TREND City folks are reluctantly welcoming international cuisine into their food chart

These are the ones that remain a perennial favourite! Parotta and biryani – traditional, constant attractions. However, new players are making themselves palatable. Waiting for their turn under the sun are dim sums and pasta, steaks and mezze platter. Kozhikode – a food capital of traditional cuisine – is opening up to international gourmet wonders, albeit slowly. The patrons are still few in number, but change is nevertheless real, say restaurateurs. The city still doesn’t boast a specialty international cuisine restaurant, not even a run-of-the-mill Indian Chinese that flourish elsewhere. 

There are reasons for this reluctance, explains Sumesh Govind, proprietor of Paragon Restaurant and M-Grill. “ We are comfortable in the biryani, parotta, rice and curry routine. I don’t even know which side to take on this,” says Sumesh. If the city folks are reluctant experimenters, our rich food heritage is to blame. “Take our thali, for example, one has nothing to complain in there. In one sense, whatever we have is so good that other cuisine cannot make an impact,” he adds. 

At The Gateway Hotel, Salin Kumar, the executive chef, says, international cuisine still loses out in a big way to Indian cuisine. Yet, he is quick to note the change. “In the past 15 months, I would say 30 per cent of local diners chose international cuisine. The emphasis here is often on filling-up your stomach than savouring different flavours,” says Salin.

“The majority still don’t experiment. It is that small segment of the cosmopolitan crowd who are bored with the usual stuff that have an appetite for change,” believes Sumesh. Travelling and the Internet have played its role in widening food choices, say the players. “It is those who know about other cuisine who try new things,” says Prabhil K., sous chef at Kadavu Resorts and Ayurveda Centre. Thomas P.K., corporate chef, Paragon group, also hints at the hand-holding often required.

While he agrees there is a “remarkable increase” in number of customers for international cuisine in the past two years, he says, “The customers are ready to try anything which goes with their palate. We need to explain the taste and make them confident that it will suit their preferences. International travellers are familiar with cuisine, but we need to explain it for the others.”

New favourites

If Chinese has been around eternally with its rice and curry, which is close to our idea of a meal, the one that is fast making inroads is Italian, say the chefs. “At the moment Italian is popular,” says Jubish Kumar, executive chef at Hotel Asma Tower. Pasta, pizza, grills and steaks have all takers, especially among the young. Dim sums too are finding their place.

At Kadavu, where they launched their grill specialty Garam recently, with a Continental heavy menu, there is demand for what they offer, says chef Ajith K.P. “Grilled tiger prawns and fish cubes are popular,” he says, adding that lasagna is a star among diners of Kozhikode now. Mediterranean and Thai cuisine too have made their mark. Though, we are yet to appreciate the art that a sushi or a sashimi is.

At Gateway, where they serve a smattering of Italian, Mexican, Continental, Thai and Chinese regularly, Vietnamese and Japanese cuisine are put together on request. “Sushi takes a while to make. So if the order is placed in advance, I keep it ready,” says chef Salin. A definite new is the growing strength of salads here. Salin says that since people are now increasingly diet conscious, all heavy salads are out. “Those looking at healthy options prefer Lebanese grill and salads,” says chef Thomas.

While change is a factor, those in the business say, it is still small. International cuisine remains a risky business. Sumesh, who launched M-Grill without the staple biryani, was told he was being foolish. The restaurant, which offers a range of international cuisine, is his big test. “It is not a huge success yet. But I have not burned my fingers,” he admits.

“People are beginning to change. But the pace of it will never be fast when they are comfortable with their local cuisine,” he adds. He admits that he still thrives on the success of the immensely local Paragon. “M-Grill is for the niche clientele,” he says. Kozhikode is perched on the cusp of change. “I think the time is ripe for a specialty Chinese restaurant.” What about Japanese? Sushi? “No way,” he laughs.