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From Main Street to High Street!

A walnut and cheese tikki or a samosa with filo pastry? Flabbergasted? Here’s why and how the everyday Indian street food, a religion in many ways, has a new place of worship!

What would’ve seemed really bizzare a few years ago, only if we heard terms like a ‘lemon rasam pani-puri’ or an ‘idli pizza’ no longer seem alien. Today, several modern Indian restaurants have taken street food concepts and transformed them to create dishes that take these simple, flavourful concoctions to a whole new level.
 
But the real question that stems from this food trend is the sudden need to go casual fine. What urges our chefs to draw inspiration from the streets?
 
“Street food has always been an integral part of our culture, and has a lot to offer so why not make it part of our dining experience too. Leaving street food out on a fine dining menu, is like representing Indian cuisine half-heartedly, which is grave injustice to such a rich culinary heritage,” explains Chef Abhijit Saha, Founding Director of Avant Garde Hospitality Pvt ltd. and modern Indian restobar, RockSalt.
 
Chef Saha, who many years ago decided to bring street food to his menus has introduced a Western twist to most of his recipes. From a meat stuffed samosa made with filo pastry, that he emphasises is baked and not fried (giving you the choice to enjoy without the guilt) to a sushi bar inspired, upscale puchka bar, with 24 varieties of panipuri and 5 different liquids, Chef Saha’s menu may be a subtle play on the classics but definitely hits home in the nostalgia department.
 
“The panipuri bar that ranges from savoury to sweet options, has international fillings of avocado salsa, hummus and a spiced gazpacho as the liquid. We also do variations with classics like spiced potato, pindi chole, spiced peas with jaljeera, masala chaas, kokum saar and aampana. In addition, we have non-vegetarian and dessert fillings too, like pepper crab meat and chocolate ganache,” shares Chef Saha.
 
The option to mix and play, that recreates or brings back that element of fun associated with the streets is what restaurants or hotels are after. Moreover, the options of eating street food either as a starter, entree or dessert make for a much more memorable experience according to them.
 
“Our inspiration comes from the fact that street food already holds a big place in our hearts as Indians and is almost seen as comfort food,” says Senior Sous Chef Tanvi Goswami of the popular Farzi Café. The restaurant that focuses on staying true to the taste and texture, plays on the presentation and technique to put an interesting spin on street food, with dishes like mini raj kachori with a saunth chutney flavoured water that is turned into foam, an aloo ki tikki inspired goat cheese walnut tikki basil spheres, duck samosa and a rasmalai tres leches.
 
Bringing in a fresh perspective to the whole casual fine furore, food writer and critic, Geeta Doctor discerns, “street food at a restaurant is the equivalent of allowing the upper classes a taste of life on the wild side (the streets) without actually endangering them!”
 
Furthermore she says, “ The Indian streets are so full of vitality that they cannot help but set the imagination on fire. It’s a two-way traffic, a barter system. If earlier people at street corners made their rotis, today they prefer bread. If the lumpy ragi mudde eaten or swallowed by a farmer has been replaced by a store bought biscuit or bread; Ragi, Bajra and other types of millets and Amaranth seeds have become value added items when they are packaged and sold as healthier options.”
 
But are these diverse spins on old classics enough to push the average Indian to try street food off a restaurant?
 

“Health and hygiene, the use of premium quality ingredients and convenience are important factors that the contemporary Indian takes into account before he plans a night out on the streets,” states Chef Satbir Bakshi, Executive Chef, at The Oberoi, Mumbai, that hosts a high tea featuring local street food like the vada and misal pav, kheema pav and pav bhaji. The hotel also believes that street food events such as these is an opportunity to showcase the rich Indian food tradition to their foreign guests.
 
To Chef Saha, diners can crave street food any time of the day, “Spotting your favourite street food on a restaurant menu is then a bonus! Why wouldn’t you go ahead and order?” he quizzes.
 
Whilst these reasons fit, amidst the overwhelming response to inventive street food items on a restaurant menu, there is a section that argues that recreating a classic takes away from its authenticity. Chef Saha, begs to differ, stating that this argument holds no water. He says, “The only constant is change. You’re welcome to try the classics as they will always remain. But, let’s not forget that classics too, are created of inspiration. And most importantly, letting my creativity take charge as a chef, would be me, doing justice to my job.”
 
Rock Salt, 15, State Bank of India Road, Shanthala Nagar, Ashok Nagar, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560 001; tel: +91 80 4890 7848
Farzi Café, Level 2, UB City, Sampangi Rama Nagar, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560 001; tel: +91 72594 00900
Oberoi Trident Towers, Nariman Point, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400 021; tel: + 91 22 6632 5757

Posted: May 25, 2018
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