There’s no doubt that the pandemic has upended our lives in many ways, compelling us to move from “life as we knew it” to “life as we make of it.” And nowhere is this change more intensely felt than in the way we eat. In fact, the pandemic has re-fashioned our food choices for resource-conscious times, taken us back to our food heritage and limited our portion sizes from the happy side of indulgence to mindful eating.
Following are the trends that our superchefs and restaurateurs Zorawar Kalra, Ranveer Brar and Priyam Chatterjee predict as conversation starters.
Evolution of food DNA
Thanks to the lockdown, everybody has learnt to cook and rustle up the most basic of dishes in the least. “Even men who’ve never cooked before have taken up the ladle. This has, in one stroke, raised the level of food awareness and curiosity about ingredients and technique among Indians. When consumers are ready to get their hands dirty, then the experiential space opens up and makes them look like winners in the kitchen. When you eat food, you perceive it in a certain way. But when you cook it, you look at it differently and understand it better. It expandes the scope of innovation and appreciation,” says Brar.
This has led to a diversified market for meal kits, semi-cooked and ready-to-cook food pouches, products that take away the tedium of preparation and encourage you to try out specialities. Brar also feels that staying indoors for the better part of two years has made “participatory cooking” a key ingredient of socialisation and entertainment. “We are seeing more potlucks. Yes, the Netflix parties and DIYs are here to stay,” he adds. The increased awareness has also generated a new interest in food history, origins and knowledge. More Indians learnt to bake the sourdough this past year and savour it as a breakfast staple as well.
Smaller restaurants, leaner menus
Having barely survived the effect of the pandemic, restaurateurs will scale down operations, smarten supply chain management and rationalise costs. “With speciality food now a possibility in the kitchen, I see restaurants become smaller with a signature menu that’s popular and take in lesser number of people. Owners are learning how to work with lesser ingredients, develop innovative techniques and use fresher ingredients,” says Brar. Kalra sees a return of sensible menus. “There’s no need to list 40 items, some of which never get ordered anyway. Just keep it simple and on point. Stick to what works for your guests, focus on quality and originality and do away with the frills,” he suggests. Chatterjee, who has seen these new changes swamp the cuisine capital of Paris, sees a deconstruction of menus, with cloud kitchens breaking them into one for salads, another for the main course and an exclusive array of desserts.
Branded cloud kitchens and takeaways
With the pandemic forcing the closure of restaurants, cloud kitchens are here to stay simply because they can do without the service staff, cut down on real estate costs and channelise takeaways through food aggregators. That leaves them with the only job of focussing on their speciality foods and most importantly, building an identity around the flavour and quality of their dishes. Besides, as Chatterjee says, “A cloud kitchen means you can offer a bouquet of choices, products, sub-brands from a single location without enhancing costs and keep chefs creatively committed.” The branding of each cloud kitchen would depend on the specialities it has on offer. Kalra himself is now focussing on cloud kitchens and sees even fine diners get into the delivery business. He says, “Ordering in is here to stay so they better get on to the bandwagon. Delivery will become a part of the design architecture of any restaurant going forward. Of course, the specialised packaged experience will be customised and cannot be done through assembly line deliveries. I see them tying up with premium delivery services. Five star hotels and even I am doing this.”
All chefs agree that now that Indians have become largely accustomed to self-service and doing things in their own kitchen, the mantra of these establishments will be “product first, service later.” Brar sees informal food bars like the Japanese izakayas coming up.
The rise of foodpreneurs
We’ve always had someone in our families with standout expertise in cooking, but they were confined to pleasing family and friends. Undoubtedly the pandemic fuelled the need for home food, encouraging some of these home cooks to launch their tiffin service. “Home cooks took the first step and are rapidly transforming themselves into chefs with speciality and distinctive menus cooked home style. For the first time, they have monetised their skills. Professional chefs will become food entrepreneurs themselves, running many cloud kitchens and making money on their own rather than getting a salary. We will have more chef-preneurs,” says Brar. Kalra feels that this ownership will help chefs customise, innovate and deliver while keeping to the bottom line.
Some chefs are also offering premium and artisanal experiences of a five-course meal for a smaller, boutique gathering, thereby keeping exclusivity scalable. Such a format allows you to recover costs, since the meal is pre-booked.
Water-efficient fruits and vegetables
Sustainability has been a guiding mantra in the food business for quite some time but going ahead, hydroponic farming will be all the rage, even entering individual homes. This soil-less, water-based farming can even be done in a tiny space like a balcony, where all you need to do is feed the plant with nutrient-rich water, just enough for it to grow. Apartment gardens, where you can at least grow all your herbs atop a kitchen sink or window, will become a permanent feature in every home.
Brar sees the evolved and aware customer going for water-efficient fruits and vegetables. “Already we are seeing the revival of old strains of rice and wheat which use less water. We know how water tables have been dropping in Punjab, affecting output. We will be consuming foods that require little or no refrigeration. Indians are increasingly taking to millets from arid and semi-arid conditions. Ragi is back in a big way, (thanks to Karnataka) and I foresee the popularity of jhangora from the Himalayas and foxtail, basically millets that cook easily. The choice has been forced upon us by our own actions. So, we will eat local, seasonal, replace exotic ingredients with home-grown alternatives and reduce the carbon footprint,” says Brar.
The more we delve deeper into our “eat off the soil” recipes, the easier it will be to widen the scope and depth of vegetarian food and manage portion sizes of animal food, given that livestock supply and fish population will be depleting faster than we can consume in the coming years.
While as buyers we will increasingly gravitate to local farmers for cheaper, sustainable, fresher, tastier food that doesn’t require packaging and transport, Kalra sees more hospitality majors adopting plots of land to grow their produce. Brar senses that sustainable food regulations and business practices are going to come up soon for the F&B industry in India.
Food as identity
Finally, we are looking within and exploring our own diverse cuisine. “Regional food is expected to make a stronger comeback in 2022, with Goan food topping preferences. Indians are falling in love with their food all over again,” says Kalra. A fact corroborated by Chatterjee, who feels that regional cuisine needs to slowly come out of the closet. Brar feels this trend reflects a new sense of identity. “ Our millennnials and post-millennials are a secure generation, who are proud of their roots and are not looking West. If my generation was about exploring the world and co-opting global influences, they have seen it all and are saturated enough to push back the West and find where their palate comes from. They will have quinoa without a sense of awe and aura and be as accepting about our millets. In fact, they will be curious enough to contemporise it,” says he.
Brar predicts that Indians will go deeper into micro cuisines. “Smaller regions like Mangalore and Mysuru still haven’t gotten their due. Then there’s the fermented food of the Northeast.” The greater exploration of micro and tribal cuisine will also help us inculcate a zero waste discipline as our pickling traditions and cooked vegetable peels show.
Global Indian food
Does this mean we will redefine the global palate beyond the ubiquitous samosa and curry? Will India get its identifiable food? “We put too much pressure on our food. We haven’t projected our food diversity the right way because we live in a marketable world that’s looking for a hero and virality and trying to make that one superfood happen. We are quaintly comfortable with where we are going and in three to five years, we will be there with our many offerings,” says Brar. He votes for Kerala cuisine, saying it will give competition to Thai and Malaysian food because of its sheer variety beyond the common coconut. “It uses less milk and will appeal to vegans and pescatarians alike,” he adds. Kalra votes for dosa featuring on breakfast menus around the world, given its closeness to crepes.
And with the pandemic having popularised the use of turmeric as an immunity booster, it is now featuring around the world in cereal mixes, in meals and rice, smoothies and even tea and coffee. Prepare to savour more perked up mocktails and health drinks.
The one new trend that can certainly globalise Indian food will be culinary tourism. This will be experiential and educative with local artisans, woven with a story of our culture. “There will certainly be more structure and detail to food tours. I see people checking into Airbnbs, cooking with locals using ingredients available on-site, having a fun experience and experimenting in their kitchenette studios. Food tourism will certainly get out of the hotel chains and won’t be about just savouring a thali wearing a turban on your head,” says Brar.
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