Age old recipes, locally sourced ingredients are the stars in a post pandemic world
People would opt for simplicity over showiness and seek comfort in the past, says chef Manisha Bhasin
Adversity is a powerful trigger of creativity. It inspires to think freely, take risks and do what hasn’t been done before. As the pandemic put us through the most unprecedented experiences, innovators in the food industry across the world came up with clever ideas for restaurants to survive. These innovations were not just limited to fixing problems - they unveiled a gamut of opportunities that had not been unexplored before. Even as dine-in-sales staggered, ideas such as DIY meal kits, touch-free menus, restaurants launching their own range of grilling marinades kept businesses afloat.
Takeouts tick all boxes
Adversity is a powerful trigger of creativity. As the pandemic put us through the most unprecedented experiences, innovators in the food industry across the world came up with clever ideas to help restaurants survive. Even as dine-in sales staggered, restaurants launched DIY meal kits, touch-free menus and their own range of sauces and marinades to keep businesses afloat.
Converting dine-in menu into single-serve takeout option is another interesting trend that helped restaurants widen their customer base in the downturn.
When ITC Hotels launched its first ever Biryani & Pulao takeout collection, COO, Anil Chadha did diligent brainstorming with executive chef Madhu Krishnan’s R & D team and corporate chef Manisha Bhasin. The pricing had to be game-changing. “The idea was to reach out to those who do not come to our restaurant. So we came up with a pocket friendly menu,” says Bhasin.
The hotel has been doing a variety of biryanis for its banquets. “These were our hidden gems - well researched recipes by our master chefs, the flavours perfected over a long period of time,” says the chef. It wouldn’t have been practical to do an only biryanis dine-in menu earlier. But an exclusive biryani and pulao takeaway menu gave an opportunity to showcase vibrant preparations from across India. One can order a single portion, priced between ₹625 to ₹825. “We felt there was a potential for take aways, biryani being the most sought after comfort food. It has travelled across the length and breadth of India and evolved in the journey. We put together the most delightful preparations from various regions,” she says.
Along with the biryani, one can either opt for a mirch baingan ka salan or a choice of raita. You also get a complimentary gulab jamun from the Dum Pukht kitchen, the signature Shahed-E-Jaam.
A celebration of age old flavours
From the North, the chef has picked up Nimona Pulao, a delicate rice preparation from Old Delhi. “Nimona means mattar. Large salan mirch is filled with peas puree and cooked along with aged basmati rice. This one pairs wonderfully with kheera and anar raita,” says the chef.
From South, there is Konaseema Kodi Pulao, a robust chicken and rice preparation, best enjoyed with onion pachdi.
Among the options from East, the collection features Metiabruz Biryani, a rice and mutton combination, cooked in onion and spices with potato and boiled eggs. It derives its name from the historic Metiabruz locality (implying Mud Tower) in Kolkata, where Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Awadh had created his own miniature version of Lucknow after being deposed by the British.
Another preparation that stands out is Bibi Ka pulao from undivided Punjab. “This is bebe’s recipe – the elderly lady in the Punjabi household who would her sit in front of a slow fire and gently simmer chicken along with rice and brown onion,” says the chef.
The preparations celebrate our diverse culture, with each dish retaining age old culinary wisdom. “One seeks comfort in the past in times like these. We are witnessing a revival of heritage recipes across the world,” says chef Bhasin. She suggests using the term heritage judiciously. It’s not like one’s family recipe would qualify as heritage cuisine. “Heritage cuisine should have stood the test of time, followed by a substantial group of people belonging to the same origin,” she says.
It is to be studied on the basis of crops and spices grown in a region, the vessels used for cooking, their shape, the cooking processes that were prevalent and how they evolved, the eating traditions and the impact of a particular food when it was eaten in a certain weather, says the chef.
Healthy, local, sustainable
Along with heritage, the focus has been on sustainably sourced local products. Underrated ingredients have become the stars. “India has a great millet culture India or a range of immunity boosting foods. Chefs have made these ingredients exciting,” she says.
Holed up in one’s home, there was the fear of taking refuge in junk, but thankfully that hasn’t happened. “Young people are talking about natural sweeteners and alternate flours. It’s heartening that they prefer natural, minimally processed ingredients,” says the chef.
It seems that the pandemic had taught us to value simplicity over showiness. The crisis hasn’t gone to waste.