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Hearty, homely & truly heritage

Indigenous foods, ancient grains, lesser-known spices, and gut-friendly foods are finding favour in kitchens today, writes Neeta Lal
Last Updated : 14 November 2020, 19:15 IST

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As the restaurant industry tries to regain its mojo post easing of lockdown restrictions, chefs and restaurateurs are redefining their business models bringing in conceptual changes in their operations right from procurement and processing to delivery and service.

With a surge in mindful consumption, organic food, vegan diets, sugar-free products, gourmet food, vegetarian dishes and other health foods are ruling the roost. Contactless deliveries, pick-ups and takeaways and investments in smart technology have become the defining mantras.

Most chefs concur that the pandemic has inculcated healthy eating and zero-waste habits in diners combined with a mindfulness towards the environment. Respecting this trend, restaurant menus are incorporating more plant-based food, fruits and vegetables.

According to Chef Aman Puri who helms a popular street food restaurant in Delhi, a developing pattern was seen a year ago in plant-based eating as diners turned wary of health concerns linked to meat-based diets. “The food business has since continuously been thinking up vegetarian offerings for diners and the pandemic has further exacerbated this trend. With the culinary grammar being rewritten, chefs are being pushed to get more creative. It has been a time of enormous learning and unlearning for us as well.”

According to Puri, the tectonic shifts in the hospitality industry have thrown up some other new trends as well such as that of gourmet chaat. “Despite Indians’ overwhelming love for street food, few people are venturing out to eat roadside chaat due to hygiene concerns, he elaborates. “So a rise in QSRs (Quick Service Restaurants) serving authentic street food that is also hygienically prepared and convenient to deliver has emerged to fill this void.”

Homing in on desi fare

Chef-restaurateur Radhika Khandelwal sees an overarching domination of regional and seasonal ingredients in restaurant food at this time. “It could be something
lying in your home kitchen or it could be something your mom or your grandmother makes for you. It’s all about recreating nostalgia through flavours and serving them in a whole new avatar. I am also focusing a lot on nootropic or gut-friendly foods. Fermenting, which is now a mega-trend, is actually an age-old tradition used in Indian homes. We are using multiple ferments in our dishes. The idea is to celebrate the diversity of Indian ingredients but using modern technology with ancient practices in sync.”

The young chef, who runs a popular eatery in Gurugram, says she uses a sil batta (traditional stone grinder) to make a moringa pesto which is used in a sous vide dish. “In my kitchen, you’ll find bimbli, masoor dal, moringa, fresh turmeric, pipli, naag kesar and multiple other ingredients that are intrinsically Indian. I draw my inspiration from our desi culinary heritage to showcase our regional biodiversity.”

Go native

Some chefs have observed a perceptible shift in consumer preferences for indigenous foods. Chef Harish Chandra Raturi, who helms an award-winning Delhi-based multicuisine eatery, says that the trend gained momentum during the lockdown when people were cooking at home, digging deep into family recipes and leveraging ingredients lying at home.

“This trend inculcated clean eating habits focusing on nutrition and nourishment. Keeping this in mind, we’re offering healthy dishes further reinforcing our offerings with immunity-boosting ingredients and spices like cinnamon, clove, thyme, rosemary etc,” he explains.

Raturi’s ambitious menu, which flaunts inventive dishes such as Achari Soya Chaap, Mutton Gilaffi Sheek and Salsa Potato, are infused with wellness-inducing
spices and ingredients, “as health is a big concern these days.”

“Numerous chef-driven, high-end eateries which were earlier focused on giving clients a dine-in experience, are currently foraying into the delivery business. This has led to a surge in takeaways and pick-ups at the restaurants as diners are avoiding stepping inside dine-in facilities. This has forced many restaurant businesses to transform their dine-in only business model into a delivery centric business model keeping an unwavering focus on healthful menus,” elaborates Raturi.

Grab & go meals

Award-winning Chef Shamshul Wahid, Group Executive Chef of a leading pan-India restaurant chain says the biggest trend these days is that of comfort food. “Such food gives you joy, happiness, satiates your emotions and teases your taste buds. It is cooked simply with minimal ingredients and simple procedures. In fact, it requires a special skill as there’s nothing to hide behind for e.g., your mother’s khichdi, the simple curry made in the pressure cooker, that simple homey pasta, risotto or a mutton/chicken curry. At our restaurants and our home delivery services, we’re noticing this as a strong trend.”

Another popular trend, adds Wahid, has been quirky food menus and “fun dining” fusion of Indian and Chinese dishes. This experimental spin on classic dishes is akin to a culinary adventure, he adds. Restaurant menus have also been sharpened and shortened, “because in such times we would like to focus on our bestsellers,” opines Wahid.

In the new food segment, the chef is doing a lot of handmade pastas and organic eggs.

“Our Goodness To Go’ offerings are healthy indulgences that you can grab and go. We realised a lot of people would like a very quick meal. So we’re doing a lot of sandwiches, beverages, breads which we bake in-house and desserts. All in all, these are very interesting times,” sums up the restaurateur.

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Published 14 November 2020, 19:05 IST

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