Admittedly, New Year’s forecasts can get rather naff. Year after year, there are the inevitable predictions on what will be ‘The Next Big Thing’. Nevertheless, I’m joining the hoards and giving you a list on what to look out for this year. Partly because 2014 promises to be interesting for foodies, as the Internet unites us all via Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook, enabling the whole world to embrace and share new ideas simultaneously. Partly because, despite this culinary globalisation, India has unique patterns when it comes to food. But mostly because this year, food is going to be even more fun than ever before.
Food that heals. Fat is back in fashion. I promised you this year is going to be fun. Add a squiggle of ghee to your rice, baste fish in lemon butter and fry your eggs in coconut oil, all with a clear conscience. Last year was about moving away from potential allergens, as people went gluten-free and lactose-free, simultaneously cutting down on sugar, alcohol and carbs. This year, the tyranny of the diet book aisle is fading as the focus moves to ‘eating clean’ by fuelling your body with food that heals. After a glut of documentaries, YouTtube videos and blogs explaining how processed food turns us into insatiable junk-food junkies, people are now combining the wisdom of the past with the culinary prowess of the present to create a new style of food. Expect a year of Ayurveda influenced tasting menus. Local grains such as amaranth, ragi and bajra turned into muffins, cookies and murukku. And reinvention of previously overlooked vegetables such as cauliflower, used as a substitute for rice, mashed potatoes and even pizza crust.
The coconut rises. Last year, it got so fashionable that the Americans started adding scoops of it to their milkshakes, porridge and coffee. Nutritionists, fitness professionals and beauty bloggers hailed it as a powerful moisturiser, nourishing hair product and super food. Given the fact that we’re blessed with an inexpensive, high-quality, steady supply of this ingredient in India; expect to see coconut in all forms through the year. Yes, we will be cooking with it. But coconut will also be used in new age ice creams, stylish payasams and innovative drinks. It’s going to be one of the reasons Indian home food will get more popular than ever this year all over the world, as food bloggers share coconut-flecked recipes. As for the exotica hunters: look for hot chocolate sweetened with coconut sugar, rich coconut cream cocktails and snacks such toasted coconut popcorn.
Redefining milk. Cow’s milk straight from the farm gets fashionable this year. Probably served in old-fashioned twist-top bottles under a quirky label. Of course, there will be an associated Facebook page, plastered with pictures of fat, happy animals. Over the past few years, people have begun to ask questions about where their food comes from, and as a result producers are being forced to be more responsible. A happy outcome is that customers are willing to pay more for quality products sourced in an ethical way. Because this is the year of responsible dining. The next step: finding alternatives to milk. Already, banana milk, cashew milk and almond milk are getting more press. It’s not just the vegans. Now everyone wants to be kinder.
Artisan everything. We’ve never had so many small producers in India, each revelling in a very specific, often labour intensive, inevitably expensive hand-made gourmet products. Admittedly, quality is variable. Even the good ones have bad days. However, there’s an undeniable charm attached to artisanal food, whether it’s cheese, coffee or bread. After all, in this increasingly frantic world, personal connections are more precious than ever before. And these products thrive on intimacy. Which brings me to a related trend: restaurants that take pride in being small. Look our for more of these this year. Owner-driven, with short menus and friendly staff, they’ll offer casual dining, simple food and quality ingredients. Vegetables will get more attention. Food will be artistically presented, but not fiddly, to cater to the perpetually-distracted smart-phone generation. The emphasis: Quality over quantity.
International spices. Think beyond oregano. Inspired to cook by a legion of celebrity chefs, but unwilling to spend a day in the kitchen? The answer is to update your pantry. Instead of getting fancy, expensive and intimidating mains such as salmon, quinoa and complicated cuts of meat, this year will be about maximising flavours the easy way. After a year of experimentation, home cooks, bloggers and chefs are all finally headed in the same direction this year: spices from all over the world. Learn about Egyptian Dukka, Chinese five spice powder and Middle Eastern Zaatar. Taste different kinds of chillies. Play around with sturdy produce such a galangal, kefir limes and fresh turmeric. Use them all to tweak staid dishes such as roast chicken, mashed potatoes and even plain toast. Cooking is going to be exciting this year. It’s also going to be easy.