1. Back to Basics: Find out what will be on your plate in 2018

Back to Basics: Find out what will be on your plate in 2018

India has proposed 2018 to be the international year of millets, which couldn’t be more appropriate, as food globally goes in rewind mode, reviving ancient grains, and organic and sustainable food practices. Mindful eating promises to get bigger in the coming year. Read on to find out what more will be on your plate in 2018

By: | Updated: December 31, 2017 6:21 AM
food in 2018, superfoods, organic produce, regional Cuisine, Food, millets Bajra and ricotta gnudi at Toast & Tonic, Bengaluru, where millets are an essential part of the larder

Till about a few years back, the only regional cuisine diners opted for was south Indian, which signified dosa, idli, vada and not much else. We did have an odd restaurant brave enough to serve just Bihari or Kashmiri cuisine, but they never really gained any popularity. So it was surprising that the small Parsi community’s food was what made regional food hip and fashionable. Perhaps it was because the food came with a modern twist and was stellar, or because diners are more evolved now. Or maybe both.
Whatever the reason, today we are seeing regional food in menus of fine dining restaurants and some restaurants devoted exclusively to it. A case in point is O Pedro, which opened recently in Mumbai and offers Goan food. Cardoz Floyd, the man behind it, and also The Bombay Canteen, says: “I don’t think of regional cuisines as niche cuisines, but more of a ‘popularising cuisine’ that people love, but don’t have access to.”
As Zorawar Kalra of Massive Restaurants says, “Regional food is always going to be very popular. It is such a treasure, and for it to have taken so long to catch up is actually sad, but I’m glad it’s catching up. The rising popularity has happened in its speed, but now it’s happening even faster.”

Superfoods

superfoods superfoods

India has sent a proposal to the United Nations for declaring 2018 as ‘International Year of Millets’. That we need special initiatives to celebrat e what was staple food a few decades back might be ironical, but in this age of convenience and ready-to-eat food, it couldn’t be more timely. Especially at a time when many us are increasingly questioning our daily diets as our lives grow more sedentary and we become more unhealthy despite advances in medicine. Trying to find the villains in our food, we have experimented with various fads and diet plans, eliminating some and including some. Fortunately, this has also resulted in a transition to healthier foods and mindful eating. Reviving ancient grains and millets is a part of this trend, which is growing worldwide. Not surprisingly, markets are flooded with ‘superfoods’ and ‘supergrains’, which are nothing new, but just what our previous generations have been eating all the time and what we ditched in the name of convenience. And, restaurants are quick on the uptake as well.
Says Zorawar Kalra of Massive Restaurants: “It has become trendy to include superfoods in menus. Our Kode, Masala Library and Farzi’s new menu include ingredients like quinoa, barley, millets, kale, green lentils and beans. Beetroot salads are very popular. And when mainstream restaurants put them on the menu, it reaches consumers faster.”
Chef Manu Chandra, whose Toast & Tonic restaurant in Bengaluru has millets and alternate grains as an essential part of its larder, says, “We have a tendency to latch on to easy solutions that come packaged to our doorsteps, rather than seeking inspiration from what is around us.” He also feels that the rise of diabetes in India has prompted consumption of grains with low glycemic index, a prescription that millets fit perfectly. However, he is scared of calling them superfoods. “That’s where the narrative needs to be strictly controlled. If the endeavour is to be mainstream again, the application needs to be all-embracing. The use of millets in a wide variety of applications is where that solution lies.”
He also likes to call this trend a movement. “Trends fade. So it’s a movement that is gaining momentum, not only among home cooks, but professional kitchens and FMCG and food processing industries as well. Visibility is growing, as is awareness, and with many varieties of grains available, the applications, too, would be varied.”

Organic Produce

What was a norm about 50 years back is a much-coveted but difficult to procure thing now. Reading about the horrors of pesticides, many of them having direct link to diseases like cancer, people want to ‘clean up’ their food from pesticides and fertilisers. As a result, niche online marketplaces for organic food are all the rage in metros, probably because of higher pollution levels in such cities. There are already a number of successful restaurants that are offering organic food, some of them sourcing only organic ingredients, making it a selling point. Not only metros, smaller cities like Chandigarh also have places that promise organic and vegan food. And going by the fact that these places are packed, the trend is only going to be bigger.

However, Zorawar Kalra says positioning the organic angle is very important. “Restaurants selling ordinary food, even if they use organic ingredients, are not going to have many takers. But a restaurant selling great food, with an organic option, is going to be a major marketing trend. It is going to make the popularity of the restaurant go up, because people are looking forward to having organic food. They know what they are eating, they are aware of the dangers of having pesticides in their food.” He, however, adds that right now the cost for procuring 100% organic food is very high, but that will change as its popularity and demand go up. “At our company, we are working with local farmers to give them the volumes so they can bring down the costs. This way, other restaurants can also benefit from organic food grown locally. For instance, at Masala Library, we will soon have 90% organic produce,” he says. “But it requires the fundamentals to be strong. You have to make good food, you can’t just serve average food, even if it’s organic,” is his bottomline.

Local, Fresh & Seasonal

What was a norm about 50 years back is a much-coveted but difficult to procure thing now. Reading about the horrors of pesticides, many of them having direct link to diseases like cancer, people want to ‘clean up’ their food from pesticides and fertilisers. As a result, niche online marketplaces for organic food are all the rage in metros, probably because of higher pollution levels in such cities. There are already a number of successful restaurants that are offering organic food, some of them sourcing only organic ingredients, making it a selling point. Not only metros, smaller cities like Chandigarh also have places that promise organic and vegan food. And going by the fact that these places are packed, the trend is only going to be bigger.
However, Zorawar Kalra says positioning the organic angle is very important. “Restaurants selling ordinary food, even if they use organic ingredients, are not going to have many takers. But a restaurant selling great food, with an organic option, is going to be a major marketing trend. It is going to make the popularity of the restaurant go up, because people are looking forward to having organic food. They know what they are eating, they are aware of the dangers of having pesticides in their food.” He, however, adds that right now the cost for procuring 100% organic food is very high, but that will change as its popularity and demand go up. “At our company, we are working with local farmers to give them the volumes so they can bring down the costs. This way, other restaurants can also benefit from organic food grown locally. For instance, at Masala Library, we will soon have 90% organic produce,” he says. “But it requires the fundamentals to be strong. You have to make good food, you can’t just serve average food, even if it’s organic,” is his bottomline.

Vegetarian

Vegetarianism is a way of life in India, something the meat-eating West is now trying to turn to. And, this is one trend that has far more believers than other ‘fads’. For meat lovers, mock meats are finding favour and plant proteins have proven to be comparable substitutes to meat.
While almost all restaurants in India serve vegetarian food as well, the fact that luxury hotel chain ITC chose to open an all-exclusive vegetarian place, Royal Vega, at their hotel in Chennai acknowledges the importance of the trend. As chief executive of ITC Hotels Dipak Haksar says, “Royal Vega showcases the riches of Indian vegetarian repertoire for both local and global guests. It combines India’s regional diversity and heritage recipes with fresh and local produce.” ITC is also evaluating the expansion of the brand in its other hotels.
As Zorawar Kalra says, “A lot of people are finding it fashionable, but many are giving up meat for health and ethical reasons. And, it is definitely going to grow bigger in the coming year, especially plant proteins. They have now developed a mock burger, which has all the characteristics of actual meat, and people are finding it hard to distinguish the taste. India is a little behind the curve globally on the change from non-veg to veg, as we anyway eat so much vegetarian. Moreover, anyone who has never eaten meat doesn’t really feel the need to eat mock meats. So adaptation to soy protein and plant proteins is going to be bigger abroad than in India, but vegetarianism will continue to grow larger here. It’s almost become a buzzword.”

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