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The standalone steaks its claim

When Isaac Newton claimed, “What goes up, must come down,” little did he know that one day he would literally have to eat his words. Because the proverbial apple that is contemporary restauranting is breaking all norms to defy gravity. And now is the time for you to sink your teeth in deep and take a big bite!

india Updated: Jul 27, 2009 22:46 IST
Riyaaz Amlani

When Isaac Newton claimed, “What goes up, must come down,” little did he know that one day he would literally have to eat his words. Because the proverbial apple that is contemporary restauranting is breaking all norms to defy gravity. And now is the time for you to sink your teeth in deep and take a big bite!

Soaring to unprecedented heights with nowhere to go but further up, the business of eating has become serious fun. The past decade, more than any other period of time, has seen its new face emerge. Far removed from family-run eateries, mid-level entrepreneur ventures and the five-star monopoly, restaurants in India are now labours of love, carefully crafted by culinary denizens who treat the world as their (and your) own dining table. The standalone has come a long way to ‘steak’ its claim.

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The biggest change has been in consumption patterns. From a weekly or fortnightly social occasion, dining out has become a near-daily ritual of catching up over a coffee or cocktail hour, sampling an exotic dish, or just an excuse for lazybones. It’s no longer a want, it’s a need.

Since you’ve read thus far, I know something has whetted your appetite for more and it’s that very enthusiasm and hunger that is redefining the gastronomic landscape. Patrons ask for more, we give them a smorgasbord.

So what exactly has been cooking, you ask? Well, let me indulge you with a bit of crystal-ball gazing into the foodie future.

Regionalism, of the good kind, or specialisation, is the way forward. With multi-cuisine, one-size-fits-all restaurants getting stale, a focus on regional or specialised fare will tickle seasoned taste buds. So, while we’ve started looking at our neighbours for more inspiration, making Oriental and not Occidental the flavour of the season, the scoping of culinary interiors and specialisation is a long-term strategy setting a product apart. It’s about Sichuan and Canton, not China; Sicily and Milan, not Italy; closer home, it’s Malayali and Hyderabadi, which is not to be confused with Awadhi.

Wherever the menu comes from, what is setting standards is its growing transparency. We’ve not just converted Indian eaters into global ones, but are also making them more informed and aware in the process. Cheap tricks like trying to make dishes tastier by use of heavy fats or passing off buffalo meat as beef is hara-kiri. Guidelines based on dietary preferences, food allergies, religious constraints are now important in the restaurateur handbook.

‘Healthy’ and ‘organic’ are no longer dirty words. Au contraire, calorie content listing, portion control as well as a move towards homegrown produce over imports are easy to swallow.

As support to organic, raw-food and low-cal movements gains ground, the conscientious eater is not only looking after his/her waistline but also the environment. Which is why foods promoting cruelty such as foie gras or caviar will soon fade out, while those creating minimal environmental impact will rise — like a well-done chocolate soufflé!

And while you are chewing away, revolutionary cooking methods that go beyond traditional, standard principles are bringing the culinary world closer on one platter. From elements of molecular gastronomy to sous vide cooking, science is meeting food in a magical alchemy, even as specialties from around the globe are being fused together into a harmonious blend. Any takers for a Norwegian salmon marinated in Thai herbs and sprinkled with Indian spices?

The answer is ‘yes’, and it’s never been a better time to be a foodie. Happy eating!