Thursday, July 27, 2006

Gourmet Indian Food


Indian food is hot. Not just spicy hot but trendy hot. Or on the verge anyway. I've always been a fan of Indian food, but ever since I ate at the Bread Bar at Tabla I've seen new potential for the gourmet side of this cuisine. What I experienced there was traditional Indian spices combined with fresh local seasonal produce and modified cooking styles that kept some of the brighter notes. Some non-Indian ingredients like rhubarb and rosemary were seamlessly integrated into traditional dishes like chutney and bread.

So often Indian food I've eaten in restaurants is cooked ahead of time, the typical "lunch buffet" and not made to order so the food at Tabla was a revelation for me. Early this year I also tried some wonderful packaged Indian food at the Fancy Food Show, it was fresh tasting, organic and truly delicious. I don't usually expect packaged food to taste that good. I'm also a fan of Zante's Indian Pizza while it's not necessarily "gourmet" it is an example of where Indian cuisine can go.

In London where the popularity of Indian food is nothing new, there are several gourmet, upscale, contemporary Indian restaurants. Places like Benares, Cinnamon Club and Chutney Mary's are gaining accolades, and restaurants Tamarind, Amaya and Rasoi Vineet Bhatia each have Michelin stars. Back home the popularity of different styles of Indian food found at places such as Chaat Cafe, the near-legendary Vik's, Dosa, and now Junnoon also add fuel to the fire.

You can't overlook the explosion in Indian food blogs either, though the list is staggering, a couple of my favorites are One Hot Stove, and Mahanandi. There is no doubt Indian bloggers are exposing culinary enthusiasts to their native cuisine in a friendly and approachable way.

As I've gotten more interested in Indian food, I've learned that like every other cuisine, Indian food varies greatly from region to region, city to city. There are a multitude of styles and techniques and ingredients to learn about. Because the cooking techniques and spices are different from what's found in Western cuisine, I wouldn't be surprised to see more Indian cooking classes on the horizon too. Recently we have seen some fantastic Indian cookbooks such as The Dance of Spices by local author Laxmi Hiremath, Mangoes & Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, as well as just about anything by Madhur Jaffrey.

While gourmet Indian food has been on my mind a lot, apparently I'm not the only one. In the past couple of months at least two food industry publications have predicted the same thing. A Culinary Passage to India, an article in Flavor & The Menu focuses on how to incorporate Indian flavors into restaurant menus, paying attention to spices and their "crossover potential". In Prepared Food magazine, Indian Gourmet: Breaking Trend, the author cites high end Creole, Cajun and Mexican food as groundbreaking, mentions several trendy Indian restaurants and American's hunger for spicy flavors. The article also references the bestselling cookbook by Suvir Saran, Indian Home Cooking. I received this book as a gift from a friend who tells me it's one of her favorites. I will be reviewing it soon and keeping my eyes on this trend, one that excites my imagination in addition to my palate.