Feb 18, 2016
The ongoing ‘Make in India Week’ in Mumbai has made it a good time to look at the evolution of Indian restaurants in the country’s financial capital.
A few days ago I went to Fort, the city’s original CBD. Fort is dotted with restaurants whose owners came to Mumbai from all over the country. There are the Iranis, who came here from Yazd via Gujarat. South Indians who came from places such as Mangalore, Calicut and Udipi. Punjabis who came from Karachi, and also folks from the Malvan region in coastal Maharashtra. They all came to the city and set up no-frills restaurants, which serve the sort of food they have grown up on. Food, which is consistent in quality and taste, and very affordable. I have eaten in these restaurants every day when I worked in Fort. The food here is so different from that in today’s CBD, the Bandra Kurla Complex, where most of the restaurants are too expensive to eat in on a regular basis.
You could argue though that the restaurants in Fort belong to pages from the past. Folks who are obsessed by food and its sepia-tinted romance will go there.
However, is it ‘cool’ to go to Fort to eat for today’s youth?
Seasoned food writer, Sourish Bhattacharya points out that the 1990s and early 2000s were when the focus was on international food in media, and that’s where the diners headed. Possibly because Indian restaurants, as Zamir Khan of Massive Restaurants points out, were seen as places to go for heavy meals with one’s family.
Things have changed of late. I have earlier spoken about how 2015 was the year when restaurants such as Farzi Café, Social, The Bombay Canteen, SodaBottleOpenerWala and Villa Cafe Vandre made Indian food sexy again for the youth. That’s because the folks behind these restaurants are passionate about Indian food. They had the guts to not stick to what seemed to be working, and instead travel the path they believed in. Their conviction seems to have paid off.
We know that going out to eat Indian food is finally trendy again for the youth. But, are they just interested in Indian food presented in a smart new way? Or are they willing to find out more about the history of Indian food? Or, about its regional diversity?
If not, how can one awaken the young hipster’s interest in regional Indian food?
Food writer and consultant, Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, looks to restaurants for driving this interest. She points out that trends pushed by restaurants are then adopted at home, and believes that could work for driving an interest in the diversity in Indian food too.
I see instances of that happening here. The Bombay Canteen folks have brought in their mom’s recipes into the menu this month. So, you have a range of Bengali, Malayali, Syrian Catholic, Goan, Punjabi and Maharashtrian home-cooked meals presented in a trendy, modern way on offer here. I would recommend the green peas kochuri and alur dom, the fish kochuri, the chicken xacutti and the prawn curry from the menu. SodaBottleOpenerWala is recreating old Bombay classics from restaurants such as Noor Mohammadi for a Valentine’s month celebration. Gonguura in Versova has put a user’s guide to eat Andhra food in their menu to help non-Andhraites, which I think is a great idea. At a more premium level, Trident BKC has a Rivayat festival where Izzat Hussein, a former Lucknow royal family member, a chef and a doctor, has brought in about 50 royal Lucknowi recipes for a month. As I wrote in my previous article, trendy places such as The Bagel Shop, Indigo Deli, Smokehouse Deli and Cafe Villa Vandre have introduced East Indian flavours in Bandra, which is considered by many to be the hipster capital of Mumbai. The restaurant owners and chefs tell me that these traditional dishes are doing very well too.
A certain 5 star hotel executive chef is actually planning to hang his corporate whites to devote himself to celebrating the world of regional Indian food. Keep watching this space for more on his journey.
The restaurants have upped their ante when it comes to making regional Indian food exciting. Now, as Sourish says, is the time for the media to play their role.
We, at India Food Network, are committed to that.
Check out this chat, which I hosted on whether the youth is interested in exploring regional Indian food. And let us know what you would like us to cover next on Adda with Kalyan.
Kalyan is a Mumbai-based food blogger and columnist who loves to travel in search of local tastes. He is at his happiest when eating at small, family-run places. His blog Finely Chopped won the Best Food Blog Award in 2013, 2014 and 2015 at the Food Bloggers Association of India awards. He is the lead critic for Mumbai at EazyDiner and is a columnist for Femina. He is also the Chief Chowzter for Mumbai, and conducts food walks in the city.
Follow Kalyan on Twitter @finelychopped