Indian Cooking: New generation, New Expectations

Breaking out the Box

A simple Tikka Masala or Butter Chicken isn’t going to cut it anymore for the average consumer. Many people have tried Indian food and leave with the expectation of knowing what always to expect when getting Indian food instead of searching for new restaurants with more innovative menus. Most Indian restaurants serve North-Indian dishes, misrepresenting the whole, under the cloak of one region, which could be one of the main reasons why people always expect to see chicken curry or palak paneer on their menu. In turn, these expectations could stiffen a company’s courage to stretch their creative boundaries and force them to remain stagnant in their menus. Luckily, a new generation of chefs is hungry to establish what Indian cuisine can really put forth on the main stage and contribute their own works to the whole.

Uncommon Commons

Commonality can be a catalyst for long-needed innovation, like with Butter Chicken at Badmaash in Los Angeles, Chef Pawan Mehendro started by making this sandwich as a staff meal, posting the dish onto social media, garnering a lot of internet traction, he then realized that making this a mainstay was a must. When Priti Narayanan, founder of Koolfi Creamery based in California, recalls some of the things she loves, one of those things was Koolfi (Slow cooked milk and sugar-based popsicles) but not the kind that you can find at supermarkets. She is ready to bring premium and organic Koolfi to America so that people can experience the real deal as opposed to the mass-produced product. Another example would be of two brothers (Ayan and Ani Sanyal) creating their own tea company/tea shop,  so they could share their love and knowledge of chai (means ‘tea’), while also introducing peoples palettes for more adventurous drinks, such as the Bengali Espresso, consisting of lime juice, mint powder, spices, and chili powder.

Too Diverse to Be Labelled Under One Cuisine

India is full of diverse cultures and varieties of foods, with many versatile options that are always being tweaked by the next hand making the dish. Dishes, or should I say street snacks, such as chaat, have stalls throughout the cities all across the country. With the rise of the age of increasing food customization options, chaat is even starting to gain a bit of notoriety in the U.S enough for a few restaurant owners to base their entire menus (and some the structure of the building) around this snack. “A few years back, people just wanted butter chicken or tikka masala, But chaat is a good fit for downtown D.C, with so many diplomats and young people here. People like trying something new. Now, we do more chaat and fewer main dishes.” says the owner of Bombay Street Food, Asad Shiekh. Another current food trend that has been on the rise throughout the years is health, whether it be with more vegetables, plant protein substitutions, or made with healthy herbs. Even with all these restrictions, Indian cuisine will thrive; with the wide range of herbs, sauces, and spices, there are endless flavors compatible with vegetarian/vegan dishes, giving bold options to limited lifestyles. An example of this could be Anita Jaisinghani’s Rye Poha (a flattened rice dish with rye) served at her restaurant, Pondicheri. It is made with turmeric, stalks of Kari leaves, mustard seeds, rye flakes, serrano pepper, poha, onion, and red potatoes. 

We are seeing a revival of Indian restaurants with unique dishes being created every day in new, modern digs that may surprise local food enthusiasts. Introducing some Indian flavors into your cabinet is sure to lead to something flavorful and different. In this new age of healthy foods and varying options, you can count on seeing more Indian flavors on menus and more curiosity among consumers for its complexities.

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Tony Lagana

Chef Tony is a 42-year veteran of the food industry and is often known by his peers as “The New Product Guru.” Throughout his illustrious culinary career, he’s earned several notable titles and positions including Acquisition International’s “Most Influential Product Development Expert, U.S.” in 2019.

In 1997, Tony also founded Culinary Systems Inc., a group of culinary consultants that assist with culinary training, restaurant start-ups, concept development, and more. Since then, Tony and his team have generated over two billion dollars in sales for their clients in restaurants, retail, and manufacturing.

The strategic, technical, and culinary skills of Tony and his team can be seen on the menus of national chains, in the portfolio of national food manufacturers, and on the grocery shelves of products produced by major retail companies.