What did we eat this year? And how? Shonali Muthalaly guides you through the most influential food trends of this year
If you’re still sourcing vanilla from Madagascar, you’re hopelessly passé. In keeping with the ‘proudly desi’ trend, this year has been all about celebrating Indian produce. Over the lpast few years, Indian farmers and businessmen have worked diligently on growing products that are trendy, well-packaged and high quality. Now they’re finally available at your closest supermarket.
Besides easy accessibility, the other advantage is how competitively priced these products are, whether it’s Coorg coffee, vanilla beans from Pollachi or cold-pressed coconut oil. If you’re looking for something more exotic, ferret out regional products: Amritsar wadis, which are sundried lentil dumplings used to make curries. Sharp, but well-rounded Bengali Kashundhi mustard. Or caramelly Nolen gur, date palm jaggery, a winter speciality from Kolkata.
Dal-roti-pesto. International food has become more accessible than ever before, thanks to food shows, recipe blogs and the gamut of global ingredients available at every supermarket.
While Indian homes have gradually embraced various cuisines (after all, even our grandmothers made fish pies, fried rice and apple tarts), what’s interesting is that this year Thai curries, Mexican tortillas and English roasts have become regular features on home menus instead of just dinner-party dishes. Once comfort food meant a steaming plate of kichadi. Today, you’re just as likely to go home to a hot bowl of laksa.
Smart ramen bars. Comfortably grungy Khau Suey speciality joints. Momo carts. The bright flavours of Asia are rapidly wrapping themselves around us. China, Thailand and Malaysia have always been popular. But now, Indians are delightedly plunging into the more unfamiliar flavours of Vietnam, Korea and Japan. Simultaneously, chefs, restaurateurs and home cooks are experimenting with even familiar Asian cuisines to discover authentic regional dishes that go beyond the stereotypical (and often indianised) chilly chicken, tom yum and teppanyaki staples.
In rewind mode
Trend analysts say this happens every time there’s an economic slowdown. When life gets challenging, people want to go back to simpler times, i.e. their childhood. This year retro restaurants sprang up all over the world, with schoolroom chairs, blackboard menus and bright primary colours. Cutlery is heavy, floors are wooden and food is nostalgic. In India, the trend resulted in restaurants with clean lines, serving food with clean flavours. The focus was on high quality, locally sourced, organic ingredients rather than fussy, ostentatious dining.
Compost-related conversations at a cocktail party? Don’t be surprised. Backyard gardens are in fashion, and it’s possibly the year’s most sensible trend. International recipes are tough to follow in India because even basic fresh ingredients such as Thai basil, galangal and rosemary can be hard to find. However, many of these are easy to grow, need very little space and are a fragrant alternative to potted plants. Which is why balconies, tiny garden patches and even window sills are now being used to house ingredients for dinner. Hotels are also getting into the act, whether it’s fancy five stars that have tiny vegetable and herb gardens tucked into a corner of their properties or chefs who nurture tender mustard shoots in their warm kitchens to sprinkle over the salad.
We’ve never been more enamoured with food. Social networking has a lot to do with this, as users now share everything they eat in real time, creating an instant buzz. Over the last year, it’s been impossible to eat anything without every person at the table whipping out the phone and taking a picture of the food, which is then instantly uploaded online with witty captions such as ‘dinner,’ ‘yum’ or ‘jealous?’. It can be exasperating. On the flip side, you have to admit it’s also endearing. Besides, you finally have a massive audience for that sludgy porridge you made for breakfast. All you have to do is slap on a filter, pump up the colour and type a caption. We’re guessing you’ll go with ‘Yum’.
Cronuts. Need we say more? For anyone who was hibernating through most of 2013, this craze was triggered off by Dominique Ansel at his namesake bakery in Soho, New York, where he began frying croissants in grape seed oil at an ‘undisclosed temperature’ till crisp. Once word was out, ‘cronutphiles’ began lining up outside the bakery from 5 a.m., to wait three hours till it opened. Meanwhile, the cronut black market boomed, with scalpers selling them at anything from $5 to $100 dollars. In India, they triggered a wave of Frakenpastries: gajar halwa cake, chocolate gulab jamuns, chai ice cream...
It makes sense. Their recipes work. They have to. Because online recipe geeks are notoriously opinionated. A bad blog will sink like a stone. With a good blog, inevitably each of its recipes will be tried and tested by users all over the world many times over. There’s a big, enthusiastic, readymade market — a large part of which is made up of Indians living abroad. Given the no-holds-barred style of food blogging, there’s a personal connect. All this to explain why, when Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta released her first book: The Bong Mom’s Cook Book, based on her blog, it was instantly popular, even though many of her recipes were still available online. Choosing another route, Richa Hingle, who has more than 17,500 likes on Facebook, chose to release an e-book. Now Ranjini Rao and Ruchira Ramanujam, who blog at Tadka Pasta, have released Around The World With The Tadka Girls. The floodgates have opened.