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Suresh Hinduja

modern Indian cuisine

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 From Time out Mumbai 2004
Plate tectonics
We happily order contemporary European, Italian, even Japanese food. So why aren’t we thinking out of the kadhai with Indian cuisine too? asks Rachel Lopez. 
The next time you’re at an Indian restaurant ordering a platter of reshmi tikka, mopping it up butter chicken gravy with a garlic naan or spooning dal tadka from a metal bowl over your share of jeera rice, think about what your well-travelled, free-spending, trend-savvy counterparts in other cities are doing. 
If they’re in New York restaurants like Devi or Tabla, they’re probably being served crunchy bhindi fry as a pre-dinner snack, a square pyramid of sukkha bhel on clear glass plate and drops of meetha and teekha chutney on each side as an appetiser-for-one, having dal as soup, and a tandoori steak between two triangles of naan as a sandwich. In London restaurants like Amaya, Benares, Cinammon Club or Zaika and they’re probably getting their ragda pattice as three aloo tikkis stacked over a little puddle of ragda on plate criss-crossed with trails of tamarind sauce. They’re ordering a lamb kebab starter that’s actually a single minced-mutton ball balanced on a dab of yoghurt and topped with another dab of chutney. They’re getting duck, prawn and chicken in the same dish (but cooked to different styles and served in a segregated glass plate as a tasting portion), enjoying pao bhaji as a main course (with a burger-bottom of spiced pao topped with bhaji and onion garnish) and getting their fish-curry-rice in a single white plate (featuring a cutlet of rice topped with curry and filets balancing on the whole affair). Restaurants in cities as far apart as Mauritius, Moscow, Toronto and Dubai are offering sophisticated four-course Indian meals with nary a kadhai, oily tadka or sharing-portion of biryani in sight

So much for India being in sync with international dining trends. While our cuisine is making big leaps abroad, it seems to have stagnated in the country of origin. Even Indian restaurants advertising contemporary or modern Indian fare are, for the most part, serving light fusion, wary of venturing further. Khana Sutra, which opened at Kolkata’s new Chrome hotel in November, claims to be the India’s first restaurant serving nouvelle Indian cuisine. But instead of the one-person servings, lighter sauces, clearer flavours, short menus and artful presentation so characteristic of the French nouvelle cuisine movement of the 1970s, KhanaSutra simply updates regular restaurant khana. Generic green, yellow and red gravies are dispensed with and the tandoori betki, a popular main course, is served whole, but their signature dal still comes in a big bowl and every one ladles out their share. “The new Indian middle class isn’t as curious and open to new ideas as everybody would like to believe,” said Antanu Chowdhury, Chrome’s F&B executive and the man behind KhanaSutra. “But there is potential for change.” 

The rest of India’s food industry desperately believes that too. “May be we wanted to eat the way we have eaten all our lives and that is why it’s taking time, but I do not feel people are reluctant,” said Hemant Oberoi, executive chef for the Taj group, who opened Varq, a contemporary Indian restaurant in Delhi in 2008. “There’s life beyond tikka, makhani and biryani in our cuisine.” The bestsellers on the menu include martaban ka meat (lightly spiced lamb with onions and tomatoes) and Varqi crab (a tower of crabmeat sandwiched between crisps of filo dough, topped with a prawn and garnished with chive, vinegar, chilli and a red chilli flower). 

Suresh Hinduja, a food consultant who runs GourmetIndia, India’s oldest and perhaps most respected food forums, in Bangalore believes that Indians “deserve better than standard plating and presentation”.  But he lists several reasons for its failure to take off in India, the most obvious of which is the way Indians view their own cuisine. “Its comfort food for us,” he said. “Recipes and dining styles were all invented in our villages so as we move to cities, the last thing we want to do is abandon our past by changing the food.” We’re wary of exoticising what is familiar. We’re scared of fixing with what ain’t broke. We like to share and we’re reluctant to use forks and knives for food we so proudly eat with our fingers. 

We’re also not likely to pay higher prices for what is essentially the same food, plated prettily in single portions and not subsidised by family-size quantities. Meals for two at Varq are a steep Rs 4,600 and the tasting menu at Devi, New York is $85 per head, both not including drinks. Food columnist Javed Gaya, who makes frequent trips abroad, recalls seeing “plenty of Indians” forking out 60 pounds for nouvelle Indian food at London’s Amaya. But Indians abroad aren’t the same as Indians in India. We may eat out several times a week and be familiar with sashimi, truffle oil and carpaccio, but it will be a while before we can pay Rs 1,000 for vegetable koftas without thinking of how our mums can make it for less. “We’ll pay Rs 1,000 for something only if it is completely foreign,” said Hinduja.

In the time it takes for Indian diners to accept that style is substance with nouvelle Indian food, chefs will do well to keep busy. Nouvelle menus take time to develop because they are so dependent on the chef’s imagination. “I took almost five years to conceive the idea [of Varq], that too in a city of Indian food foodies,” said Oberoi. “At times my own colleagues thought it will not work.” Gaya believes that the chain of command at five-star hotels are too complicated to let chefs develop menus independently and there aren’t enough stand-alone places willing to make the big leap. Indian restaurants today are also in a difficult situation, believes Hinduja. “It will be tough for European or Indian restaurants to introduce nouvelle Indian because [customer] expectations there are different,” he said. “We need a whole new category.” He slots nouvelle Indian restaurants into three grades: gentle (the slightly tweaked food at Devi), mid-way (the slightly more elaborate food of Benares) and radical (Debu’s in Toronto, which served a single main course of Mughlai-style chicken with fried quail egg, panseared quail with cardamom flavoured ground caribou and veg kathi roll with chicken vindaloo for Valentine’s Day). “We’ll have to start at the gentlest,” he said. 

Until then, there’s new hope in Juhu’s Azok. The menu has been developed by Vineet Bhatia, whose Michelin stars (two) and restaurants (in London, Mauritius, Los Angeles, Dubai, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Moscow) may just give local diners the confidence to try something new. Bhatia calls his food modern Indian cuisine – dishes that “look European, but feel Indian if you eat with your eyes closed”. Azok serves blue-cheese and dhaniya naans, banana cakes dusted with cumin, wasabi flavoured kulfi, and a Punjabi Penne: red chicken tikka with asparagus and penne in a makhni sauce. Their main courses come plated and people still ask how many it can serve, but the kitchen is accommodating. It’s willing to do the old one-by-two and plate them separately. 
Maybe nouvelle Indian just needs a little push. Codified classical cuisine, with its set proportions and combinations, was a reaction to the ancient regime and was sparked off by the French Revolution. Nouvelle cuisine, like similar movements in theatre, film and literature, was born out of Sorbonne’s student revolution in the late 1960s. Could it be that we’re happy enough with our bowls of gravy and there’s nothing to protest? 

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Indian foods and Restaurant are famous in all over the world. This is honour for all Indian that started Indian Restaurant business in all over world 

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Absolutely loved this article Suresh ji.so agree ,that we are a long way away in terms of presentation and flavour experimentation.When I was in India,I was tired and literally cried with the thought of same flavour every.single.day ; every .single.meal . When the chinese & the japanese  could adapt our curry to their palate ,why can't we do that the same. why can't we take a risk and try  fusing our flavours,after all our cuisine is so varied due to the influence of different rules/rulers:mughals,persian,iranian,portuguese,oh even africana influence......it's endless really. I recently watched a clip of a young restaurant owner,in NYC trying to experiment b/t Indian and mexican food,she is half mexican BTW. Fusion should be the new spice in Indian food industry.

And,our chefs can definitely  try to present our food more elegantly .we had the thali style,tiffin style ,then came the sauces being served in froths [ whihc was ugly and really unpalatable].Gone are the days ,when we made one pot dishes and served in one big blob.these days people want something different ,something  more appealing to their eyes,maybe a pleasurable experience to all the senses.

Pricing;- I think we are very  traumatised by the nearly crumbling British Raj ,which has left us with deep Scars.Our parents nd grandparents,possibly great grandparents, believed that spending on an experience is a waste of our hard earned money.truly so. Times are changing,and we do see Indians dining out purely for an experience.That kind of experience dining could be a high end dining.but Sharing and offering 2 for 1 price should be allowed too.After all these customers tend come back again and again,whihc is a boost to ones business either ways. 

I really hope,with the kind of cuisine as ours ,our chefs become more creative .I think ,this is the only industry where one needs jsut the right blend of creativity and a scientific approach.


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