An Irresolute Menu

Even though India likes to think that it is developing by leaps and bounds and matching its step with the various international counterparts, the chefs are a little hesitant about gastronomical experimentation in India

By: Karishma Parkash
Posted on: August 10, 2011
Even though India likes to think that it is developing by leaps and bounds and matching its step with the various international counterparts, the chefs are a little hesitant about gastronomical experimentation in India.
How many times is it that you find someone expressing their love for a particular cuisine and the moment you inquire about a few dishes from the said cuisine, that undying love turns to confusion and uncertainty. Is that particular dish belonging to a particular cuisine or is it not? Moreover, how many times have we craved for authentic international cuisines but been unsatisfied with the taste because it is not ‘Indian’ enough? Can this dissatisfaction be attributed to unawareness or just an unreceptive nature in Indians? Yet, there is always excitement and openness to experiment the wonders of the world, so why is there such a mixed crowd out there? Is it time to shake up the gastronomy in India? Maybe yes.
According to Chef Ajay Chopra, Executive Chef, The Westin Mumbai Garden City, Indians are keen on experimenting with different kinds of cuisines primarily because they travel across the globe and are exposed to different kinds of cultures and food. Japanese, Lebanese and Mexican cuisines have found a sweet spot as the flavours of the cuisine match the Indian palate. With contrary views is Chef David Watson, Executive Chef, The Westin Gurgaon, New Delhi, who thinks that Indians are not open to experimenting with global cuisines such as Japanese, Lebanese and Mexican. “India as a nation is every gastronomic’s delight. However, the Indian palate is not very receptive to testing unusual flavours,” he said.
Unusual does it
There are a variety of cuisines being experimented with and introduced all over the world, but ask these two chefs and they will be quick to point out that even though the country is developing, there are still some cuisines that have been untapped into. Chef Watson shared that authentic Vietnamese cuisine hasn’t found its place in Indian kitchens yet. “You might find an occasional dish. The essence of the cuisine, however, is yet to be discovered in India,” he said. Alternatively, Chef Chopra felt that Spanish cuisine is the one that has missed the limelight. “When people from various countries came to India for trade, they brought with them their cuisine. This was then adapted and taken forward. Spanish cuisine has not been explored in India and I feel that there is great potential for the cuisine for it has great variety, is a colourful cuisine and rich in flavour,” he said.
There would be a variety of unusual dishes that we have come across and would want them to be introduced to India. Chef Chopra shared a personal experience and narrated, “When I was travelling to London, I came across an interesting dish from the African cuisine, ‘Jelloff Rice.’ It is made with the spiciest of pepper, rice and beef and chicken stock. It is made with margarine instead of butter or oil. It is typically the poor man’s food, but I feel the flavour will suit Indian taste buds.”
Chef Watson stuck to wanting to introduce authentic Vietnamese food, especially Vietnamese Chicken Curry, to the Indian palate. “It’s similar to Thai Curry and can be served with rice or noodles,” he said.
India is incredible
There isn’t a chef in the world who isn’t flattered by the various Indian spices and the powerfully remarkable dishes that they are able to create or enhance. Ask Chef Watson and he will tell you that an Indian ingredient is vital to most dishes that we may not even be aware of. “One ingredient according to me that can significantly enhance the taste of any cuisine is Asafoetida. Hence I would like to incorporate that to cuisines that are not so popular in India because they are not excessively cooked. They are more fresh and baked and not very spicy. This is one of the prime reasons why these cuisines haven’t struck a chord with Indian food enthusiasts till now,” he said.
Chef Chopra also shared that there are a variety of spices that are already being used in European cuisines like coriander or black pepper. “An Indian spice I’d like to add to different cuisines would be the Star Anise. This spice is truly Indian in its characteristic, very rich in flavour and gives a different feel and aroma to the food,” he said. Well-travelled Indians are opening up their palates to a variety of new tastes and dishes that they would be sceptical to experiment with before. Today, a whole lot of cuisines that have come to the Indian market in spurts have found a niche fan following and are quite popular. But how tuned are they really to their nw favourite cuisine? “Here we’re talking about authentic cuisines. For example, people say that they enjoy Italian food. In reality, the only Italian they have been exposed to would be Pizza or Pasta. There are so many elements of the cuisine that are still unexplored. Same goes with Mexican food, where one only knows of nachos and tacos, but little about everything else. I feel that if these cuisines were offered to people at lower cost and if there was a deeper exposure, our Indian markets would be flooded with different kinds of food,” Chef Chopra opined. 
With so many new restaurants flaunting their appetising foods, one would think that the country would be open to exploring and understanding new cuisines in their true colour. For the time being, however, in order to satiate the diverse crowds residing here, maybe adding a little spice to the redundant and safely accepted cuisines would do the country some good. Some new cuisines and some new dishes, is anyone complaining? I don’t think so. 

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