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Why is American cuisine trending in Mumbai?

Rare meat, artisanal burgers and corn dogs... American cuisine is fast displacing Asian cuisine in popularity across Mumbai. With the opening of several restaurants that serve modern and traditional American food, we find out what’s driving the trend

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Dec 15, 2016 15:00 IST
Half Pounder at The Boston Butt
Half Pounder at The Boston Butt(Photo courtesy: The Boston Butt)

Rare meat, artisanal burgers and corn dogs... American cuisine is fast displacing Asian cuisine in popularity across Mumbai. With the opening of several restaurants that serve modern and traditional American food, we find out what’s driving the trend

At Kala Ghoda’s newly opened smokery — The Boston Butt — meat is slow-cooked at 170 °F for 12 hours. It is smoked with apple wood, hickory, cherry wood and oak. At a stone’s throw away is The Yard, where meats are grilled to a medium rare on lava stones. Launched just months apart, both restaurants want to bring the real American barbeque experience to the city.

Read: Greek cuisine has never taken off in Mumbai. Can Goa’s Thalassa break the jinx?

Walk towards Ballard Estate from Kala Ghoda and you come to The Clearing House, which serves modern American fare, such as Asian tacos and lamb tacos in pretty-looking small and large plates.

A burger at Coma Coma (Photo courtesy: Coma Coma)

Zoom into Bandra’s hot restaurant scene: It Happened in New York has taken over a three-storeyed building on Convent Road. Here, you’ll find food inspired from the culinary scene of the Big Apple: corn dogs and tenderloin burgers. Then, drive up to Pali Hill to be welcomed by American-Mexican flavours at Coma Coma.

Until now, Mumbai was obsessed with Asian flavours. However, the attention is shifting to tacos, artisanal burgers and rare meats. Gauri Devidayal, partner at The Table, says that India has been exposed to popular American food for several years. “Burgers and hot dogs have always been around. (But) chefs are now expanding their repertoire,” she says.

The interiors of It Happened in New York (Photo courtesy: It Happened in New York)

In 2011, The Table, helmed by chef Alex Sanchez (who moved to Mumbai from San Francisco) pushed the envelope with his version of modern American fare — a term synonymous with a globally-inspired menu. On their menu are dishes such as boneless chicken wings, shio ramen and lamb burgers. And since American cuisine is made of influences from various other styles — Mexican, Asian, and European — the food here reflects this mishmash. “One of the reasons modern American cuisine is gaining popularity is because it gives chefs the flexibility to play with various other cuisines and flavours, without much restriction,” adds Devidayal.

The Table has played host to several American chefs. The recent ones included chef Kwame Onwuachi of the Washington DC restaurant — The Shaw Bijou — rated one of the best restaurants in DC by Eater.com; as well as chefs Tim Dornon and Andrew Black, who were former sous chefs at Eleven Madison Park in New York.

St Louis-style slow-smoked peppery pork ribs at The Boston Butt (Photo courtesy: The Boston Butt)

Smoke and awe

Three months ago, when chef and pit master (who operates a smoker), Siddharth Kashyap, opened The Boston Butt, the city’s first smokehouse and charcuterie, he was nervous. He wasn’t sure if Mumbai — with a sizeable vegetarian population, and where meat-eaters like their kebabs well-done from a tandoor — was ready for a meat-heavy barbeque menu.

“Undercooked meat preparations are not very popular here, but I was pleasantly surprised. The customer today is well-travelled and wants to try food in its authentic form. Most of my orders are for rare and medium-rare. This convinced me that it is the right time to open a barbeque joint in the city,” says Kashyap, who was previously a chef at The Grand Hyatt.

Typically, a grill menu in the US has six items — pork ribs, half and full pounder, beef brisket and turkey. The only vegetarian option is a side of slaw or mac-and-cheese.

Wild Mushroom and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breast at The Yard (Photo courtesy: The Yard)

“But in India, pork and beef are not our primary source of protein. I added smoked chicken, kingfish and even an Asian-style Calamari to the menu, along with vegetarian options, such as zucchini, potato, bell peppers, mushroom and potato skins,” he adds. Kashyap uses two styles of cooking meats — the St Louis style with a saucy brush, and another by adding a semi-dry rub.

On the heels of The Boston Butt, The Yard also offers DIY barbeque options cooked on lava stone grills. That owner Sarfaraz Delhiwala runs a meat processing and cold storage unit helps. The meats served here are rare and medium rare, with just the right amount of flavouring.

New York to Mumbai

In May this year, self-taught chef, Pranaay Pathak, launched the second outlet of House of Chipotle in Oshiwara. “I was visiting the US when I came across chipotle sauce (made of smoked jalapeno chillies). I thought Indians would love the concept as the flavours were similar to what we have grown up eating,” says Pathak, who launched the first outlet in December last year. This smoked chilli sauce is a rage across the world. Pathak serves the home-made sauce, in mild, spicy and very spicy variations, with all the dishes.

Tomato Salad at It Happened in New York (Photo courtesy: It Happened in New York)

It’s evident that all of these new America-inspired eateries are going out of their way to capture the essence and originality for us to experience. For instance, walk into the two-week-old It Happened in New York, and you will be transported to a typical NY loft, complete with a fireplace and clean, wholesome food. Since its consultant chef, Kartikeya Rajan is a former Eleven Madison Park line chef, the menu takes inspiration from popular eateries in New York, including the hot dog institution, Gray’s Papaya.

The food here reflects the current New York trend of vegetarian-forward offerings, where vegetables take centre stage even in meat-heavy dishes. Take Grain Story, for instance: a salad bowl of five grains served with curried cauliflower couscous, charred fennel salad, seared Brussels sprouts, roasted kale chips and pesto bocconchini.

The move towards American cuisine follows in the heel of other culinary trends inspired from the West. “We pick up these trends, sooner or later,” says Rajan. For the moment, it spells a welcome break from the miso, yuzu and wasabi-infused preparations.