The demand for international cuisines has increased manifold in Delhi in the last decade because of the exposure that its urban population has been getting to various cultures from across the world. "Whether it is in Bollywood, career choices or personal networks, Delhi's turn towards a global metropolis makes it the perfect place to experiment with food," says Smita Singh who runs Elma's, a small English-style tea room and patisserie in Hauz Khas Village.
Delhi has seen a huge influx in its expatriate population in the last five years or so, one that doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon. As the adage goes, the first thing to be experienced (and eroticised) in any new culture is its food. Here, it has been a two-way exchange as the city's expats have fed as much to it as they have eaten.
Shani Himanshu of The Grey Garden in Hauz Khas — a restaurant that experiments with international ingredients, trying to cook them in an Indian context, if not necessarily an Indian palette — finds that "people are willing to try new styles of cooking, as well as ingredients that have been foreign to them till now." Consumers are no longer satisfied with only desi-Italian and Chinese food masquerading as international cuisine. They want to eat — and learn to cook — authentic cuisines starting from risottos to paellas, from sushi to Udon noodles and pork and kimchi.
And where there is demand for food, there has to be supply of ingredients. Yungsu Park, owner of BG Food Mart in Safdarjung Enclave, a Korean specialty store, points out how "all kinds of people come to the store, Koreans and Indians alike." She adds, after a few seconds, "I never realised Korean food was this popular in Delhi and I've been living here for more than ten years. People even come up to me and ask me to organise cooking classes." Park, along with a few Japanese ladies, plans to start brunch classes to teach basic Japanese and Korean cooking techniques.
Where there are focussed stores like BG Food Mart or the popular Yamato Ya, also in Safdarjung for Japanese ingredients, there are also various stores across cities that are now extensively stocked with all manners of imported ingredients, from Breakfast Pop Tarts to gluten free cereal, from meats to herbs and spices used in cooking European cuisines. Stores like Gourmet Food Mart in Select City Walk, Saket to Le Marche in Khan Market and DLF Promenade Mall, Vasant Kunj are stocking every possible exotic ingredient that the diverse expat population and food-enthusiast desis would possibly need.
Live Organic, a small store in Gurgaon, specialises in organic food ingredients. The little store that can hold only six people at a time has enough room for all kinds of organic and/or gluten free grains, pulses, spices, candies, juices, cookies and even cow's pure ghee. Manpreet Kaur, owner of Live Organic, ran the store for two years out of her own house before moving to her current location in DLF, Phase 4 in Gurgaon. "I started this business because I've always been passionate about eating healthy," she says. Live Organic doesn't keep any imported products and stocks fresh vegetables every Wednesday. In addition, they also organise a small farmer's market once a month, with fresh produce that the farmers come down to the market and sell themselves — no middlemen or retailers. Another organic store, Dubdengreen is the result of a lifetime's effort for Jayashree and Ganesh Eashwar, both organic farmers. The brand has an online store and delivers products straight to your doorstep.
Delhi's love affair with food has certainly taken a global turn in the last decade. And now, so have its grocery stores. We can only hope for more restaurants and stores that serve us something different, something new and something exotic.