Cuisine focus: Indian

A look at the development of Indian cuisine in the Middle East

Claypot’s head chef Froz Khan said Indian cuisine is one of the most preferred cuisines in the Middle East region.
Claypot’s head chef Froz Khan said Indian cuisine is one of the most preferred cuisines in the Middle East region.

How popular is Indian cuisine in this region?

Himanshu Saini, head chef, Carnival by Tresind: Indian cuisine is gaining popularity all over the world. A brilliant new generation of Indian chefs are changing the world’s view of the cuisine. They are revolutionising Indian cuisine with their progressive take on various dishes, ingredients, cooking techniques and flavours, breaking down perceptions and reinterpreting Indian cuisine.

Manisha Advani, executive chef, Govinda’s: This region is a great market for Indian cuisine as opposed to many other regions, such as Europe or the Americas. The region we live in has a large population of South Asian expats, who crave a taste that reminds them of their home and families. Also, Arabs have a palette that is quite accustomed to the mélange of spices in Indian cuisine.

Froz Khan, head chef, Claypot: UAE has got the highest number of migrants from India. Neighbouring countries to India with a high population of expats in UAE such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan also has have similar food preferences as Indians. Indian cuisine is also famous in Europe and the Americas, with most western expats savouring speciality curries and kebabs.

Gaurav Singh, brand chef, Zafran Dubai and Kuwait: The large number of expatriates from the subcontinent, the versatility of the cuisine and the commonalities between Indian and Middle Eastern tastes are just some of the reasons Indian food is so popular in this region.

Vivek Kashiwale, head chef, Mint Leaf Dubai: Indian cuisine is one of the region’s most popular cuisines. Some review websites estimate that there are over 2,000 Indian restaurants in Dubai alone, which shows just how strong the demand is.

What trends have you noticed in Indian cuisine?

Saini: An obvious trend nowadays is chefs reinventing dishes with a modern twist. They are taking dishes that are not very popular outside India and presenting them to the world with a fresh take.

Advani: The current trend in Indian cuisine is visual innovation. With molecular gastronomy coming into play over the last two years, diners are looking for something that will not only please their taste buds, but take them on a visual experience.

Khan: Customers are well-travelled and ready to experiment with flavours, and their expectations are rising with time. A new breed of chefs are using technology to present and prepare food, such as molecular gastronomy, and also healthy/wellness foods are popular because customers are looking for lighter versions of dishes they love. Many are steering away from heavy, greasy food. In Indian cooking, methods such as grilling, ‘Tawa’ cooking (oven cooking) and braising with liquids are used frequently, however these days chefs are using cold-frost cooking and sous vide, which was unheard of in the past.

Singh: Progressive Indian is a growing trend. The use of edible chemicals to change textures, and using techniques like deconstruction and specification, creates modern Indian cuisine where the focus is on different elements on one plate.

Kashiwale: There is a growing trend to eat out, with a plethora of options and this competition has seen Indian food experience a big transformation, particularly in the UAE where many Indian restaurants are moving away from tradition. They are using new ingredients and modern styles of cooking — often focusing on presentation to attract customers. Even traditional menu items and classic recipes are being modified to give guests a new experience to help restaurants stand out from their competitors.

Any challenges for chefs with Indian cuisine?

Saini: As an Indian chef, the only challenge I feel is to keep innovating new flavours, spices and dishes. Gone are the days when menus of the restaurant never used to change. With globalisation and awareness of all types of cuisines, diners look forward to new dishes, and chefs should introduce new menus every three months.

Advani: The main challenge that many chefs face is flavour. Many have started focusing so much on staying ahead of the competition by introducing new dishes and renovating interiors, that they forget the main reason a diner would even consider stepping into their restaurants is taste and flavour that remains intact, and pleases all the senses.

Khan: To keep pace with the times. Chefs are using new technologies to prepare and present food, but customers don’t want to go too far away from the authentic tastes that they know. The sharing concept that is known in Indian cuisine is also essential when enjoying your meal, but nowadays presentation styles in fine-dining Indian restaurants are moving to pre-plated dishes.

Singh: The biggest challenge for Indian chefs is the reference point. Unlike French classical cuisine, which is quite standardised, Indian is diverse and sometimes this can make it difficult when it comes to determining the authenticity of a dish.

Kashiwale: The biggest challenge in any cuisine is to create and present something new and different. There are so many restaurants now that consumers are demanding not just a meal but an experience. In order to survive, a restaurant needs to keep innovating.

How’s the supply stream?

Amit Kumar, director of food & beverage, Four Points by Sheraton, Bur Dubai: Indian supplies have always been easy to acquire and this has only improved with time. With India being close to this region, fresh supplies have never been an issue either.

Khan: There are a long list of suppliers outsourcing products from all over the world. The UAE is connected through land, air and sea from all over the world, which makes it easy to get sought-after ingredients. Local produce is also on the rise and farmers have easy access to supplying the market, so it is easy to procure fresh produce.

Singh: Fantastic; we are fortunate to be so close to India, so the best spices, proteins and vegetable are readily available in this region.

Kashiwale: Excellent; being so close to India, most of the fresh produce and perishable items are air freighted the same day, which ultimately benefits the customer. UAE regulations regarding food production and importation also help restaurants source and provide better quality ingredients.

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