Indian cuisine: What’s driving its meteoric rise?
Indian cuisine has enjoyed a steady rise in popularity over the last 12 months, with demand for high-end, luxury ingredients and dishes at a level not seen since its introduction to Britain some 60 years ago. Executive Chef, KK Anand explores why this renaissance has come about, and how Indian cuisine can, and should take centre stage at your next dinner party.
I’m a big believer that travel can both broaden the mind and elevate all senses, never more so than for a Westerner who arrives in India for the very first time. It’s these trips to the expanse of India’s tiger mountains, coastal shores and hectic cities where most will remember their first decadent curry – whether it be an extravagant buffet in a five-star resort or a much simpler affair, perhaps fiery Goan prawns served with simple steamed basmati in a beach shack. Whatever the setting, the impulse to tickle those taste buds again never fades, which is why Indian cuisine is becoming ever more popular around the world.
In June, London’s vibrant and diverse food scene was showcased in a month-long food festival organised by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who is of Pakistani origin. London Food Month curated a programme of events all over the capital in restaurants, food markets and encouraged a plethora of unique pop ups and showcases. The aim of the festivities was to show the huge diversity of global food available in London and the amazing quality and unique flavours.
In the UK, Indian food has always been heralded, since it started to become popular in the 1960’s when waves of Indians, Pakistanis and Bengalis emigrated. The close relationship between the UK and India, which has continued since Indian independence in 1947, has meant that Indian cuisine has culturally seeped into everyday eating in a truly unique manner.
Of course, London has some of the best Indian restaurants in the world and is now showcasing particular styles of food – whether it’s the Sri Lankan Hoppers on Frith Street or newly opened Jamavar in Mayfair, part of the five star luxury Leela hotel group.
The local craving for premium quality Indian food has led new operators to take a unique stance and create branded offerings for delivery only, such as Motu Mahal – a Deliveroo exclusive, available only in South London and owned and operated by London based Sethi family, known for Gymkana in Mayfair and Trishna in Marylebone.
Yet on the European continent, Indian cuisine is much more exclusive and elusive. The exotic ingredients are not so readily available and so, elite parties gather and hire chefs either directly from India, or they fly over at short notice from the UK. I have catered for Indian businessman, Middle Eastern royalty and often for Europe’s finest families in response to this increasing demand.
Good chefs know that food, and the experience around dishes, should tell a story, and Indian cuisine has a great one. I was speaking with Raymond Blanc just a couple of days ago, and he couldn’t contain his excitement upon hearing the inspiration behind our Southern Indian inspired chicken curry with a fresh and fragrant gravy made with fresh coconut, green chillies and wild garlic leaves. It’s that excitement and passion we need to be bringing back to our dining experiences.
The communal style of eating has brought about a revival of the dinner party, but in a much more relaxed and carefree manner in which Indian food is usually enjoyed. Gone is the formal dining etiquette of fine dining establishments and instead much merriment and salivating ensues. All paired with the finest, carefully chosen wines, of course.
All day dining
For years, Indian food has been confined to the evening in Britain, but we’re seeing a surge in people enjoying Indian flavours at lunchtime. Tastes are changing and spice is making a big impact on menus all over the world. The appeal of the fast-casual chain based on the Mumbai café scene – Dishoom – has become a destination for travellers all over the world, who have heard about the quality dishes and buzzing atmosphere – it’s one of those melting pot places where staff and customers represent a cross section of the Indian sub-continent, Europe and the Middle East.
Curry Up Now, which started off as a food truck with a strong Indian inspired wrap menu, now has bricks and mortar branches in San Francisco and across the Bay Area. The brightly coloured décor and slick, fast food style feel persuades customers to swap their usual burger and fries combo for something a little more inspired.
Of course, the ultimate guide to restaurants around the world remains the Michelin guide – with its strict fine dining nuances and overall experience. Of the eight Michelin starred Indian restaurants around the world, it’s not surprising that four are in London – the others being two in the Far East, including The Song of India in Singapore, Junoon in NYC and Rasa, a homage to all things Southern Indian, in San Francisco. Perhaps the direct flight connection between Silicon Valley and its Indian counterpart, Bangalore, is the reason for its popularity.
What does the future look like?
As more and more of India’s elite are jetting off to the islands of Croatia, New York City mini breaks or, of course, to the breath-taking beauty of the Swiss Alps, the need for fine Indian cuisine is growing around the world. The international set don’t want to miss their favourite dishes from ‘back home’ and Indian spices have found their way into the store cupboards of some of the finest chefs to cater for their guests’ needs.
The renaissance of Indian cuisine is now making its way to the dinner tables of the British elite, as fine dining opportunities look for something new and exciting to serve to discerning guests. To this, I say one thing – long may it continue!
KK Anand is executive chef and one half of new luxury Indian catering company, KK and Boss Lady. You can find out more about Khilesh, his dishes and how to hire him and his team at kkandbosslady.com