The humble khichdi might have achieved celebrity status in the past couple of days, thanks to record-breaking efforts at the World Food India event, where 918 kg of the dish was cooked and served on Saturday after spicy virtual tadka on Twitter and some actual one from Baba Ramdev, but there is much more to celebrate at the Food Street, a showcase of diverse Indian food at the expo.
A huge focus is on ancient grains. As Sanjeev Kapoor, who has curated the entire concept of the Food Street, tells us, that while the whole world talks of superfoods and things like quinoa, we in India don’t have to look elsewhere, but revive the use of amaranth, jowar, bajra, nachini and their ilk, which are high on the nutrition scale. And they need not be boring. A hummus-like chickpea paste with south-Indian millet salad on top with some black rice papad and a dash of flavoured sesame oil was a dish at the event that could rival any exotic quinoa-olive oil concoction.
Bael candy or neem and saunf sherbet anyone? No need to wrinkle your nose at the thought, because the beverage being served is sweet, light and very delicately flavoured. Mahua fruit, which most city dwellers might be unaware of, combines beautifully with Karonda for a murabba that is tangy, sweet and delicious, besides promising to be a cure for insomnia. Move on, and find coconut in its myriad forms, from the simple coconut water to prawn coconut curry and sol kadi. The pedestrian peanut takes an exotic form by just boiling it in salted water. Fresh, moist and delicious!
If you thought rice was common, try the Gobindo Bhog, the Ambe Mohar, red rice, black rice, the meetha chawal, poha, Komal rice, the biryani, the north-east wild rice…
Milk, which is available in plenty in the country, finds expression in the various mithai at the very popular sweet stall, but has unexpected potential in things like smoked chaas, which welcomes guests at the Punjab kiosk. Anyone who lusts after a blueberry tart needs to taste the perfect consonance of Indianness in a phirnee with jamun glaze, served in an earthen bowl. Sweet, Indian, earthy and just beautiful.
So what was the idea behind the Food Street? “The brief was to create an experience zone because exhibitions can be very dry. So, we tried to bring in energy through food, and also see how we can integrate all the goodness that we have in India with the event. The idea developed from there,” says Kapoor.
Several star chefs, from Imtiaz Qureshi to Vineet Bhatia, are at the venue, doing live demonstrations and participating in discussions, which, Kapoor adds, are aimed at elevating the event beyond mere tasting and experiencing food. “We are using their knowledge and showcasing it here, so there is also learning,” he says.
He then comes to how khichdi came into the picture. “I thought of doing something that would not be repetitive, something unique, big, like a Guinness record. They asked me how and I said I’ll think of something, and we zeroed in on the khichdi. But the idea was just to represent food that is homely and simple and not a restaurant-like dish like naan and butter chicken, which is never cooked in anybody’s home.”
Brushing aside the controversy around the khichdi, what he’s more concerned about is the expo becoming a calender event. “India deserves something of this scale. I will surely push for it to become a regular affair,” he adds.