Food industry innovates to suit desi platter
"We (India and Singapore) share our food. Am absolutely fascinated by the Indian cabbage and spices and we are now experimenting with spices and ingredients available in other countries, hence, sharing the cuisine," says Chef Benjamin Seck of Singapore based True Blue Cuisine restaurant who was here on a short visit.
Several "cross-border" cuisines seem to have emerged in the process. One such example is the `Indo Chinese` that has items like `gobi manchurian` on its menu.
So now, preparation of chicken tikka might as well be slightly changed to marinating the chicken pieces in a `laksa` paste, made from the Singaporean herb `laksa` leaves, to give it a Singaporean twist before finishing on the charcoal grill.
Similarly, `laksa` might be used in the fragrant basmati -rice Indian `pulao` preparation to make the `laksa pulao` which its creator Chef Rajkamal Chopra of WelcomHotel Sheraton insists tastes best with `raita` or spiced yoghurt. "It is very important for a chef to break out of routine and experiment, says Chopra. Similar views are echoed by renowned chef Sanjeev Kapoor who feels "chefs by nature are experimental".
"However, today the diner has also begun experimenting, and this gives the chef more liberty and a stronger reason to do so." Kapoor, who recently launched the Hindi version of his website to attract "new internet users" also attributed the large number of outbound as well as inbound traffic to and from the country to have helped cause the change.
Global fast food players like McDonald`s, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Pizza Hut and Chikking, a new entrant into the north Indian market, have also innovated with local ingredients to suit the Indian palette.
"India is a unique market. It requires tremendous local innovations in terms of products development," says Rajesh Kumar Maini, GM Corporate Communication, McDonald`s India.
The `aloo tikki` burgers featured on the Mc Donald`s menu is a case in point. "Similarly, McGrill is another innovation of famous Indian dish Shammi Kebabs. Our recently launched McSpicy range has been developed integrating right mix of various local spices and herbs," says Rajesh Kumar Maini, GM Corporate Communication, McDonald`s India.
Sunay Bhasin, Marketing head, Pizza Hut says the company which recently completed 15 years in India has introduced a new range of pizzas with popular Indian ingredients.
"Our new range of pizzas include Sev Puri, Chettinadu Paneer, Chatpata Veg Masala, Nimbu Mirchi, Chicken Achaari, Chicken Jalfrezi and Chicken Do Pyaaza. The Sev Puri Pizza has aloo bhujiya … while the Chicken Jalfrezi Pizza has chicken tikka and tandoori sauce besides onions, tomatoes, green chillies and cheese," says Bhasin.
Besides this KFC boasts of a menu that is a mix of global favourites with country specific innovations. Dhruv Kaul, Director-Marketing, KFC India, says " For India, we have introduced a whole range of innovative and exciting products over the last two years. The recently launched spicy range of grilled chicken has been attracting new consumers to the store."
Chicking Fried Chicken from Dubai, already a established brand in South India, is a brand new entry to the north Indian market focusing on Halal meat industry. Similarly Dubai-based Chicking Fried Chicken offers Indian-style marinated fish and six-flavoured potato fingers.
"Besides fried chicken we have especially innovated with the recipe of the fish, marinated strictly in Indian herbs and spices," says A K Mansoor, CMD, Al Bayan group, which owns the Chicking group of restaurants.
Randall Tan Chin Boon, regional director, South Asia, Middle East & Africa, Singapore Tourism Board says challenges that come in the way of improvisation on traditional style of cooking such as not being able to procure locally available ingredients can also be addressed now.
"Chefs are coordinating among themselves as well as through distributors to make ingredients available. This is an informal exchange" says Tan who was on a short visit here recently to facilitate `Singapore Takeout`, a gastronomical extravaganza that had earlier traveled to cities like London, Paris and Moscow and presented Singaporean-inspired dishes with a local appeal.
"I saw the two distinctive cuisines blending together, the outcome of which was a culinary delight", said Chef Kunal Kapur, Executive Sous Chef, The Leela Kempinski Gurgaon and Masterchef India judge on the dishes prepared as part of the initiative.
Food also crosses boundaries according to Chef Manisha Bhasin from ITC Maurya who feels "something as basic as food always strengthens relationships between countries and give the people better choice. They are exposed to more food choices now than before. People are still not very aware of various cuisines and that makes it still largely an unexplored area for us",says Bhasin.
Chopra also points out that such sharing of food and experimental cooking will "lead to more hygienic ways of cooking and give a broader outlook to the chefs as well as the consumers in terms of exposure to international cuisines."
Activities like global exchange programmes have also played an important role in better understanding of another country`s culture and the nature of spices grown there, according to chefs who have been part of them.
Change in attitude in order to experiment with food, however, has not "happened overnight. It is a long, slow process", says Kapoor who remains "an ardent lover of the Indian cuisine at the end of the day".