PHOTO: LA’s Badmaash is just one location evolving already rich Indian food. (Photo courtesy Instagram/Badmaash)
As the fortunate masses who have sampled its eclectic fare know, Indian food is that special cuisine that offers countless experiences across the spectrum of delectable dishes.
According to various reports, the cuisine is having something of a moment, evolving with exciting new menu items at cutting edge restaurants eager to bring Indian to a wider audience.
Recently, Bloomberg’s Sheila Marikar spoke with the likes of Nakul Mahendro (co-owner of Los Angeles’ Badmaash); Jessi Singh (co-owner of New York’s Babu Ji); and Manish Mehrotra (head chef at New York’s Indian Accent) about the state of Indian cuisine.
Mahendro explains to Bloomberg: “Up until recently, Indian food was in a 9-1-1 state in America, the way Chinese food was in the ’80s and ’90s.”
When it comes to infusing new blood into its offerings, Badmaash doesn’t disappoint with a fusion dish: Chicken Tikka Poutine.
Mahendro delves into the impetus and importance of the dish: “Some of my best memories are of sharing a poutine with my brother, drunk, at 3 a.m. If you take away the seasoning on the fries and chicken, and the cilantro, you have a classic Canadian poutine: crispy fries, cold cheese curds, and piping hot gravy. Our chicken marinates in yogurt, ginger, and fenugreek for two days. We use a finesse that those restaurants stuck in the ’80s and ’90s don’t. Their orange tandoori chicken—that [expletive] is food coloring.”
Mahendro seems intent on opening up the idea of what Indian food should and could be to those who are in the dark on its wonder.
Meanwhile, in New York, Singh is helping to highlight Indian’s wonderful diversity at Babu Ji: “Indian food, whether it’s very cheap or very high-end, usually has the exact same focus on North Indian food. I take my wife, Jennifer, back to India, and she’s so impressed. Like, ‘Wow, Indian food changes every 100 kilometers.’ That’s what we’re trying to show here: one small menu that features all of India—my butter chicken from Punjab in the north, the coconut curry that’s a staple of the south.”
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Mehrotra also offers unexpected delights, such as papri chaat with burrata. The chef explains, “We have replaced that (standard ingredients) with burrata-style mozzarella, with tamarind chutney, chili chutney, and mint chutney.”
But a culinary revolution hasn’t been relegated to the present. Back in India there is the wonderful case of Chef Sanjeev Kapoor, who CNN recently profiled for his passion to infuse new flavors into classic fare.
Kapoor explains the importance of tinkering with ordinary items: “That is how food traveled across the world. How did we get potato and chilli in India?”
Kapoor continues, “I am fearless when it comes to experimenting, my approach to both food and life is to take the bull by its horns.”
Zofeen Maqsood of Little India credits an evolving palate of tastes to recent history: “Modern Indian cuisine draws from the rich Indian heritage not just for ingredients, but also techniques. In the 1980s when some elite eateries in London and New York began introducing Indian food prepared with Western sensibilities, it was quickly dubbed as Frenchified desi food. But today the contemporary food scene has lent it a distinctly unique character.”
Regardless of the spark or tinder that fuels its change, its clear that myriad chefs are attempting to cultivate and embrace all the wonder of the cuisine and bring it to more people who have since ignored Indian’s enticing call.
As a means of advice, you really should jump fully into Indian food any way that you can get it. Classic or new wave, it doesn’t matter, because it’s a rich and storied cuisine that will absolutely delight the senses.