From immunity laddoos to fresh turmeric salads, high-end restaurants are reinventing their menus to stay relevant to a post-lockdown clientele
Blueberry chutney, water infused with special tree barks and kudampuli fish curry—these are just some of the newest additions to restaurant menus across India.
With the easing of lockdown restrictions and eateries finally opening up, people are aching to step out for a meal but without compromising on their immunity. So the new menus focus on ingredients that offer a balance of taste and health on a platter. There has been a conscious move towards Ayurvedic principles, age-old wisdom and slow cooking styles.
These new menus are not a deviation from the culinary ethos of the restaurants, but an extension of it. For instance at Kappa Chakka Kandhari, in Bengaluru and Chennai, the focus has always been on mother’s cooking in Kerala, made using single-origin, locally-sourced ingredients. Chef Regi Mathew, co-owner of the restaurant, is drawing on his rigorous research and a bank of 800-plus recipes to come up with a menu rich in antioxidants and vitamins.
“Every ingredient has a role to play and slow cooking allows for that," he says. You will find kudampuli, which is rich in antioxidants, being used in a big way, especially in fish curries. “Gooseberry, curry leaves—all these things are found in abundance in Kerala and are used in Ayurvedic medicine also. Our new menu demonstrates the kind of value these ingredients bring to a meal. It will also have old dishes, which we will call out for their immunity-boosting capacity," adds Mathew.
So make sure to check out the fish cooked with a gooseberry masala—one of the most popular dishes which makes its way into the new menu. An effort is being made to not just serve meat alone, but in a combination of veggies—be it the prawns with drumsticks or bananas with meat. “Every effort is being undertaken to make a meal sumptuous and nutritive, right from the welcome drink, which is made with gooseberry, lime and honey," says Mathew.
The idea is also to break the misconception that if something is healthy, it can’t be delicious. “We work with Indian ingredients and homegrown produce but I can tell you this proudly, if it does not taste good it cannot be on my menu," says Radhika Khandelwal, executive chef-owner, Radish Hospitality, which owns Fig & Maple in Delhi.
She draws inspiration from India’s rich culinary heritage. You’ll find a lot of lesser-known hyperlocal ingredients on the menu such as bimbli, turmeric leaves and moringa to bhurans, trifala, Goa beans, water spinach and soursop. Khandelwal, for instance, makes the signature Fig & Maple Salad with seasonal greens instead of the regular kale and lettuce—right now, in summer, it could have red amaranth and Malabar spinach, which she will change to mustard greens in winter.
Nutritionists are all for going local and seasonal, especially at a time when keeping the immunity levels high is of utmost importance. Vriti Srivastav, a lifestyle nutritionist, suggests a basic checklist of what to look for in menus right now.
“Make sure, you load up on colourful veggies and fruits. Keep the body hydrated with mixed juices and turmeric shots," she suggests. “Whatever you eat, make sure you have a balanced diet." With the lockdown lifting, people are likely to go all out to give into their cravings. “They might load up on sugar and oily food. That has to be avoided at any cost. The body will get stressed and that compromise the immunity," explains Srivastav.
The restaurants are trying to take care of this by keeping the cooking styles simple and letting the goodness of the ingredients shine. “The biggest problem is that we tend to overcook things and ruin the natural qualities of ingredients. Immunity-boosting vitamins and minerals are found naturally in foods, and styles such as sous vide and steaming helps retain them," says Samrat Banerjee, director and head of operations at Rooh, Delhi. If a restaurant has a nice oily fish as part of the inventory, he suggests doing a sous vide so that it cooks through it in its own juices. This can be served with a fresh salad on the side. “The result is simple, good and flavourful food," he says.
At Rooh, one will now find a lot more pickled and fermented foods such as blueberry chutney, amla chutney, pickle made with raw turmeric, which are homemade and act as instant immunity boosters. On the drinks menu, there will be cold compressed mocktails and fermented drinks such as those made with kaffir lime, raw mango and ginger.
At each of the restaurants, the effort is to support local markets and farmers. “They have been equally affected by the lockdown and need to be supported. The villages around Mehrauli have great kale, for instance, so we buy it from them," says Banerjee. “The menu has to make sense. For instance, oysters are great immunity boosters but getting them right now from so far and at this price is stupidity. Also, imagine the number of hands that the oysters will have to go through to finally reach the plate. We all have to think sensibly and responsibly in this new normal."