When Tapas met Tandoori: What happens when award-winning Spanish chef Andoni Luis Aduriz samples the flavours of Old Delhi?
The main man behind two-star Michelin restaurant Mugaritz was found flipping rotis at an Old Delhi dhaba recently. Here is what happened next!Updated: Apr 07, 2019 00:00 IST
It’s a gentle winter afternoon, the perfect time to escort celebrated chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, the man behind the award-winning Spanish restaurant Mugaritz, around Old Delhi. The two-star Michelin restaurant Mugaritz is housed in an old mansion on the border of the Basque towns Errenteria and Astigarraga close to San Sebastián. It ranks ninth on the list of World’s 50 Best Restaurants (2018) and is the only one in the world to have been in the Top 10 of World’s Best Restaurants by Restaurant Magazine ranking for 12 consecutive years.
“When I saw fish and seafood being used with milk as a base in India, it was revolutionary for me!”
Andoni, who answers to ‘chef’ only in his kitchen, is now on his fourth trip to India’s capital, but he has never been to Purani Dilli before.
That’s because his first trip to Delhi about 25 years ago could have sent him running back to Spain instantly, never to return again.
“The temperature was touching 50 degrees for the first time in many decades,” Andoni remembers. “My luggage too was not to be found. When I went out on the street – I had not travelled the world then as much as I have now – everything just piled on me. It came as a shock. This was my first impression of India.”
Shock and awe
Part of Andoni’s shock at his Indian debut came from the fact that he comes from San Sebastián, a small town in Spain with a small population. Even Madrid, he says, had been a shock to his system.
But the shock of Delhi soon turned into awe. Andoni had come with another chef and neither knew anything about food in India. “We just ate what we had heard of from people, but this visit left a great impact on me,” he says.
He particularly recalls the masala lassi he had, and how the fresh, cold yogurt delighted him. “I found it very exotic,” he declares with a child-like excitement.
To tell the truth, almost everything not from San Sebastián was exotic to Andoni – for instance, the first time he ever travelled by plane, he was 18 years old and headed to Frankfurt. “Now I have an eight-year-old son who has already been to 20 countries,” he grins.
“Super modern restaurants are embracing the culture of India, and that is incredible!”
Forget Indian food, which then was only available in the big cities of Madrid and Barcelona, Andoni had his first pizza long after he was 15 years old. “I did not even know what a pizza was!” he laughs.
Today, just as his life has changed, so has his opinion of India. He is here, this time, to recreate the Mugaritz-magic using many Indian ingredients as part of the ITC Global Tastes.
The melting pot
India, he says, has definitely changed a lot. Says Andoni: “I was very naïve when I came for the first time and India was extremely rustic. When you come for the first time you either love it so much that you embrace it, or else you hate it.”
He relates this change to how he himself has changed. He was a young, aspiring chef 25 years ago for instance, and he’s now a proper chef, which certainly means a massive change of perspective. “Please keep one thing in mind also,” he says. “In the last 10 years, the concept of restaurants has also changed. Super modern restaurants are embracing the culture of your country and all this has happened in a very quick time. It’s incredible.”
He cannot name any one particular dish as his Indian favourite. He can’t even name any Basque dish as beloved. “That’s because I love diversity and variety,” he shrugs. “So if I eat fish today, I’d like to eat chicken tomorrow or meat the next day. Even though I might love something, I don’t want to repeat it. I want my food to have as much potential for change, variety as possible.”
“In a Basque-style fish you can smell its bones, whereas in India there are so many spices used that you end up smelling something else!”
And this explains why, after his visits to Delhi, Jaipur and Agra, he’s been using cardamom in some of his Basque dishes, as well as milk or yogurt as a base. “When I saw fish and seafood being used with milk as a base in India, it was revolutionary for me,” he says. “Many times what you see in a different culture, you end up using in your own.” India’s taste for sweets however, he cannot identify with. Andoni much prefers savouries to sweets and has had no sweet dishes at his restaurant Mugaritz for the last two years.
Down food lane
We’re now in Old Delhi, and in the company of Manisha Bhasin, senior executive chef of ITC Maurya, we begin our food trail at Karim’s. Andoni is good at traversing through crowds, and soon begins to observe the skilled workers spinning handkerchief-thin roomalis. He takes a bite of the succulent kebab and relishes the sheermal before hitting the serpentine Parathe Wali Gali, stopping for a quick look at roadside biryani and chaat on the way.
Despite his lack of a sweet tooth, he cannot resist a bite of juicy jalebis at Chandni Chowk’s famous Jalebi Wala. And after this sweet, he claims he is now an Old Delhi pro and is happy to hop into an e-rickshaw to get back to his car near Jama Masjid.
Despite his interest in Indian cooking techniques, Andoni says the Basque and Indian cuisines are totally opposite from each other. “Basque food is clean in the sense that nothing else is put in it,” he explains. “For instance, in a Basque-style fish you can smell its bones, whereas in India there are so many spices used that you end up smelling something else.”
Which does not mean that he’s closed his mind to other tastes and aromas. Andoni’s next trip to India will hopefully be to Mumbai and the southern states, this time accompanied by his wife and eight-year-old son who tries his hand at cooking from time to time.
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From HT Brunch, March 31, 2019
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First Published: Mar 31, 2019 00:01 IST