At the end of each year or at the beginning of a new one, I usually do a round-up of the food trends of the year. This time, I am breaking slightly from tradition. Here is a list of trends and ingredients that I think we have seen too much of. My fervent hope is that we see less of them this year.
Truffles and truffle oil
About five years ago, Indian restaurateurs and hoteliers discovered truffles. There were pioneers, like Diva’s Ritu Dalmia, but most Indian chefs had never seen a real truffle in their lives. Then the craze for (very expensive) seasonal Italian white truffles hit India – largely, I suspect, because so many of India’s billionaires are vegetarians and chefs need to find something that is as expensive as caviar to make them feel special.
A truffle is one of the world’s great delicacies and I am all for allowing those who can afford to eat it to continue to enjoy it. (I say ’allow’ because they ban everything these days- imported cheese is now on the lunatic hit list).
But there are two problems. First of all, a truffle is an extremely delicate ingredient. Keep it too long and it loses its taste and aroma. Since truffle traders sell the best truffles locally, Asia, and India in particular, gets the junk.
Consequently, many hotels end up importing truffles that have no aroma or taste. But having bought them, they have to push them anyway. So what do they do?
Well, they use truffle oil.
This brings us to the second problem- truffle oil.
Manufacturers take cheap quality olive oil or rapeseed oil and infuse it with a synthetic chemical called dithiapentane, which often is a by-product of the petroleum industry. A real truffle has many complex aromas, but dithiapentane mimics the smell of only one of them. This is enough to fool people who have no experience of truffles into believing that the oil is made with real truffles.
The trick is to look closely at the list of ingredients. If it says aroma or flavouring; then it is synthetic oil. Some established truffle product brands like Urbani are now forced to infuse chemicals into their oils, but try and retain their honour by listing the quantity of synthetic chemicals. The problem is that truffle oil does not taste or smell like truffle. I would call it a giant con trick. Most Indian chefs are so ignorant that they think the oil is actually made from truffles. So if you see the word truffle on an Indian menu, ask them to shave the truffle in front of you.
Or just say no. And save yourself lots of money.
Yes, science and food do mix. But when you hand a canister of liquid nitrogen to a talentless chef, you get rubbish food. And sadly, that is exactly what is happening.
There are only a handful of Indian chefs who know how to use scientific techniques creatively. Gaggan Anand is the master and the world acknowledges that. Manish Mehrotra has recreated dishes like the Daulat Ki Chaat of old Delhi by using cutting-edge technology.
Everywhere I go, I see somebody trying to copy Gaggan’s experiments with spherification or serving rubbish food inside a cloud of smoke.
Give up guys! It is no longer fashionable anywhere else in the world. And most of you don’t have the talent to carry it off. So just stick to real Indian food.
I blame Manish and Gaggan. They were the first chefs to take great street food dishes and turn them into haute cuisine. Gaggan’s papdi-chaat sphere and his Calcutta-chop-Charcoal were great dishes when they were first invented. And nobody used golgappas as creatively as Manish did.
But now, every second modern Indian chef is trying to tell us what a genius he is by doing a new kind of vada pav or turning a dosa into a crepe.
The point of street food is that it is food that is not made by great chefs with expensive kitchens. It is made by poor people with access to few resources (usually not even a kitchen) who take the humblest ingredients (because they can’t afford high food costs) and turn out delicious dishes that they sell at low prices.
Yes, there is a lot to inspire us and much to learn from their inventiveness. And certainly, a few of their dishes can benefit from creative reimagining. But it is crazy for well-paid chefs with access to immense resources, to steal their dishes, pimp up the ingredients and to then serve them as great dishes of their own.
So can we please get the fancy chefs back in their kitchens, cooking the food they know best? Besides, not one of them can make a kulcha-channa that is better than the one you get at humble establishments in Amritsar. And no bhelpuri they can make will ever top the one you get on the streets of Bombay.
Why do so many restaurants pride themselves on their hamburgers when the truth is that you can’t really make a hamburger in India at all?
A real hamburger should be made with good-quality beef. This is next to impossible in today’s India because cow slaughter is banned in most Indian states and the food police persecute anyone who serves imported beef.
What you get instead is – by and large – truly disgusting. Usually, it is the bits of chicken that you can’t use for anything else (the waste), minced finely and shaped into a patty. Then, this patty is bread-crumbed and fried so it becomes a kind of chicken pakora.
If this is a hamburger, then I am Walt Disney.
Others claim they make a lamb burger, which is usually a lie because they use goat, which is a wonderful meat for shami kababs, but does not usually lend itself to hamburgers.
So why put burgers on the menu? Why devalue the name? Why tell lies about the meat (lamb or goat)?
Just be honest with your customers. It is always a good policy.
Trends and ingredients we should bid adieu to