipes their go to spot considering the number of vegetarian options available at an Indian restaurant will be way higher than any other cuisine.”

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