FU­SION FOOD

A melt­ing pot of dif­fer­ent cul­tures.

Woman's Era - - Contents - Swetha Sun­der

Arecipe is only a roadmap to your own in­di­vid­ual food jour­ney. Fol­low your in­stincts.” As Vaib­hav Ma­lik and Barkha Bora en­ter In­dian Ac­cent, a restau­rant in New Delhi’s Ho­tel Manor, pun­gent aro­mas of red, yel­low and green spices greet them. The menu, too, is full of their favourite shorbas, ke­babs, bread bas­kets and birya­nis. But when the kulcha is served as a mini ver­sion of the tra­di­tional size, topped with trea­cle ba­con, and a bite of the ga­louti ke­bab frees the burst of French foie de gras at the cen­tre, the food crit­ics raise their eye­brows in happy sur­prise.

In­di­ans have had a his­tory of wel­com­ing other cul­tures with warmth. Food is a sig­nif­i­cant as­pect of any cul­ture and here we are with some global dishes that have found their way in the In­dian palate. But yes, they have a dif­fer­ent form and a flavour – fu­sion food as we call them. So what is fu­sion food? Ex­plains food critic and writer Barkha Bora, “Be­cause of the past, it has got a neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion, but it lit­er­ally means to in­fuse dis­tinct flavours or tech­niques from more than one cui­sine in a mea­sured man­ner, into a new dish. Years ago, the mighty Ital­ians did not have ac­cess to spices. But af­ter some of their ex­plor­ers trav­elled to In­dia and China, they em­braced spices into their age-old recipes, with­out recog­nis­ing the act of fu­sion,” she adds, ex­plain­ing that how­ever scary or vague the term, the re­sults of fu­sion can bring land­mark changes in food his­tory.

The “bad name” that the term fu­sion got, was chiefly due to the de­mand of in­ward-look­ing palates of In­dian din­ers in the past, who forced chefs to play it safe, as they wanted their pa­trons to re­turn to their restau­rants. As a re­sult, they in­fused ev­ery cui­sine with a hint of “In­di­an­ness”. To­day, much like the In­dian tourist, even the chefs are

well trav­elled and many of them have de­grees from Europe and the US. They take the time out to recce re­gions across the world to up­date their knowl­edge. Some, in fact, ar­gue that the term ‘fu­sion’ needs to die a nat­u­ral death now. “Fu­sion doesn’t mean any­thing,” ar­gues Rahul Ak­erkar, celebrity chef and restau­ra­teur.

“It is all part of good evo­lu­tion, as with time, dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents are com­ing into lo­cal mar­kets, peo­ple are open to ex­plor­ing their palate pref­er­ences and the chefs are con­fi­dent to fol­low their culi­nary pas­sions.”

Chef San­jeev Kapoor ex­plains, “Fu­sion food is all about bring­ing to­gether the best of two cuisines to cre­ate a dish that is in the true sense – A new world cui­sine! It not only caters to a brand new gen­er­a­tion of food choices, but also gives you a chance to push the en­ve­lope on cre­ativ­ity a bit fur­ther with each recipe you try. The best part though is that when it comes to fu­sion cook­ing there are no rules to be fol­lowed!”

Fi­nally free of cus­tomers de­mand­ing ev­ery cui­sine be ‘In­di­anised’ to suit their taste buds, chefs and restau­ra­teurs across In­dia are let­ting loose their cre­ative side. The re­sult: a brand new cul­ture of fu­sion cui­sine that is de­light­fully in­ter­na­tional in na­ture.

It hopes to change the way we per­ceive, eat and rel­ish In­dian food. In­dian food has come to a dead end, and there is nowhere else to go with the tra­di­tional recipes. That is why it’s time to pave way for ver­sion 2.0 of pro­gres­sive In­dian food.

THE MET­ROS’ TASKS

Mum­bai, Delhi and Ben­galuru are pre­dictably the first cities to have stepped up to the plate. “There will al­ways be pa­trons, who swear by the au­then­tic ke­bab, tikka or bur­rah kabobs, but there’s open­mind­ed­ness and will­ing­ness to try new flavours that one didn’t see as much be­fore. It’s su­perb be­cause it means that eat­ing out has be­come in­ter­est­ing again,” says Vaib­hav Ma­lik, a food blog­ger. “Food is per­haps the most ba­sic and un­der­stand­able com­po­nent of the fu­sion world. Af­ter all, the palate is a palace of cul­ture. The to­pog­ra­phy of the tongue alone trav­els the vast ge­ogra­phies of taste – sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bit­ter – each its own do­main in the taste buds. Dif­fer­ent cul­tures get con­tracted to spe­cific al­liances across these ge­ogra­phies, which is why Chi­nese food does not taste like Mex­i­can, nor French like

Egyp­tian. Each nation of taste cul­ti­vates a dis­tinct gus­ta­tory coali­tion of foods and their prepa­ra­tions that af­fects con­scious­ness in very real ways, mak­ing for sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in peo­ple. At its best, fu­sion cui­sine is a roadmap to the cel­lu­lar mem­ory of our species – a vir­tual tarot of food.” he elu­ci­dates.

All these items have ac­quired an In­dian touch, au­then­tic In­dian flavours and even pre­sen­ta­tion.

Ear­lier the In­dian gas­tronomes were purists who sought out the most ex­quis­ite steak, the fieri­est Chet­ti­nad cui­sine, the ne plus ul­tra of sushi. They thought of fu­sion as ‘lego cook­ery’, a term coined by food his­to­rian Felipe Fer­nan­dezArmesto to de­scribe an ap­proach that com­bines com­po­nents with­out care. Af­ter all, just throw­ing a bunch of fancy things from dif­fer­ent places in a pot does not an in­ven­tive (or good) dish make.

Af­ter chok­ing through a se­ries of poorly con­ceived, badly ex­e­cuted abom­i­na­tions like bi­rizza, chamosa and lemon­grass chicken tikka, In­di­ans sought so­lace in the clas­sics, dis­tanc­ing them­selves from the trend by stick­ing to re­gional cuisines that were dis­tinctly sep­a­rate and au­then­tic.

In its broad­est sense, fu­sion has al­ways been there. We were eat­ing it long be­fore the term was coined or hip (or black­listed) and long be­fore there was such a thing as but­ter chicken pizza. Many of the taken-for-granted ‘In­dian’ veg­eta­bles — pota­toes, chill­ies and toma­toes — are im­ports that In­dia made its own.

The Global Culi­nary Ex­change or­gan­ised by In­dian Fed­er­a­tion of Culi­nary As­so­ci­a­tions (IFCA) re­cently served as a plat­form to dis­cuss new per­spec­tives and trends in the culi­nary space. The con­fer­ence was a feed­ing ground for In­dian chefs to gather nec­tar from out­stand­ing global re­sources and in­dulge in cross-pol­li­na­tion to widen their culi­nary skills and ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The speak­ers de­lib­er­ated on a wide spec­trum of top­ics in­clud­ing fu­sion cui­sine and where In­dian food stands glob­ally.

Chef Man­jit Singh Gill, pres­i­dent of IFCA tells you that while In­dian cui­sine’s pop­u­lar­ity glob­ally is still at a nascent stage, it will def­i­nitely be a chart­buster in the next five years. “The good thing is that In­dian cui­sine is re­ceiv­ing global ac­cep­tance and chefs from In­dia are in de­mand. Hence, there is need for them to mas­ter In­dian cuisines and make a mark for them­selves in the culi­nary land­scape,” Gill ex­plains.

He at­tributes this ac­cep­tance of In­dian cui­sine to glob­al­iza­tion. “To­day, peo­ple from In­dia are trav­el­ling to other coun­tries and we have a lot of for­eign­ers who are com­ing to In­dia. Our spices have al­ways been in the news from the time trade started. Peo­ple were al­ready aware of items like black pep­per, co­rian­der seeds, fenu­greek, etc. They were us­ing them in cer­tain foods back home. When they came here, they saw the dif­fer­ent ways these spices were be­ing used and how each dish was cooked with dif­fer­ent spices chang­ing its flavour and taste. This is what makes our food so pop­u­lar,” Gill says.

In the 1990s and 2000s when In­dian chefs be­gan com­bin­ing ‘look at me’ ap­proaches to food that had amounted to culi­nary crimes. Bad In­dian fu­sion dishes be­gan flood­ing restau­rants and road­side eater­ies faster than you could say ‘yuck’. Many of these ideas were plain bizarre and so forced, they ought to have been banned. Fu­sion came to mean the con­trived, heavy-handed use of lemon­grass. To ex­plain the evo­lu­tion of what is also be­ing called Mash-up cui­sine, Chef Nilesh Li­maye from Auriga, a month-old South East Asian restau­rant at Ma­ha­laxmi, goes back to 1999 when the city saw a first burst of restau­rants serv­ing Chi­nese, Ital­ian

and Mex­i­can cui­sine. “This was the time restau­rants such as Olive, Main­land China and In­digo brought au­then­tic del­i­ca­cies from all over the world on a plat­ter. A decade later, the way peo­ple eat has changed, as many more cit­i­zens, hav­ing trav­elled the world and watched culi­nary shows on TV, have de­vel­oped a palate that is curious enough to go be­yond the or­di­nary,” says Li­maye.

FLAVOURS TO FUL­FIL

In­dian food is hot on the global ta­ble. It’s om­nipresent and is slowly con­quer­ing world kitchens. There are restau­rants from Dubai to New York ded­i­cated to desi fare but there’s more to it than chicken tikka and masala dosa. In­dian cui­sine is com­plex and ma­ture still there is a lot of room for in­tu­ition.

In­ter­na­tional in­flu­ences mixed with In­dian fla­vors is some­thing that is be­com­ing big in In­dia, say ex­perts. “I feel there are a lot of things hap­pen­ing in the food and bev­er­age busi­ness in In­dia. I would say that in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ences mixed with In­dian flavours is some­thing that will al­ways be there," Chef Partho Mi­tra said. Apart from the in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ence to the In­dian gas­tro­nom­i­cal story, chef Partho feels many peo­ple like to go back to the roots of In­dian cui­sine.

An in­ter­est­ing fac­tor that has fur­ther de­vel­oped the new trend is the rel­a­tively sud­den rise in the num­ber of con­verted-veg­e­tar­i­ans, ve­g­ans and those who want or­ganic or gluten-free foods. “In­dian cui­sine is vast with its re­gional flavours, tex­tures and in­gre­di­ents. Peo­ple un­der­stand that an in­gre­di­ent such as co­rian­der can do won­ders to a dish, but an over­dose could play spoil­sport. The new-age chef only takes in­spi­ra­tion from cuisines, and cre­ates a dish, which is mea­sured for taste and tex­ture. The In­dian Chi­nese was a byprod­uct of rigid taste buds. This is a ‘mash up’, the re­sult of ma­tured palates want­ing some­thing new, says Chef Partho.

Adding to it, renowned pas­try chef Shikha Nau­ni­hal said: "Small and shar­ing plates, menus are smaller and more con­cise, spe­cialised dessert stores. As far as food trends are con­cerned, a lot of restau­rants are go­ing back to its roots... There is so much about In­dian food that has thus far re­mained un­ex­plored. That be­ing said, as im­por­tant as food is, the new drink­ing cul­ture has set in in a big way. Fab­u­lous craft beers, spa­ces with good vibes are an in­te­gral part of any new of­fer­ing to­day. Some restau­rants are get­ting in­no­va­tive with cock­tails. Be­sides newer, fresher in­gre­di­ents, an el­e­ment of drama is al­ways close at hand, be it dry ice or ni­tro­gen in­fu­sions."

Nau­ni­hal also pointed out that peo­ple have be­come "more ex­per­i­men­tal and are will­ing to try new things.”

The fun part though, is that even as the In­dian palate grav­i­tates to­wards un­charted flavours, there is a re­newed rev­er­ence for desi veg­gies and in­gre­di­ents, till re­cently con­sid­ered poor cousins of their ex­otic Latin or Euro­pean coun­ter­parts. So, be it pump­kin, pointed gourd ( par­wal) or bit­ter gourd ( karela), chefs say cus­tomers do not ques­tion what an item avail­able in the kitchen gar­den is do­ing in an ex­otic dish. They trust the chef to cre­ate some­thing tasty.

Some of In­dia's best recog­nised faces in the culi­nary world and masters of their trade are rein­vent­ing clas­sic dishes and com­bin­ing them with global cuisines to cap­ture newer au­di­ences. Some of its most deft prac­ti­tion­ers and pur­vey­ors of fu­sion food in In­dia and abroad are Man­ish Mehro­tra (In­dian Ac­cent), Manu Chan­dra (Mon­key Bar and The Fatty Bao), Su­jan Sarkar (Tast­ing Lab and Ek Bar), Floyd Car­doz, Thomas Zacharias and Sameer Seth (The Bom­bay Can­teen), Ab­hi­jit Saha (Caper­berry and Fava), Zo­rawar

Kalra (Masala Li­brary and Pa Pa Ya), Chef Ku­nal Kapoor ( Pa­tiala in Dubai), Chef San­jeev Kapoor (Sig­na­ture in Dubai) and Atul Kochhar (Be­naras).

The rise of modern In­dian cook­ing is a re­flec­tion of a change in this sce­nario. In­dian chefs are now demon­strat­ing their imag­i­na­tive blends of cuisines, in­still­ing the phi­los­o­phy of In­dian cui­sine into fa­mil­iar in­gre­di­ents and in­cor­po­rat­ing new meth­ods to cre­ate an ap­petite for some­thing more ad­ven­tur­ous.

Manu Chan­dra re­calls that he has night­mares of a meal he was served a decade ago of chicken tikka mousse with dal makhni sauce and Szech­wan chut­ney. “It was a clas­sic ex­am­ple of peo­ple try­ing way too hard.” He isn’t the only one. Show me one self-re­spect­ing chef who openly says, “Yeah, I do fu­sion.” In­stead, the culi­nary world prefers terms like ‘cross-cul­tural’, ‘glob­ally in­spired’, ‘chef-in­spired’, and so on.

Though culi­nary bor­row­ings from other cul­tures are on the rise, In­dian fu­sion 2.0 is more sub­tle and in­tel­li­gent and is com­ing from the right place – an un­der­stand­ing of in­gre­di­ents and cuisines. The new wave is dish­ing up a gutsy mash-up of street fare and haute cui­sine, deep-rooted In­dian flavours and avant-garde cook­ing tech­niques. Prime ex­am­ples: the now-on-their­way-to-be­com­ing-clas­sics such as the maple and kokum lamb chops from Masala Li­brary, Chan­dra’s mut­ton curry from Mon­key Bar and the gu­lab nut from The Bom­bay Can­teen.

CHEF’S IN­NO­VA­TIONS

Chef Ku­nal Kapoor be­lieves that we need to rev­o­lu­tionise In­dian food to rep­re­sent its ac­com­plish­ments and di­ver­sity on for­eign shores, “To be able to in­no­vate you have to go back to tra­di­tion. It's about adapt­ing your food to lo­cal cul­tures and palates and at the same time re­viv­ing old for­got­ten In­dian dishes by giv­ing them a modern makeover to at­tract the at­ten­tion it de­serves."sim­ple clas­sics like the bhuna pyaaz, dal taka, and ajwain naan com­pete for your at­ten­tion against cre­ative dishes like the Chilean sea bass wrapped in ka­sundi mus­tard, straw­berry-bal­samic chut­ney or the mango lassi ice-cream.

Atul Kochhar, an in­spi­ra­tion in the culi­nary world and the first In­dian chef to win a Miche­lin Star, runs three In­dian restau­rants in Lon­don – Be­naras, In­dian Essence and Sindhu. Says Atul, “I re­alised that In­dian food is not per­ceived in the same way by the Bri­tish as it is by In­di­ans. I wanted to present In­dian food abroad in a way that peo­ple will ap­pre­ci­ate it. Each one of my restau­rants has a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter and style. At Be­naras you can en­joy a Scot­tish crab kofta while at In­dian Essence the chicken tikka pie served with spiced prune com­pote is ev­ery­one’s favourite.”

The menu at Sig­na­ture, Dubai, show­cases a med­ley of quin­tes­sen­tial In­dian in­gre­di­ents and cook­ing tech­niques. “The idea is not to al­ter the ‘In­di­an­ness’ of the dishes but give them a lit­tle twist to suit the west­ern palate,“says Chef San­jeev Kapoor. Be it the blue lob­ster biryani, the tangy mango murgh makhani or the stone-flamed lamb chops with haleem, all re­veal the her­itage of our na­tional cui­sine.

To in­no­vate and per­son­alise a dish with­out to­tally strip­ping a recipe of its orig­i­nal­ity is a mas­ter­ful craft. Zo­rawar Kalra’s Farzi Cafe of­fers global cui­sine with a com­bi­na­tion of Ara­bic and In­dian in­flu­ences.

One of their most or­dered Ara­bic in­flu­enced dish on the Dubai menu is Farz­i­fied shawarma biryani, crusted lay­ered rice biryani with grilled chicken served along with fried egg, green chili curry and lab­neh raita. The in­flu­ence of In­dian food is strong with dishes like okra salad in semolina shell, dal chawal arancini and pita gol­gap­pas on the ta­pas menu and in the mains, there's Char­moula crusted pa­neer

tikka and crab and spinach poriyal while some dishes have been given plot twists with lo­cal in­gre­di­ents like dates, zatar spice and sumac pow­der.

Those who dare to cross genre lines are deeply aware that the sum, that is the fi­nal dish, must be greater than its parts. As Saha says, it is less about gim­mickry, more about clev­erly as­sim­i­lat­ing, mas­ter­ing and revo­lu­tion­is­ing food tra­di­tions

In­dian food has al­ways been syn­ony­mous with home com­fort, but now may be the time to move away from the main­stream to a more con­tem­po­rary setting. This new em­brace al­lows peo­ple to dream. It’s a chal­lenge these In­dian chefs have happily taken on to in­tro­duce niche In­dian dishes to a larger and more curious au­di­ence. Let’s raise a toast to this piv­otal chap­ter in the epic story of In­dian cui­sine! A mind once stretched by a new idea never re­gains its orig­i­nal di­men­sions.

Bi­rizza

CHEF SAN­JEEV KAPOOR EX­PLAINS, “FU­SION FOOD IS ALL ABOUT BRING­ING TO­GETHER THE BEST OF TWO CUISINES TO CRE­ATE A DISH THAT IS IN THE TRUE SENSE – A NEW WORLD CUI­SINE! IT NOT ONLY CATERS TO A BRAND NEW GEN­ER­A­TION OF FOOD CHOICES, BUT ALSO GIVES YOU A CHANCE TO PUSH THE EN­VE­LOPE ON CRE­ATIV­ITY A BIT FUR­THER WITH EACH RECIPE YOU TRY. THE BEST PART THOUGH IS THAT WHEN IT COMES TO FU­SION COOK­ING THERE ARE NO RULES TO BE FOL­LOWED!”

Lemon­grass chicken tikka

CHEF MAN­JIT SINGH GILL, PRES­I­DENT OF IFCA TELLS YOU THAT WHILE IN­DIAN CUI­SINE’S POP­U­LAR­ITY GLOB­ALLY IS STILL AT A NASCENT STAGE, IT WILL DEF­I­NITELY BE A CHART­BUSTER IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS. “THE GOOD THING IS THAT IN­DIAN CUI­SINE IS RE­CEIV­ING GLOBAL AC­CEP­TANCE AND CHEFS FROM IN­DIA ARE IN DE­MAND. HENCE, THERE IS NEED FOR THEM TO MAS­TER IN­DIAN CUISINES AND MAKE A MARK FOR THEM­SELVES IN THE CULI­NARY LAND­SCAPE,” GILL EX­PLAINS.

CHEF KU­NAL KAPOOR BE­LIEVES THAT WE NEED TO REV­O­LU­TIONISE IN­DIAN FOOD TO REP­RE­SENT ITS AC­COM­PLISH­MENTS AND DI­VER­SITY ON FOR­EIGN SHORES, “TO BE ABLE TO IN­NO­VATE YOU HAVE TO GO BACK TO TRA­DI­TION. IT'S ABOUT ADAPT­ING YOUR FOOD TO LO­CAL CUL­TURES AND PALATES AND AT THE SAME TIME RE­VIV­ING OLD FOR­GOT­TEN IN­DIAN DISHES BY GIV­ING THEM A MODERN MAKEOVER TO AT­TRACT THE AT­TEN­TION IT DE­SERVES.

Chicken tikka pie

Mango murgh makhan

Mango lassi ice-cream

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.