MASALAMAFIA PASTA, ANYONE?
chowmein. Gulkand cheesecake. Grilled Fish on Dal. East meets West, on a plate.
The Indian palate recognises no boundaries, gastronomic or political. Urban India is gleefully infusing Italian pastas, Mexican enchiladas, cheesecakes and pizzas with the familiarity of a desi tadka. Local fare is getting that extra, albeit sometimes discordant, zing of a western or oriental tweak. Gourmet author Esther David, 67, first noticed the shift at weddings in the 1990s when multi- cuisine buffets became a means to showcase wealth. “I was surprised to see karela ( bitter gourd) with a stuffing of tutti- fruity. It was the perfect example of fusion food,” the foodie recalls. Around the same time, Baljit Singh, a young illegal immigrant who was deported from Germany, set up the Indo- German Dhaba along the Chandigarh-Ludhiana Road at Neelon and served a range of pastas to curious Punjabi travellers. He shut shop a decade later but the odd motorist still stops by to ask for Singh’s zesty spaghetti.
Priya, 37, and Abhay Jagat, 38, who run five cafes and fine dining restaurants in Chandigarh, believe fusion is inevitable in a rapidly shrinking world. Their Café Nomad is a meeting point for Italian ( pastas and pizzas), Indian ( cottage cheese and southern spices) and oriental ( vegetables, soya and fish sauce). “The Oriental- Mediterranean combo jives with desi palates,” says Abhay. There is an explosion of fusion foods on the streets of India. Evenings in Surat, Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Ludhiana, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Hyderabad, besides the metros, present an unbelievable culinary array crafted over long years.
Itchy- feet Gujaratis have been tossing the definitive, pure vegetarian Jain pizza, Jain tacos and enchiladas in Ahmedabad’s Law Garden and Ambawadi for more than three decades. Chowmein- stuffed samosas are a huge hit from Ludhiana to Ahmedabad. Dabelis ( desi potato patty burgers) are universal staple for students everywhere.
Thrilled with the new mood, top chefs are turning up never before delights like the distinctive Gulkand Cheesecake and Khubani ka Crème brûlée. Kolkata’s Pradip Rozario serves local fish varieties— padda in an Indonesian sauce, deboned tangra in Thai curry and tiny mourola deep- fried and dipped into a Schezwan sauce. Chef Manu Mohindra, 39, of Under One Roof, a Delhi firm that sets up restaurants, cafes and food courts for private clients, says, “The gastronomic mix that first began in French cuisine is now the future here.”
Jagat agrees, pointing out that the desi palate has for long had the advantage of multiple cuisines, local as well as those brought by the succession of traders and invaders. Fusing food, he says, began long ago and it is now taking the form of a culinary genre of its own in India.