Indian Food is as old as mankind itself. Spices, herbs and fresh ingredients, have been an integral part of India, since a few centuries. Whilst the rest of the world was still being discovered, food in the Indian sub-continent was already being appreciated.
Legacy of the rich Indian culinary culture, are an integral part of the World Food History. Recipes are passed down generations & mothers & grand mothers guard family recipes in lockers, to be handed over to the new generation. It is not unusual to dine on dishes in traditional Indian homes, which have been prepared with recipes handed down generations. In fact, a few weeks back, I was in Chennai, in the southern part of the country and had the privilege of dining on a few vegetarian dishes, made with banana flowers, bamboos shoots & Coconut milk, which are being prepared, since early 18th century.
Focus has also been on using herbs for wellbeing. Indian food used generous amounts of herbs and condiments for cooking and tempering. Each of these adds flavor and aroma. Garlic, Turmeric, Fenugreek, Cardamom, etc., each have a role to play in the cuisine & human health. In fact, Indian cuisine is also quite varied and different parts of the country offer their regional variants, based on local produce and spices. Weather, language & soil, play a key role in defining the local produce. Indian food also changes with season and weather.
Indians love their food and food forms a part of the local folklore in India.
Over the last few years, Indian cuisine has spread globally and is being offered at some of the best tables across the world. Indian food seems to be moving to the next level, though basics remain the same. Indian restaurants in Europe, UK & USA are offering light versions of popular Indian dishes with local ingredients. People across the world, are enjoying Indian cuisine, though with varying degrees of authenticity.
Interestingly on one hand, whilst Indian food gains a global footprint, a new revolution is taking place back home, wherein Chefs are redesigning Indian food and bringing out, what we will call The Modern Indian Cuisine. In India, Chefs are experimenting with ingredients, flavours & above all presentation, to lend a fresh new look to the food.
Initially some Europeans used to avoid Indian food, except classical food, due to spices and bold flavours. Now these are being tempered down, to suit the International palate.
Basic Indian flavours – Smoky Kabab – Tandoor // Sweet & Tangy // Spicy & Chilly // Prominent flavours were at the forefront, base & body of the food was lined with starch. With Sauce & Gravy, we used heavier whiskies.
Some Chefs also feel that Vegetarian Indian food does do not go well with whiskies. In fact, lighter dishes do not go well. It is a challenge since each dish has multiple flavours, mélange of vegetables and soft light flavours.
In South India, Chefs are passionate about spice & herbs and want them in the fore front, they are not sure if they want to pair the same. In North India, Pairing is widely accepted, so much so that Whisky & Food is being paired with food most times.
According to Chef Amit Chowdhury, Executive Chef, The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi,
“Traditional Indian food will always remain the first choice and preferred the world over. Even across India, traditional Indian dishes will stay as the first choice. Things like gravies of Masala`s, Dry Fruit based sauces, creamy textures, etc. will dominate the palate. Though now, people are moving away from oily gravies to enjoy light sauces and fresh produce. They are evolving to enjoy & appreciate the lightness in the food, softer ingredients & whilst herbs and spices are still being used, focus is more on lightness and extracting flavours.”
I still remember when I had introduced India to the art of Whisky pairing with Food, way back in 2007, things did not quite happen. Initially the pairing didn’t work, since traditional Indian food had oil, spices coating the tongue, textures numbing our palate, it just didn’t seem to work with whisky. Though, over the years, I felt that different malts with their distinctive flavours, were a good pairing with Whiskies. We worked with various styles of whiskys` and felt that most whiskies were quite complimenting.
Modern Indian Cuisine highlights the traditional Indian dishes. It captures the primary flavours, accentuates certain ingredients and presents the dishes in a more contemporary manner. To create a distinction, the presentation is more distinctive and appealing. Sensibilities of the European palate are also kept in mind, thus ensuring that spices are placed in moderation. Modern Indian Cuisine is the usage of cooking techniques from India and combining them with ingredients from around the world to craft innovative food. It won’t simply be beautifully plated food; it is also one of the most flavorsome and weaves a story around the chefs and their style of cooking. It also involves using traditional locally sourced ingredients and presenting them to cater to an international palate.
Besides appreciating & drawing inspiration from traditional Indian dishes, regional cuisine and Indian ingredients, Modern Indian cuisine also ensures that the base taste, remains the same. Interesting the play is on adding condiments to the main dish, rather than as an add-on.
Whilst, traditionally, we enjoy shared portions, Modern Indian Cuisine offers smaller and individual portions, thus appealing to an International audience, besides ensuring that each guest, can enjoy multiple dishes. Dishes from different parts of the country are on offer, most of them being, light & flavourful and being presented in an appealing manner.
We curated a Whisky & Indian cuisine showcase, with one example each of both the cuisine and discovered that both cuisine, have a remarkable relationship with Whisky, India`s national beverage.
Towards Pairing Modern Indian cuisine, we planned a contemporary voyage. Keeping in view that the modern Indian cuisine is high on presentation, the sensory experience is enhanced with a visual treat, great crockery and fine cutlery, with matching shades of food colour going well with the golden & copper hues of whisky. Sometimes the flourish & the swish of the whisky, lashing the glass settles almost reluctantly to balance the great tasting dishes. A good looking Bar or Restaurant, crispness of the service, adds to the over-all dining experience. Serve in small measures and enjoy Responsible Drinking.
Pairing at Varq, The Taj Mahal, New Delhi – Signature Modern Indian Cuisine.
Varqui Crab – Auchentoshan 12 YO
This delicate malt with a great nose is fine way to begin the Gourmet experience. Light and accessible, the malt brings out the subtle flavours in the lightly done crab. Soft malt with a hint of oak, it allows the smooth texture of the crab to be fully explored, adds a gentle sweetness and a medium finish.
A gentle fragrance provides a neutral and gentle touch to the crispiness of the varq and lays the base for the “silk” of crab meat
Bhatti Prawn – Talisker 10 YO
Prawn is rich in its natural taste and a great complement, to the malt. Rich and velvety, Prawn rules the taste buds, in the initial stages. Small portions, well done, enjoyed best, by adding few drops of water to Talisker, enabling the peppery aromas to gently mingle. Appreciate it with a generous sip of the fine Talisker. Interestingly, the spice in the Prawn takes a bow to the pepper in the malt. Talisker is splendid malt and is able to bring out the best in the food in this case, robust tastes, slightly high pitched …. Appreciate in solitude!
Ganderi Kebab – Macallan 12 YO
Soft with floral accents, the malt is elegant in its presentation. The soft sherry notes and maple taste settle well with the soft meat and hints of spice. Tamarind sauce provides a contrast, which is quite welcoming and innovative. A must try at VARQ.
Khurmani Ke Kebabs – Bunnahabhain 12 YO
Warm & welcoming, the gentle taste of Islay. A most welcoming fragrant nose releases honeyed nuts and a slightly sea-induced salty tang. Rich toffee and leathery oak aromas can be sensed upon further inspection. Beautifully balanced, the palate is influenced by mellow sherried nuts and shavings of the finest natural oak wood. A finish of dry notes with mixed spices fading into a light salt and sherry finale. The gentle spice of the Kebab, with tamarind sauce beckons a warm embrace. Both open to the rich taste and enjoy a companionship that provides a robust experience.
Atta Raan – Ardbeg Uigedail
Strong taste of the malt, salty flavours open up to the red meat & complement the taste & spices, with the flour casing softening the tongue. Soft and well cooked meat is able to retain its presence and provide the taste, in front of formidable malt. Malt opens up with drops of chilled water and time, almost reluctantly. Lamb can withstand the strong flavour of this malt … well almost! An olive Naan served on the side, adds its own flavour, does not interfere with the malt, but provides a soft sweetness to the great malt
Gucci aur Khumb – Aberfeldy 21 YO
Honour and the Heart of Scotland promise a passion, with quite elegantly presented. Deep gold with amber highlights. Richly textured, honeyed nose with sweet creamy intensity and aromas of dried fruits, floral heather and hints of toasted coconut. Both sweet and full on the palate with lashings of Scottish honey and an abundance of orange peel, immediately relaxing with notes of cream, vanilla and oak with a long, spicy and dry finish. A quite and gentle romance lingers, with gentle touching fingers and subdued passion.
Masala Tea Crème Brulee – Dalwhinnie 14 YO
Served post dinner, sweet aromatic fragrance is very pleasant, enhances gently sweet desserts, enjoy chilled, that’s correct chilled. Interestingly Chocolate feels subdued, crunchy nuts and bites add to the soft aromas, with gentle “trickling honey”. Good Malt enjoyed after a great meal but give a short gap. The Malt seems to possess the ability to refresh the taste buds & settles in smoothly with the rich sweetness of the chocolates
Indian Baked Alaska – Glenfiddich 30 YO (and Strathisla 25 YO)
A luxurious expression of the world’s favourite Single Malt, Glenfiddich 30 YO is an apt post prandial pleasure. The malt offers a “Drawing Room Seating”, with a favourite book or company of select friends, by the bonfire. The ambience at VARQ offers a great setting for the long after taste of a great meal with gorgeous malts. Truly defined by luxury, the malt ushers in a relaxed mood, ensuring that the Indian Baked Alaska is savoured and the moment long remembered for its elegance and gentleness.
According to Chef Amit Sood- Executive Chef, JW Marriott Hotel, Bengaluru, “ Indian cuisine comprises of a wide variety of regional cuisine from across this diverse country. Depending upon the soil, climatic conditions and religious influences the cuisine has varied and adopted various forms. The original Indian cuisine was developed by erstwhile royal kingdoms and was extremely rich in flavor and texture involving long slow cooking and usage of traditional spices.” I believe that original Indian cuisine will be the foundation of cooking techniques employed across all modern Indian restaurants. Chefs are constantly seeking to revive age old traditions, techniques and ingredients used by the grandmothers and great-grandmothers and replicating it for customers who are looking for something unique and innovative.
Turmeric Tandoori Prawns
Micro cilantro, lemon, orange segments, Goan curry sauce
Aberfeldy 12 Year Old
Grilled Cottage Cheese
Vegetable jalfrezi, cherry tomato, arugula, lemon
Malai Chicken Tikka
Yogurt marinate, cilantro chutney, onion tomato salsa
Glenfiddich 12 Year Old
Lamb shank korma
Cumin, coriander, red chili, yogurt, garlic, basmati rice, saffron
Cragganmore 12 Year Old