The food available in India today is global in its scope. But is it better?
The one new development in 2018 has been the triumph of premiumisation, a process by which bad food can be made to cost a lot more. And bad chefs selling themselves to the gullible with hype and misrepresentation.Updated: Dec 29, 2018, 11:31 IST
This was the year when more people than ever before ate food that was not made in their kitchens. Some of this had to do with the restaurant boom and the fast food explosion. But there were also the food delivery options. Why cook at home when you can use your smartphone to order pizzas, tacos, sushi rolls or biryani?
Did this mean we ate better?
Well, we certainly ate very differently from the way our parents did. They usually cooked dinner at home and probably did not know what a ‘spicy prawn tempura roll’ was (in that respect at least, they were like the Japanese, who don’t know what that is either) and were instinctively suspicious of food cooked in anonymous kitchens they had never seen.
On some level, as much as we enjoy the variety of today’s food options, we share our parents’ concerns. Many of us (at least, the foodies among us) recognise that the current food boom is based on industrialised production. The fast food places are always chefless by definition and many new restaurants have found it hard to recruit talent because of the frenetic expansion of the food sector.
So yes, the food today is different and much more global in its scope. But is it better? Or is it just blander, with variety compensating for an essential lack of subtlety and flavour? Because some people recognise that the food boom has not necessarily led to better quality, canny restaurateurs, food companies and entrepreneurs have offered us a new mantra: premiumisation.
In theory, this sounds great: “You don’t like the mass-produced food that is flooding the market? Don’t worry! We have a range of premium products / dishes for you!”
Sadly this can be an even more unsatisfying option. Often, it is just a simple con.
Here are some of the things we find most irritating about the current wave of ‘premiumisation’.
Cold-pressed juice: Is it really that much healthier? And even if it is, is it worth a 300% premium on the price? The market thinks it is. Frankly, we are not so sure.
Truffle oil: If we see another menu that offers truffled fries, we will have to resist the urge to rush into the kitchen and smash every bottle we find. As all chefs should know, truffle oil is not made from truffles. It is a nasty synthetic product that uses inferior oil and a chemical compound extracted from petroleum, which mimics part of the complicated aroma of real truffles.
Any chef who uses it should be ashamed of himself. And any chef who destroys the distinctive flavour of Indian food with this nasty chemical is a talentless hack. But hey! You can use the word ‘truffle’’ on your menu and extract lots of money from gullible customers for a so-called ‘premium product’.
Avocados: Enough already! Yes we know it’s the most expensive vegetable in the market, but avacado bhel puri? Really? Just because something is expensive in India doesn’t mean it is sophisticated or ‘premium’.
Name-dropping: Do you really care if a chef worked at some fancy place abroad? Especially when he won’t say what he did there, and it hasn’t helped his food any?
Watch out for name-dropping chefs. Most of the people who claim to have worked at Noma, Osteria Francescana, etc were stagiers, unpaid interns who are kept on for a few months to do the dirty jobs that real chefs don’t like doing — peeling potatoes, chopping onions. Stagiers rarely cook.
Gourmet shops: A growth area in the age of premiumisation. These usually break every rule of good eating. The food is not gourmet. It is merely ‘imported’. And more often than not, it is overpriced rubbish which no true gourmet stores abroad would stock: disgusting supermarket cheeses, vegetables on their death beds, and so on.
The pastry boom: If you see a shop that sells overpriced cupcakes and desserts, be very careful. Chances are these are industrial sugar/maida fat bombs made in some factory. Yet, they will be packaged as premium and will cost the earth.
So is there nothing we are happy about on the food scene this year?
Well, there is a lot to cheer about but frankly, it’s the same stuff we cheered over last year: fun restaurants, simple but flavourful ingredients, a discovery of some regional dishes, etc.
The one new development in 2018 has been the triumph of premiumisation, a process by which bad food can be made to cost a lot more. And bad chefs selling themselves to the gullible with hype and misrepresentation.
Perhaps next year at least the food will be better!