Eat provincial, drink probiotic this year
The creative vision of chefs, new food initiatives and climate change determine what we will buy, cook and eat in 2019
Love them or hate them but turmeric lattes and kombuchas are here to stay. The good news is that the world is also looking beyond trendy food photo ops and finally waking up to our fast-disappearing resources. The cataclysmic fallout of climate change and environmental costs of growing our food are leading to more sustainable food choices. Globally, there is a new focus on meatless and vegan diets. From chefs of ingredient-centric restaurants to everyday consumers, the provenance of vegetables, seafood and meat is a growing concern and increasingly people are looking at their own backyard for inspiration.
In the West, culinary influencers predict that “ugly food" will finally begin to catch on, a trend that we hope the Insta generation latches on to and makes as fashionable as avocado toasts. Determined by a more sustainable approach to how we look at food and handle wastage, shiny apples and luscious tomatoes will share space with absolutely edible knobbly carrots and misshapen potatoes. Kale has competition from kelp while seaweed and other vegetables from the sea are being touted as the new shades of green that will dominate tasting menus and salad bowls. Your go-to breakfast staple has a new starring role as oat milk cartons fill up supermarket shelves.
Closer home, chefs and food writers predict that the move towards local and regional dining will continue as lesser-known cuisines are spotlighted. Ingredients and recipes from far corners of India will find expression in big-city restaurants and pop-ups. Megha Kohli, head chef at Lavaash by Saby, says, “Local and sustainable produce is a priority for us. From our cheeses to sweeteners and chocolate, everything on our menu has been 100% local. We get our cheese from West Bengal and this includes Bandel and Kalimpong cheeses. Our chocolate is single-origin Malabar forest chocolate. We use nolen gur (palm jaggery from West Bengal) as a sweetener for our desserts."
Gut wellness will continue to occupy centre stage. According to chef Vicky Ratnani, chefs are exploring probiotics in different forms. “Lots of chefs are using fermented food like carrots, beetroot, tea, kimchi or crafting drinks like kombucha, kefir, etc. One can see lots of influence from North-East India where fermented beans and chillies are being used in mainstream restaurant menus in the form of dips and sauces," he says. Kohli is also pickling and fermenting a lot of her ingredients in-house and exploring new, complex flavour profiles.
The conversation around grains will move to other ancient Indian grains like amaranth, bajra (pearl millet), nachni (foxtail millet) and jowar (sorghum), among others. “These grains are healthier, lighter, easily accessible and far cheaper than quinoa or couscous and have been used in Indian kitchens for centuries and continue to be a staple in rural areas. Today, chefs are incorporating them into their kitchen staples and using them to make things like risottos, pancakes and pizzas," says Ratnani. India has over a thousand varieties of rice and a new interest in these home-grown varietals has already yielded interesting iterations in restaurants. As supply chains improve, this trend is sure to develop in the coming year.
Riyaaz Amlani, CEO and managing director of Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality Pvt. Ltd, predicts that 2019 will be the year of the micro restaurant where small-format, chef-driven eateries will see an upsurge. He says, “These are restaurants which will have less than a 1,000 sq. ft space and can seat 30 or even lesser number of diners. Here the focus will be entirely on high-quality food and drink vis-à-vis décor or ambience." Another format that will possibly see growth in 2019 is internet-forward food brands or those that work with apps and a delivery-only model. This trend is just beginning to pick up in India with many chefs trying out tightly curated speciality menus operating out of cloud kitchens.
Another big trend Amlani predicts is consumers making more health-conscious choices while eating out. “Since the average person eats out much more than ever before, chefs also have to be cognizant of the health impact of the food they cook. Thus low carb, vegan, keto and paleo food will enter standard restaurant menus," he says. Ratnani predicts another big health food trend—the rise of the paleo + vegan or the “pegan" diet. “The pegan diet is mostly plant-based—filled with plenty of vegetables and fruit, with small amounts of high-quality animal protein, whole grains, legumes and healthy fats, yet devoid of dairy, gluten, sugar and refined foods. It has many benefits, from weight loss to a healthier heart and decreased inflammation, and lower risk of chronic illness and disease and is something that people will turn towards," he says.
Food writer and Lounge columnist Nandita Iyer also talks about 2019 as the year when home cooks and restaurants will look at healthier versions of soul food. “Indian comfort food like khichdi and traditional meals are the most liked photos on my Instagram feed. Making our traditional meals healthier and more relevant to our not-so-active lifestyles is the best way to preserve our heirloom recipes and our health and this is something that will pick up in a big way," she writes in a piece on her blog Saffron Trail. Iyer uses a pearl millet khichdi as an example of how to tweak the traditional rice and dal classic.
Sour flavours are another trend she predicts will make it big in 2019, both globally and in India. Chefs across the country are playing around with sour ingredients and condiments such as tamarind, kokum, lemon, raw mango, lemon/mango pickles, tamarillo, bimbli, kachampuli vinegar and amchoor to bring new depths and an element of surprise to dishes.
A growing interest in the provenance of ingredients will be fuelled by large-format retailers and online shops that enable people to order ingredients from the far corners of the country. Amlani also talks about a growing interest in the concept of “place of origin". “Everything from fruit to coffee and snacks at restaurants, large food retailers and small specialist groceries, the place that they come from will assume great importance for the consumer," he says.
The year has only just begun and one can only hope that it takes us closer to better eating, more hope for our farmers and a sustainable vision of consumption for the future.