From kebabs to rajma, Kohli & Co have their way in the Caribbean

  • Somshuvra Laha, Hindustan Times, St John’s (Antigua)
  • Updated: Jul 20, 2016 13:50 IST
A Dehradun boy who came to Antigua six months back, Ramesh Chander Semwal is thrilled to play the chef in need of the India team now. (Somshuvra Laha)

Virat Kohli likes chicken kebabs and fish curry. Cheteshwar Pujara is a strict vegetarian who dislikes spicy food while Ishant Sharma eats according to a timetable. No one is allowed fried food and the diet chart of the India team says that every meal must be supplemented by a lot of salads, fruits, milk, different types of yoghurt and fresh juice.

If you thought overseas tours are all about batting, bowling and implementing strategy on the field, it’s not. Being fed hearty and healthy meals can go a long way in keeping any team in a happy zone. India are no different. If anything else, they might want to be reminded of home more on long halfway-around-the-world tours like this. At least the menu suggests so.

To find a drum in the balconies of Caribbean homes is a common phenomenon. The famous jerk chicken is made ‘drum-pan style’ in 100 gallon drums in this region. But they are normally rested horizontally. The drum located just adjacent to the India team dressing room at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium was placed horizontally, with a hole carved out in the centre and some skewers sticking out of it. That familiar sight in unfamiliar surroundings stoked one’s curiosity. Some digging around finally revealed that a local Indian restaurant had been given the responsibility to cater to the India team’s culinary needs on the Antigua leg of the tour.

“Actually we were told to either provide the Indian team with an Indian caterer or they will fly in their own chef. But thankfully that has been sorted out. And I think they are happy with the food they are getting here,” said a West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) spokesperson on Tuesday. There is a bit of history to this. On India’s tour of Australia in 2014, there were reports of Sharma and Suresh Raina leaving the Gabba dressing room lunch buffet after finding there weren’t enough food options for them. They left to buy lunch which they ultimately ate outside the stadium since outside food wasn’t allowed inside the stadium.

The team management clearly didn’t want a repeat of that incident. Which is why they had sent their requirements to the WICB long before the tour actually started. The contract eventually went to a local restaurant called Spices of India who jumped at the opportunity. “We actually had to fly in a custom made tandoor oven from Mumbai only for this game since we were told that the players prefer kebabs,” said Kishore Rajpal, co-owner of the restaurant.

That however is just the tip of the iceberg as different players have different preferences. “The proteins that we are using for the team meals are prawn, chicken, fish and lamb,” said Pooja Rajpal Karachiwala, wife of Kishore and the chief supervisor of all the India team meals. “Kohli let us know that he prefers chicken and fish. So we are ensuring he gets fish curry and chicken pahari and tikka kebabs in all the meals,” said Karachiwala.

“We were a given a diet chart where the dos and don’ts have been mentioned. We have been asked to strictly follow it. So we are not offering any fried food at all,” she said. Runaway hits have been dishes like tikka and pahari kebabs, paneer tikka and harabhara kebab (both vegetarian), galafi sheek of chicken, mutton burra kababs and of course the tandoori chicken. While most players have no specific requirements, there are a few exceptions. Like Pujara who is the only strict vegetarian in the team.

“He can’t have too much spicy food. So we are preparing daal tadka, palak paneer, chana and rajma. We were also told that Ishant Sharma is extremely conscious about what he eats. He can’t eat only vegetarian food as he needs his proteins but he eats according to a timetable,” said Karachiwala. “We are also providing idli sambar and poha during breakfast. The brief was to serve them healthy homemade food and the response so far has been very good,” she said.

In fact so good has been the response that some of the cricketers are asking for deliveries to the hotels. “Cricketers generally take room service at the team hotels but now some of them are asking if we can deliver food for dinner as well. We are not equipped for such large scale orders but we are trying to do as much as we can,” said Karachiwala. Interestingly, there has been not a single request for biryani, a perennial favourite of MS Dhoni. “Maybe since Dhoni is not with the team we have not got any such request. And anyway cricketers tend to avoid rice,” she said.

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