When haldi doodh is rechristened turmeric latte
Sweet potato is the new avocado. It is nutrient-dense, good for the gut and much lighter on the pocket when compared to the latter. And so the indigenous shakkarkandi which we have grown up eating during winters as a spicy, salty, lemony street-side snack, will be replacing yam as part of a traditional thanksgiving dinner at Colaba’s fine-dining restaurant, The Table.
The humble tuber is also available in the form of toast, fritters, au gratin, mash and fries on the menus of some of the most innovative restaurants in the country.
In the past couple of years, traditional grains and produce like fox nuts or makhana, sunflower seeds, amaranth, moringa or drumsticks, millets and coconut oil have been resurrected in new avatars. The renewed interest largely follows the trends in the West which is looking at the East for identifying new health foods.
Increasingly, menus at restaurants like Bombay Canteen, Sequel, Kitchen Garden by Suzette, The Table and Masque are being built around heritage grains and fresh vegetables and produce from India and around the world.
At Bombay Canteen, the focus is on showcasing local and regional ingredients and cuisine with dishes like barley and jowar salad and bhutte ka kees, which is presented as corn fritters and comes along with moras bhaji, a salty green leafy vegetable that’s available in Mumbai’s Dadar market for just 10 days a year during the Navratri festival. The vegetable is now a permanent fixture on its menu in the form of a salad served along with the fritters.
Promoting local ingredients is a given among top restaurateurs like Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of the upstate New York restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and Italian chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana. Bottura, who was in Mumbai earlier this week as part of the Condé Nast Traveller Hot Tables series, is a champion of his region’s ingredients like balsamic vinegar and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Sourcing of new ingredients and produce is easier said than done. For speciality ingredients like moras bhaji, gondhoraj lemon and bhut jolokia, chef Thomas Zacharias of Bombay Canteen travelled across the country to find local farmers and suppliers as the big farmers were largely focusing on vegetables like broccoli and asparagus, which are now widely available even in the local markets. In fact, at retail chains like Foodhall and Godrej Nature’s Basket, foreign ingredients like bird’s eye chilli, kale, quinoa and arugula are more easy to find than speciality local ingredients.
“When considering a new ingredient what is important is consistent supply and availability,” says Gauri Devidayal, co-founder, The Table. The farm-to-table restaurant has its own dedicated farm in Alibaug and also works with suppliers like Trikaya Agriculture Pvt. Ltd and Offerings Farm and Natural Foods Pvt. Ltd to meet its requirements of exotic produce like avocado, which features in at least half a dozen dishes including its best-selling avocado toast.
Even younger restaurants like Masque, Sequel and Kitchen Garden have their own dedicated plots at Offerings Farm, an organic-certified farm near Pune. According to Sanmitra Chaudhury, co-founder of Offerings Farm, dedicated farm plots assure restaurateurs ready produce. For him, it saves on costs because organic farming is capital-intensive. Chaudhury specializes in growing exotic and super exotic vegetables like butternut squash, kale, watercress, purple carrots and various beetroots.
An information technology engineer by training, Chaudhury worked in Silicon Valley before returning to India with his wife to set up the farm about a decade ago. One of the ways he keeps abreast of global trends is by interacting with global farmers and chefs and even social media sites like Instagram to gauge their popularity. Finally he shortlists vegetables to grow, based on three criteria—visual appeal, taste and health benefits. The seeds are then procured and cultivated in his farm and the samples are sent to top chefs, who are constantly looking for new ingredients and ways to stand out by planning their menus around new ingredients.
To be sure, given social media and the increased frequency of global chefs visiting India, food trends are now travelling faster. Soon, even the ubiquitous haldi doodh, for generations consumed as a household remedy for cough and cold, may become the hipster’s drink of choice in India. In 2016, Google named it the drink of choice globally. The drink has already gone mainstream with Starbucks launching it in some select global markets. So, anyone for a cup of golden milk or tumeric latte with almond milk?
Shop Talk will take a weekly look at consumer trends, behaviour and insights.