Thanks to the explosion of regional, modern and street-food Indian cuisine over the last few years, the influence is now being embraced by chefs on the lookout for fresh ways to spice up their menus. And it doesn’t usually involve a complete menu overhaul but rather an interesting twist to sides, sauces, bastes, batters or something even as simple as a dollop of delicious chutney or relish with your mains.
Think a street eat-inspired single component, say a dipping sauce, or a flavour-spiked yoghurt, or a spicey chickpea flour on battered fish tacos. A special breakout menu on a slow night may be also in order or a couple of added entrees as specials.
Don’t restrict yourself to India either, as Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, all have their own input into this globally-loved cuisine.
Chefs like Peter Kuruvita in Noosa and Mischa Tropp in Fitzroy are leading the way by blending traditional flavours and techniques into modern, exciting dishes.
- Seek out street eats. Street food is often a starting point for inspiration as it is usually easily prepared, quick to cook and always has an amazing range of flavours in a small package.
- Look to using marinades, sauces, powders and pastes to infuse the flavours of the Indian sub-continent into your proteins.
- Use dry spices and fresh herb elements in veggie dishes which are growing in demand in our continent but have been essential to Indian diets for generations - there is a lot of inspiration to draw from modern Indian vegetarian cuisine.
- Raise the bar even higher by using Indian-flavoured bastes on mains, such as fish or chicken, inspired by an array of regional dishes from in and around India, or add a chutney or sambal to a plate of vegetables to spice things up a bit.
- Break down the key elements of Indian cuisine, then combine them with a variety of other styles, and match with local seasonal ingredients to create, say, spicy tandoori chicken skewers on soft tacos, with a dollop of cooling yoghurt raita, served with a cherry chutney.
Amanda Fuller (Head of Sydney’s Sri Lankan inspired Indu restaurant in Sydney) suggests starting with the right ingredients.
- Use quality spices, the more potent, the more flavourful and aromatic.
- Seasonal produce: Cook with the seasons when produce is at its best.
- Cooking and braising meat on the bone or with the bone, intensifies flavour, adding all the goodness possible from marrow and extracts.
Chefs such as Peter Kuruvita from Sri Lanka, have taken diners into the modern realm of eating by creating dishes influenced by the authentic flavours of their homelands.
Kuruvita has witnessed the “overnight success” of Sri Lankan after being behind the push for 38 years and is now based at Noosa Beach House. Dishes range from Glazed Lamb Belly, Watermelon Skin Sambal, Carrot and Coconut to his famous Sri Lankan Snapper Curry with Tamarind and Aloo Chop.
In Christchurch, husband and wife team Sadhana and Anup Nathu opened their first restaurant, Tandoori Palace, 27 years ago. But their evolution has seen fans follow them to Mumbaiwala, also in Christchurch, where diners are now loving recreated street dishes such as chana dal chaat with crisp spinach mixed with apple, chana dal lentils and avocado with a zingy dressing.
For those who like to do things differently at The Rochester pub in Fitzroy, Melbourne, Chef Mischa Tropp uses the state of Kerala on India’s southwest coast as inspiration for her bar menu. She offers reinterpreted pub classics and snacks such as chips and curry, and for the more adventurous, duck hearts served with a sweet-and-sour spicy sauce. This moves onto traditional mains such as roast chicken but with the twist of tamarind, ghee and Kashmiri chilli curry, plus the refreshing papaya dish pulishari.
Distilling the essence of Indian authenticity into one element of a dish or part of a menu adds not only a point of difference to your destination but also gets existing patrons excited. And these surprisingly good flavours will spark a wider conversation outside your venue, prompting newcomers to walk through the door to see what the fuss is about.