From the Ethiopian injera, doro wat and vodka-infused panakam to Malabar biryani and freshly-brewed ale and cider, 2016 has been an exciting year for the gourmand.
Global food trails – Chennai
Think cutting edge food trends and Chennai isn’t always the first place that comes to mind. We admit this, but only grudgingly. In fact, we’d like to point out, the city does have some of the most authentic Japanese and Korean restaurants in the country — run by locals, no less. Add to this a Russian eatery with authentic blinis and stroganoffs, apart from a Serbian chef who has been steadily serving up continental fare, and it does look like international cuisines have happily become part of our usual status quo. So, what did this past year have in store?
In 2016, Chennai has quietly upped the game, with new cuisines changing the culinary landscape, one new flavour at a time. Starting with a Parsi restaurant in early February, a Maharashtrian one a month later, and towards the end — India’s first Ethiopian restaurant, all from the VM Hospitality Group. While Batlivala & Khanaboy gave Chennai some much-needed kheema pav and salli boti, it also found new fans for the classic dhansak.
Meena Tai’s brought sabudana vadas, sol khadi and bharli vangi for locals to savour, while Abyssinian brought a little-known culture’s culinary delights under the spotlight. Not just the flavours of injera and doro wat, the Ethiopian style of shared plates and communal eating meant Chennai discovered a whole new way to eat as well. Rounding things up was the South-American restobar Sudaka, whose Chop Pa Lo Gurises — Uruguayan pork chops with chimichurri sauce — have brought Latin America to Chennai’s unused palates. Around the world in 50 plates? Chennai is well on its way.
Another change that was long overdue was that the average Chennaiite finally got over their usual haunt — you know which one I’m talking about — and decided to give newer clubs and bars a chance. Beyond the one hangout spot where everyone went every single Saturday night for years, people ventured to Radio Room in MRC Nagar to hit the dance floor, The Velveteen Rabbit in R.A. Puram for a quiet drink with friends, Big Bang Theory to play beer pong and a couple more spots just for happy hours.
After years of resolutely going to the same places every weekend, in 2016, party folks in Chennai are finally, spoilt for choice.
An experimental palate – Bengaluru
When it comes to Bengaluru and its food space, you can be assured that you can never say you’ve tried it all. There’s always a new restaurant opening every other day, dangling a new carrot! The city is also anti-trend when it comes to trends; you can’t really put a finger on which way the city’s palate is going. It is just as cosmopolitan, experimental, and well-travelled as its people.
Raving about grungy industrial interiors and drinking and eating out of mason jars is oh-so-2015. The year 2016 belonged to concept restaurants, two largely driven by their celebrity creators. When when you talk celebrity chefs in Bengaluru, the first name that pops up is Chef Manu Chandra’s.
The city looks forward to his offerings and innovative takes with an almost zealous following. He gave the city Toast & Tonic this year — a slice of New York’s East Village style bar and restaurant. Marrying local ingredients with an artisanal approach, curing meats and whipping up sauces and tonics in house, using millets and greens, dishing out ragi crepes, totapuri marinated chicken, and tomato gojju, he had the city eating out of his palm. He gave us a taste of where the culinary world is headed right now, without having to leave home.
If you’ve been turning up your nose at Indian cuisine, Zorawar Kalra’s Farzi Cafe is sure to have brought you right back, if not for anything else, then out of sheer curiosity. What would you reach out for — bhel puri with liquid nitrogen, ‘posh Maggi’, or vodka-infused panakam? Mysore pak tarts with filter coffee mousse, dal-chawal arancini? Maybe palak-paneer quesadillas… For getting videshi-obsessed Bangalore flocking again to Indian food, even though it needed to be given a more international (and therefore acceptable) twist – that, and the perfect weekend setting atop UB City, swings a vote its way.
There has also been a lot of puppy love and pup therapy on the restaurant scene. This year, the city got its first dog cafe — therPUP — a secluded and sunny place for pooches to socialise, and for you and your pawed friend to lap up some great treats. Bengaluru surely shows the way when it comes to animal love. This café only takes it a step further. The idea is heart-warming for most dog-owners and even those who don’t own a pet but love the furry guys anyway — in-house doggies Oreo, Jojo, Mojo and many more will play with you. What better than a Sunday spent relaxing with your best friend? You can indulge in masala fries, and he might feast on a scrumptious Healthy Doggie Platter.
It’s a Malabari explosion – Thiruvananthapuram
Here a Malabar, there a Malabar, everywhere a Malabar, Malabar! Over the past year or so, many restaurants specialising in non-vegetarian Malabar cuisine have popped up, and Thiruvananthapuram’s palate has become so thoroughly Malabarised that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a decent menu these days without some dish or the other from the cuisine.
Today, most foodies in the city enjoy their unnakaya, Thalassery dum biryani, kaipola, athisaya pathiri, kilikoodu, kozhi mussman and sarbaths as much as their counterparts from up North. Or more, perhaps, given the manner in which these dishes sell out as soon as they hit the counters. The dum biryani, made of kaima rice, particularly, sells like hot cakes. In fact, the Malabar biryani has become so ubiquitous now, that it has all but wiped off the menu, the traditional, long-grained Travancore biryani.
“The beauty of Malabar food is that it uses very little masala and almost all the traditional recipes require only three or four herbs and spices to be freshly plucked, ground or mixed, leaving the flavour intact.
It’s this freshness, perhaps, that draws people,” says city-based culinary expert Priya Jayachandran.
The sheer variety on offer is another draw. “There are snacks such as chatti pathiri, kilikoodu and elanchi, mains such as kozhi nirachathu, kakka roti, chicken piralen, and drinks such as sulaimani that are unique to the area, each served for a specific purpose, many especially made for the puthiyappla (new son-in-law) when he comes visiting,” says Nabila Shanavas, a home cook, who runs the popular O’Roti restaurant.
The quirky, familiar-but-not-so-familiar names of the dishes are also definitely part of the appeal. Who wouldn’t want chuttaracha aatincurry or kozhi nirachu porichathu over plain old mutton curry and stuffed whole chicken?
That said, not every Malabar dish is a hit. As Nabila says: “Over the past year, I’ve served a lot of Moplah dishes and I find that while snacks — both sweet and savoury versions of pathiris and polas and the like – always sell out, only the really adventurous want to try different stuff like erachi choru, pidierachi and kakka roti”
The year of microbreweries – Hyderabad
This year, the city of Nawabs took a break from the ubiquitous biryani and the focus shifted to microbreweries. After all, what better way to kick-start a weekend or spend a lazy afternoon than with a pint of fresh beer. This new addition is taking the city by storm.
With places like Prost, HyLife and Over the Moon getting into the sector, Hyderabadis are spoilt for choice. According to reports, a total of 20 companies have been granted licences for microbreweries, and seven of them are set to launch early next year.
Of the three that are already serving up a variety of freshly-brewed ale and cider, Prost tops the popularity list in terms of decor and ambience. But when it comes to the best brewed beer, Over the Moon takes the cake, with HyLife trying to meet the numbers of the former two.
But are Hyderabadis opening up to the idea of brewed beer? Going by the weekend sales at these places, everyone seems to love the idea of fresh beer. With varieties like lager, pilsner, English ale, stout and apple cider, there’s a whole lot to choose from. And it seems like the ales and ciders are a favourite with the women.
What makes the entire microbrewery experience stand out is the technique used to make a fresh brew. Freshness apart, its ‘no glycerine’ factor makes the brew a winner. Beer from a microbrewery also comes with fewer preservatives and no chemicals. But when stored at the right temperature, i.e., between 0-2 degrees Centigrade, a brew can be preserved for up to six months.
PRABALIKA M. BORAH
Burger love – Kochi
Black Knight, The Samurai, Hellthy Conqueror, Blue Cheeseburger, Trump Head, The Firehouse and Jus-C-Lucy are proof of Kochi’s new love… the hamburger. Stand-alone burger joints, with a dedicated fan following, have opened shop across the city. And we are not talking the regular burger chains. The hardcore hamburger fan refuses to count a chicken burger among burgers. That said, the Pulled Chicken Burger of The Grill Lab has its fans.
The Burger Junction’s Black Knight is a black burger — beef patty between two black, brioche buns, while The Samurai has red, spicy, toasted buns with thick beef patty with two layers of cheese, pickled gherkins with a spicy and sour secret sauce; and Blue Cheeseburger has blue crumbled cheese. The presentation too is startling — Black Knight has a knife stuck in and The Samurai is red.
“We have our Jawbreakers, as do others who have their signature burgers. Another thing about burgers is that we don’t traditionally make burgers at home. If you want a big cheesy, juicy beef burger, you have to get it outside if you want to get it right!” says Prashant Menon of The Grill Lab. While on innovation, Trump Head is one of their bestsellers.
This burger love can also be seen as testimony of the Malayali’s love for beef, as most are beef burgers. Not for the weak-hearted are these burgers; for instance, The Grill Lab’s Hellthy boasts 150 gm of ground beef patty.
Fried eggs, onions rings, strips of fried bacon, layers of melting cheese… a burger lover’s paradise. Cafés too have sections on the menu dedicated to the burger.
The Firehouse and Jus-C-Lucy are part of Cafe 17’s menu, Cocoa Tree has Italian, Oriental and even Mexican takes on the burger. This is no place for assembly-line burgers; it is all about being individualistic.
And so grow the burger places — Burgeria, Burger Bees, Burger Lab, Burger Spot…
Two exclusive burger places to check out in Kochi are The Burger Junction and The Grill Lab.