© Ravi Wazir, 2020

Predicting Culinary Trends for 2009

We Indians are known to love our food and turn to it both in good times and bad. When we are happy we need to have luxury experiences, explore new tastes, indulge without a conscience; when we are unhappy we tend to go back to basics, need comfort foods, watch costs, diet and so on. So while 2008 spanned a variety of moods for us in India, the resolve to eat well continues through 2009.

On one hand we will see restaurants specializing in exclusively one cuisine such as Mexican or Maharashtrian for instance. On the other, we will see multi-cuisine concepts offering Indian, Oriental and even Western under one roof... being welcomed back with equal enthusiasm.

Chinese clearly remains the most popular international cuisine across India, having proliferated the market across all socio-economic classes. Just as we learnt that Chinese is more than just Schezwan sauce, we are quickly learning that Thai food is more than just Thai curry. South-east Asian cuisine concepts like Dubai based “The Noodle House” that offers food from Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia etc. has just opened its doors in Bangalore under the brand name “The Tasty Tangles”. Japanese, having done rather well so far in the high-end segment will not just grow but also enter the mid-level segment with brands like Yo-Sushi etc. looking at entering the market.

Italian food in India has evolved to a broader Mediterranean cuisine. We will now find more authentic Italian regional foods like oxtail ragout from Lazio, savoury pies from Liguria, pumpkin ravioli from Lombardy, for instance made available to cater to our more discerning palettes. Delis serving ready-to-eat foods from pannini to biryani, with the exclusive ones offering speciality cold cuts as well, are being well received and have a great future. “Famous Famiglia”, the New York based Pizza by the slice and “Au Bon Pain” the Boston based bakery cafe chain will soon begin in India.

While some entrepreneurs are choosing traditional ancestral recipes, others are opting to offer their patrons fusion blends. Molecular Gastronomy is still a buzz word amongst elite circles, but is unlikely to make inroads into the common mans’ thali... which looks for more rustic nutrition rather than “never seen before presentations” or “never tasted before flavour combinations”.

The trend in which I see the biggest growth happening however, is undoubtedly Indian regional cuisine. While we can’t help loving our good old heavy gravies and going back to them, it is the light curries and a whole lot of other soul food like kitchdis for instance... that will now be more in demand and even considered hip.

On one hand, we’ve appreciated traditional regional cuisine brands like “Rajdhani”, “O Calcutta”, “Sarvana Bhavan”, “Q’s Kakori House”, “Soul Fry” and even the not so stylised “Jai Hind” and can look forward to exploring tastes from Kashmir, Sindh, Assam, Coorg and many, many more. On the other, the contemporary Indian concept initiated by five star hotels to modernise and internationalize Indian food has also met with some success. We will now see restaurateurs being a lot more imaginative in their innovation, through ingredient blends, textures, flavour combinations, presentation and every way possible to stimulate our organoleptic senses.

Sanitized & stylised Indian street food brands like Street Foods India (SFI) in the NCR bring us great value through a meal like rajmah-chawl at Rs.20/- only. Likewise “Kamats” having painstakingly developed their eateries along our highways to serve us better, as always remain worth patronizing.

Traditional foods retailed across the counter – from multigrain chappaties to east Indian bottle masala; from murabbas to fruit wines – sold through partnerships between artisans in rural Indian collaborating with entrepreneurial socialists in urban spaces (a la Auroville, fabindia) will happen in multiple clusters.

The Indian consumer from 2009 onwards is going to experience a treat of cuisine varieties that do not exist anywhere in the world, not just by virtue of the sheer number of unexplored potential regional cuisines within the country itself but also on account of our craving as consumers... for more.

Interestingly, websites like www.hungryzone.com have begun to connect consumers with restaurants through online table bookings and order-to-door delivery handling. With online payment modes & security concerns now being addressed, this could gradually become a habit.

The growing number of western settlers in India are also influencing and shaping our palette as we are theirs. Like chicken eateries in the west, Indian style chicken concepts like “Republic of Chicken” have already begun to roll out in Delhi. The coffee shop culture now a part of the Indian lifestyle, will now move to its next stage... that of a substantial value differentiation with brands like Lavazza making a tremendous effort to develop its recent acquisition of the “Barista” chain and likewise “Mocha” in its “Mojo” avatar looking to deliver an enhanced brand experience.

With the middle class keen to demystify the earlier elitist bastion of wine-drinking, supported by some reasonably good local grape and cheese varieties, winebars are looking to become a part of our future social culture. God knows hookah smoking certainly has... at least for a lot of our youth.

We are seeing many single-product offers like corn, cookies, hot dogs, gelato etc. meet with success so others like French fries, cup cakes, gourmet burgers, kulfi etc. aren’t too far away. Real estate light formats like kiosks and home delivery formats are what people are looking for these days, and these are also more economically viable. Look forward to “Cinnabon”, “Ben & Jerry’s”, “Johnny Rockets”, “Chili’s” and many others...

Organically grown food brands like “Namdharis” in Bangalore, “Navdanya” in Delhi etc. continue to gather loyal patrons and will grow steadily. Diet food, though quite expensive, will continue to be appreciated by the middle class upwards. For those not into hardcore dieting, grilled food concepts like “Barbeque Nation” are a great alternative. In light of the slowdown, while many predict a more conservative spending with reduced frequency of visits particularly to high end places, brands like “Olive Bar & Kitchen” continue to bustle with activity. The mid-level & economy places, clearly doing brisk business, are now considered cool to patronize and are certainly here to stay.

The guest’s need for a good overall dining experience will always remain as will the entrepreneur’s endeavour to provide one. Whether addressing the need for sanitation and drama through a theatre kitchen or the need for freshness by letting go the more scalable processed food option, consumer choice will as always prevail.

Either way, the Indian market will offer an exciting array of delectables to pick from, for each mood you go through... every day of 2009.