Travel and exposure to different cultures are contributing to the rise of niche cuisines among urban Indians. “Internet and TV shows are bringing acceptance among people who are getting adventurous with their palate,” says Zorawar Kalra, restaurateur and son of celebrity chef Jiggs Kalra. People promoting specialised dishes — working from a home or a commercial kitchen — are doing it out of passion and as a way to preserve their culture and age-old recipes. Celebrity chef Vikas Khanna calls them ‘faith-keepers’ of food. “They add colour to the landscape of eating out. People into niche cuisines aren’t about fads. They’re the need of the hour — ones who will create the trends.”
Hema B Watchmaker, 69, Jyoti Narang Watchmaker, 35
This mother and daughter-in-law duo decided to ditch ‘kitchen politics’ and instead offer catered Parsi dishes to Gurgaon residents keen on home-style food. In one year, Hema’s culinary expertise and Jyoti’s networking ideas have made them popular among a cosmopolitan clientele.
Cuisine: Their signature dishes are the Dhansak (a dish of lentils, vegetables, spices and gourd/pumpkin), Salli Boti (meat curry with potato sticks), Patrani Machhi (steamed fish dish), jackfruit biryani, farsan (Gujarati snacks). They’ve recently introduced Do-It-Yourself food kits — pizza, vada pav and bruschetta — which they claim are a first in the country. The dishes are priced between Rs. 40 to Rs. 800.
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Rathin Mathur, 42
An otherwise “gainfully employed” professional dealing with Ayurveda products, Mathur, a Gurgaon resident, recently discovered his culinary side while unwinding with “recipes and their rationale”. He calls himself a “passionate enthusiast” who shares his discoveries on the social media, including receiving instant feedback from customers.
Cuisine: While experimenting with a Malaysian recipe for dry mutton, Mathur improvised with flavours from “Kashmir, Punjab, Kerala, Indonesia, China, Vietnam”, inventing what he calls the Hmmutton. He also does a dish called the Gurkha Langar Chicken Curry — inspired by his childhood as an “army brat” when his father’s orderly smuggled him into the regimental cookhouse and fed him a “flavourful chicken curry”.
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Rita Chachra, 57
Post marriage, a young Chachra moved to the Middle East in the 70s where Arab dishes became an essential part of their daily meals courtesy her mother-in-law. After coming back, in 2010, Chachra opened food outlets in Delhi and Gurgaon malls, which became popular by word of mouth. At a later point she plans to enter a TV show like Master Chef and venture into a full-fledged restaurant business.
Cuisine: Besides the popular shawarma, her signature dishes are Taawa (a gravy dish of aubergine wrapped in mince meat with Arab spices and baked in the oven.) The other is Samak Meshwi which is an open-cut fish — grilled, spiced with Arab herbs and served whole.
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Prabeen Singh, 63
For food writer and cookbook author, Singh, food was “occupational therapy” till seven years ago when she was working with women’s issues and HIV in rural areas. The kitchen turned out to be a de-stresser and finally last year she turned semi-professional. Her new career involves catering, organising bespoke (customised) dinners, and writing. Singh — a fan of Persian and Arab cuisines — prefers to call herself a cook, not a chef. She feels unconventional avenues of today will become the norm for young chefs with escalating real estate prices.
Cuisine: Murabyan (Kuwaiti dish of shrimp and rice), Lamb Kibbeh (Lebanese croquette stuffed with meat), aubergine and meat stew in a pomegranate sauce, Iranian-style stuffed duck.
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Prima Elizabeth Kurien, 49
An art consultant before she went full-time into catering, Delhi-based Kurien considers her late grandmother her biggest influence on her current vocation. This feisty foodie who loves feeding people can churn out a meal for 200 people from her home kitchen.
Cuisine: Kurien’s Syrian-Christian menu includes Meen Vevichathu (fish curry with kokum), Fish Molee (made with coconut milk), Meat Oolarthiathu, Eriserry (arhar dal and pumpkin curry). Orders start at Rs. 2000.
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Reeka Dass, 40
The shy Dass sisters — Reeka and Viveka — started Burmese Kitchen with the popular Khow Suey in 2009. They had grown up eating this one-dish soup meal since a part of their family hails from Burma. Apart from Burmese, they also work with other Pan-Asian cuisines and cater in Delhi/NCR.
Cuisine: The signature Khow Suey is available in chicken, mutton, pork and vegetables with nine condiments to choose from. Burmese Nanji (dry Burmese noodles in vegetarian and chicken), Lethok (raw papaya salad with noodles), Mohinga (fish soup similar to Khow Suey but without coconut milk).
Contact: email@example.com, 0124-4200444, www.burmesekitchen.in