In its current season, the food reality show MasterChef Australia has prompted a lot of amusement—one contestant “wowed the judges” when she introduced them to “the flavour bomb that is bhel puri”, another deconstructed papdi chaat and described it as “Indian nachos…vibrant, textural and fun to eat”. Laal maas and pork vindaloo have also appeared and been exclaimed over, as have the staples of butter chicken, tandoori chicken and “naan bread”. It isn’t entirely surprising, in a sense, because we have all rolled our eyes at “ghee butter” and “golden milk” as the rest of the world discovered and re-branded everyday Indian foods.
Street food—which is what chaat is essentially—is being plated and elevated as haute cuisine by trained chefs as well as self-taught cooks who are putting a spin on simpler snacks and regional foods to change perceptions about Indian food. And, to an extent, it is reality TV that has ushered in the change. Home chefs have been put to the test on camera, creating curiosity about Indian food and prompting enthusiasts to try and recreate dishes at home. Home chefs take their recipes to social media as well. The growth of the diaspora and their deeper integration into the social and cultural milieu too has played a role in taking food further.
It all seems to be paying off. Last month, Chai Pani, which largely serves chaat, in North Carolina was declared America’s Most Outstanding Restaurant at the James Beard Foundation Awards. Earlier in the year, Chaat in Hong Kong won a Michelin star. Their patrons aren’t just the diaspora any more.
Non-Indians, too, are learning to appreciate the play of flavours, textures and layers of Indian dishes, allowing more complex tastes to be introduced. Classics such as butter chicken may always be in demand but there is also a love for jackfruit-based specialities, pani puri, or even Maggi, which are being served in restaurants, at pop-ups, and, of course, to reality show judges. So pour yourself a cup of “chai-tea” and read all about it in Lounge this week.
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