Jan 13, 2016
There are times when I feel that people who launch regional Indian restaurants deserve bravery medals.
I remember going to Dakshin Coastal at ITC Maratha once when a Malayali colleague lambasted a Kerala fish preparation served to her. When I later mentioned it to the chef, I was told that the version they served was from north Kerala, while my colleague was from the southern part of the state.
I once had a lovely dinner at an Assamese restaurant called Axomi in Bangalore. The young owner of the newly-opened restaurant told me that while non-Assamese folks enjoyed the food, there were Assamese diners who said the food was not kosher.
Surjapriya Ghosh ran into trouble when she opened Bong Bong in Mumbai, where she proposed to serve ‘modern Bengali food’. Clamours for kosha mangsho from irate Bengalis expats made her quietly switch to a more traditional menu.
I have rarely come across a Parsi, who approves of the food served in new Parsi restaurants in the city such as Jamjoji (which shut down eventually), SodaBottleOpenerWala or even Social with its dhansak. But, then, most Parsis look down upon any Parsi food served out of home including that in the much touted Britannia at Fort.
Glyston Gracias, chef at Smoke House Deli, spoke to me about this in a recent chat. Glyston, who belongs to the East Indian community of Mumbai, hopes to open a restaurant someday, which will serve East Indian food. His worry though is that no two East Indian families will serve the same version of the same dish.
Even the recipe of the famous bottle masala, intrinsic to East Indian food, varies from one cook to another according to Glyston. His grandmother used 32 spices, while his mother uses 20!
“What will you do when people say your vindaloo is not the way their mothers make it?” I asked him.
Glyston smiled and said, “I will ask them for the recipe for their version.”
Chef Sahil Singh of PaPaYa points out that unlike French cuisine, recipes in Indian cuisine haven’t been astutely documented, and that that there are variations from one cook to another.
Coming back to Glyston and the variance in the East Indian vindaloo, let’s not forget that there are variations of the dish made by East Indians, Goans and Mangaloreans. Just as dosas in Bangalore are different from those in Chennai, and biryanis in Kolkata are different from those in Mumbai.
Yes, it takes a lot of courage to open an Indian restaurant, and hope to please all.
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 and 2014 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