By Dinesh Arora
Move over greasy curries and takeaway tikkas. Today, nouveau Indian food and its effortless blending with Western ingredients has made it more relatable on world tables.
During one of my food research tours several years ago, in the US, there was one food wisdom that particularly spoke to me. And it was – people are naturally drawn to a dish or a cuisine that includes some elements from their own food tables. It could be familiarity, comfort or a slightly easier way to take risks that makes people more open to try a new cuisine where they can find some cultural similarities. And while, this definitely holds true in a place like America, where often immigrant cultures outweigh local food habits; the other truth is that Indian food with its versatility has every reason to find its place not just on the top chef tables but also in small gullies or back lanes from Manhattan to Madrid.
As a food enthusiast, I admit that Indian food had a shaky start in the West. When the first, food exchanges began between India and the West, the Londoners only understood Indian food as an occasional curry fare which was greasy but easy-on-pocket. It took informed Indian chefs several years to educate the West about the true Indian fare – which is a far cry from oily, heavy or dunked in tomato sauce tikkas.
But today, as Indian food gets global nod, I am proud to say that we may be on an Indian food version 2.0. For the purists I must stress, by this, I in no way mean that desi food is diluted or fancy-flown-from-the-West ingredients are needlessly added to your gobhi masalas. It is in fact a refined food philosophy that goes back to ancient India – that of harnessing the benefits of newer food elements and making them shine like stars with our desi preparation.
And this is the new food revolution that is happening from India to America.
At a recent evening, in suburban Gurgaon, I invited diplomats, expats and visiting chefs from abroad at my terrace eatery – Unplugged Courtyard for a food familiarization day. To my surprise the star starters for the day included ‘Indian seasoned Caesar salad,’ and ‘teekha, meetha chicken wings.’ Encouraged by the easy acceptance of hot Indian spices when presented within the western comfort format, we moved on to main course with ‘South Indian spiced prawns with pancakes,’ to ‘chicken loung lata with mustard cress salad.’ Amusingly the chatter of the evening changed from topics such as NRI contributions to Indian election to how garam masala may be becoming a global spice!
This local meets global Indian food revolution is happening not just in pockets of Delhi or India but seasoned chefs are taking it afar. The ancient tradition of embracing new ingredients in their native form to create a signature Indian dish is only getting a contemporary makeover.
These are interesting times for Indian tables. The magic has just begun.
Dinesh Arora is a Delhi-based certified food enthusiast. His first bite of ‘Paella’ in Spain, ‘Tom Yum’ in Thailand, ‘Crème Brulee’ in France and ‘Sukiyaki’ in Japan laid the foundation for his life-long exploration of food. He is also a well-known Indian restauranteur and owns many up-market eateries. A food trend innovator, he has introduced many newer Indian cuisine concepts.