Why Grandma’s Methods End Up in Fine Dining Restaurants
Heirloom recipes – and cooking techniques – are all the rage as Indian foodies return to the wisdom of the past to revive their dining tables. “Marinating and old fermentation techniques are so trendy right now. They’re all over social media, and people learn them from grandparents and older relatives,” says chef Vanshika Bhatia, a leader in reviving old cooking methods and hyper-local ingredients. . “Even I took a few courses,” she says.
This consumer interest has prompted many Indian chefs and restaurateurs to approach fine dining in new and old ways – in contrast to the pre-pandemic era where molecular-based “global” cuisine and sous vide gastronomy found favor. .
At avant-garde Noon in Mumbai, chef Vanika Choudhary was inspired to create an entire restaurant devoted to fermentation (using local Indian ingredients, so you have things like arhar dal miso and millet koji) because of the memories of his grandmother’s kali gajar ki kaanji. (black carrot kanji) and galgal ka achar (a local lime pickle that is just salted and aged for years in northern India). Black carrots, indigenous to Kashmir, would be put in an earthen pot, along with mustard seeds, black salt and water and left in the sun for about 10 days. “I was craving that taste in Mumbai,” says Choudhary, who uses this kaanji in inventive ways, such as fermenting shallots which are then used in ragi and prawn tacos.
The pandemic has seen a global “back to basics” movement, and its most striking manifestation has been weak and slow charcoal cooking. “Cooking in open fires was a pandemic thing because people had a lot of time, but it teaches you patience,” says chef Zorawar Singh from New Zealand. In India, as environmental laws make such cooking difficult in restaurants, techniques such as Rajasthani ‘khad’ (pit) cooking and grilling using the Lucknowi sigri (a horizontal grill) contraption are being relaunched.
Chef Varun Totlani of Masque has put khad quail on his menu and in New York, chef Chintan Pandya’s khad khargosh, a whole rabbit, is all the rage. Chef Husban Qureshi (grandson of the legendary Imtiaz Qureshi) of Conrad Bengaluru builds a sigri from scratch. “It’s not a known technique here, but you can’t make legitimate Avadhi food without it,” he says. Chef Bani Nanda, a well-known pastry chef, also says that you cannot make Indian regional cuisines without a good knowledge of ancient techniques. While vacationing in Hyderabad, Nanda took the time to learn how to cook on a Deccani hot stone, pathar ke kebab.
Why can sil batta now figure alongside grinders in many homes (if not replacing it), earthen pots used to cook fish and daal for millennia, slow dum cooking or even roasting on the grass (on a tawa) are also fashionable. due to exposure to regional micro-cuisine through travel.
The pandemic has led to an increase in domestic travel and people have connected to cultures through food. “Traveling plays an important role because every corner of India has traditional wisdom that can only be represented beyond a house or state if the techniques, chefs and diners travel,” says Kunzes Angmo from Artisanal Alchemy, who runs a food preservation collective and organizes Ladakhi food. experiences. Yarkhandi Plou’s age-old Angmo recipe, similar to Kabuli Pulao ostensibly brought by Turkish traders from Yarkhand to Ladakh, has garnered attention on social media and at dinner parties after being picked up by chefs in Mumbai.
But it’s also simpler, almost forgotten processes, like making butter and ghee at home that a past generation used to make, that are back in fashion. At Six Senses Fort Barwara, ghee is made from milk collected from the local village. The local achars and jowar and bajra rotis (on earthen tawas) that the local women of the village make here also attract much attention from travelers who often set out to learn them as part of their ‘experience’.
Finally, another centuries-old practice that is currently experiencing a great renaissance is earth and stone cooking. “Usually, yogurt dishes are prepared in stone pots, while metal urulis (flatter vessels) are good for payasam or sambhaar as it is a good conductor of heat,” says Marina Balakrishnan of Oottupura, which serves and delivers traditional vegetarian dishes. Kerala meals.
Balakrishnan says more and more people want to know how to use them. For example, stone pots need a rub of oil and haldi, then tamarind water is boiled in them, then they are seasoned with oil.
It may seem as tedious as a French chef seasoning his pan, but these age-old techniques and methods usher in a new era in Indian gastronomy.