Think of that very unusual ingredient that showed up in your dessert... Cucumber, lime, rosemary, even celery? There is no limit to imagination and sometimes, all these savoury flavours like the chilli, which literally looks like a pizza topping and celery, in its pickled form, are sprinkled onto dessert, to add that element of surprise and freshness to menus.
Local and seasonal is another option for chefs. A locally produced jaggery or sea salt are the ingredients chefs will use to prepare their afters-sauces or sprinkle onto their fish to make them look pretty and encrusted… good enough to eat!
The aim of course is to make a discerning guest happy. One who is always looking for something new when he is out at a restaurant. We may not realise it, but we have been eating fermented foods all our lives, in the form of curds and pickle. The stories about them being crucial to mood and gut health have only germinated in the recent past.
Eggs are an evergreen ingredient and the demand for the delish products at restaurants is often during the rush hour before work. Says Shashank Chavan, a Mumbai-based chef, that at his restaurant in Churchgate, omelettes are some of the first choices by guests for morning breakfast. Salads, juices and fresh fruit often accompany them, mainly for those who want to eat something satiating and well basted. Basted eggs, where the runny, oily egg yolk on top of the white is also very well cooked along with it, through the technique, is a standard breakfast alternative for many people who want to pack a punch into the day before work. Restaurants like Akerkar’s Qualia celebrate eggs in a way that marries their simplicity with a few fundamentals like avocado, tomato, corn waffles, pulled pork, and bhindi, which accompanies baked eggs like a tarty seasoning. “Eggs are the most amazing underdogs. The most delicious treat in every meal. Our love for eggs is what is reflected on our menu at Qualia,” shares Akerkar.
Rahul Akerkar, Owner and Executive Chef at Qualia, the city’s newest fine dine in Lower Parel says, “Pickling and fermentation is our biggest asset. This is our ongoing process everyday at Qualia. We take seasonal produce and pickle or ferment it. This is a long and slow process, however the product that is received at the end of this labour of love is simply amazing.
”In terms of ingredients, Akerkar says that it is difficult to predict which flavours will stay on and which food trend –– whether it’s the Buddha Bowl or the sourdough bread or the laksa curry food trend, or similar trends – is likely to become staple food in the next few years. He adds that often cooking is a game of luck, where new textures and ingredients are only discovered perchance. “We are always excited to see how the flavour and texture unfolds. Our menu at Qualia is very different than the generic menu format. We do not have the usual appetiser, main course and dessert format. Our main aim is to focus on the main ingredient. We let the flavour profile of this main element dictate what works best with it. Accordingly our dishes constitute themselves. Also our pickled elements bring freshness to our dishes. This combination of sweet and sour what we call Ambat Goad is highlighted in all our dishes,” says the Maharashtrian who also has a Master’s in Biochemical Engineering from Columbia University.
At Foodhall, a gourmet food store with outlets in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru, which also has cooking work stations and recipes which make use of ingredients in a way that’s avant garde, Mohanjit, a customer service executive shares tales of sriracha sauce with us. She says the hot chilli sauce along with sticky granola have been popular choices for gift packages this year. In fact, a lot of ready made sauces imported from across the world, like pad thai, guacamole, and tomato and chargrilled vegetable sauces have flown off the shelves in 2019. Other items that saw an upward spiral are sushi sets – the kind that come with bamboo mats for making sushi rolls at home, dried seaweed hijiki and natto miso. Infused olive oil, organic tea (not coffee) and English vegetables like broccoli, capsicum, Romaine lettuce, flat parsley, and baby spinach were also top of mind for most customers, and will continue being hits even in the future.
Along with eggs, another underrated food item is the potato. Digital fries, flash fries, machine or even hand-cut fries have always been some items that people just like to pick up on their way home or if they go outstation or on a long drive. Poutines, a dish which originated in Canada, are also found on a number of menus at urban restaurants because they guarantee taste, satiability and value for money. The customary vada pav with its green chili and dried red chili powder on the side, Chinese bhel, pav bhaji and Manchurian are also something which will never diminish in popularity, especially among Bombayites. Their ability to drown hunger pangs is what makes them a desired snack choice among working people. Says Chavan, that apart from these, it is fusion food which has entered people’s lives all of a sudden, and chefs like to take ingredients from different countries and put them together.
Hence makhani pasta is something you shouldn’t be surprised with finding on a restaurant menu. “It’s how the chef likes to marry the Punjabi butter cream mix with pasta, and this heralds the new age of fusion food in Mumbai,” shares Chavan.