Eating out is a serious pastime. The food industry has so much to offer that we can spend a lifetime trying it all and still have a lot left over (pun intended!). No longer does an a la carte menu cut it for a restaurant. From buffets to prix fixe meals to curated menus, food and wine pairings, bento boxes and the rise of the cool quotient of street food, just about everything has a demand.
Every new restaurant opening is eagerly looked forward to and every food walk is dissected down to the last hole-in-the-wall eatery. Gradually, we all seem to be looking inwards, at the food we have grown up with, at ingredients that our grandmothers deemed healthy long before an organised industry did.
The food industry in India is going back to its roots and that is just one of the trends being forecast. I picked the minds of some of the top guns of the food industry right now and here is what they have to say.
CEO and Managing Director, Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality Pvt Ltd (IEHPL)
I have to admit that I am a die-hard fan of the Socials as well as Smoke House Deli. When that long due trip to Mumbai happens, I am going to knock all of Riyaaz's restaurants off my must-eat-at list. What I have loved consistently about the work that Impresario does is that they somehow have their finger on the pulse of their audience. So whether it is the kiddie-friendly sticker book or the biryani burrito or the drinks that are never watered down, they always manage to hit the spot.
As a person in the business Riyaaz points out that millennials now make up the majority of dining-out customers. He says, "Almost 700 million Indians are below 30 and this is a huge chunk of people. They have been making their presence felt over the last three years, which you can see in the rise of the affordable casual dining segment, which hitherto was missing. Now that the base is strong, we are ready for the second wave of upmarket affordable restaurants."
Restaurants will have to start thinking of options in health-based food as India moves from occasion-based dining to convenience-based dining. Riyaaz Amlani
As far as approach to food goes Riyaaz believes that local ingredients will start replacing the use of imported foreign ones. "It's no longer about looking over our shoulders to the West and trying to be authentic to them. We are finding our voice and that is very exciting. We are using local ingredients and using them well, both in Indian and Western cuisine. I see provenance playing a larger role. Restaurants will have to start thinking of options in health-based food as India moves from occasion-based dining to convenience-based dining. This will be a bigger trend that will come in."
Riyaaz also foresees a rise in interest in our own regional cuisines. "People are curious to see what Chettinad cuisine is all about, curious about the food of Assam, of Kashmir, what Bohri and Parsi food are all about. They are extending their horizons as far as Indian food goes."
Marryam H Reshii
Times of India food critic and columnist (Delhi), gastronomic expert
I have been an ardent follower of Marryam's work and enjoy her simple, fluid, yet information-packed writing. Her more than three decades in the business stands testimony to her expertise. On my bucket list of things to do is take part in the Times Passion Trails to Kashmir that she hosts.
Now, hotels are being inspired by roadside eateries and home cooks, rather than the other way around. Home cooks too are getting their day in the sun... Marryam H Reshii
The way she sees it, there is more than one trend that will do the rounds. "While the days of the big, brassy, bold resto-bars are far from over, there is also a growing niche of restaurants that are slowly coming around to using very niche, regional ingredients. The black rice of Manipur, radhuni pagol of West Bengal (a fragrant rice that literally translates to 'making the cook go mad'), kadaknath chickens (with their black feathers, beak, feet and flesh) and highly seasonal crops like Gujarati Paunkh and Tadgula from the coasts are all being incorporated into restaurant and hotel menus," she says.
"Now, hotels are being inspired by roadside eateries and home cooks, rather than the other way around. Home cooks too are getting their day in the sun, by being invited to do pop-ups in restaurants and luxury hotels. The food they showcase is the simplest home cooking. It is entirely possible, on the other hand though, that the next-door restaurant is prepping for pasta with white, pink and red sauces for their customers whose concept of dining out is something else entirely!"
Chef partner: Toast & Tonic, The Fatty Bao, Monkey Bar; and Executive chef: Olive Beach
So there is no denying that Manu Chandra is among the most visible chefs in the country. From the elegance of an Olive Beach, to the gastro-pub Monkey Bar, to the Asian spins at The Fatty Bao and to his latest East Village-style Toast and Tonic he lends panache to all the things he does.
Food like millets will be cool again. We are beginning to look at things that have been always in our backyard... Manu Chandra
When I spoke to him, he said that for the last two or three years regional cuisine has been coming to the forefront. "I will take that a step further and say cultural iterations are also coming to the fore. It is not just Goan, but Saraswath Brahmin Goan. There will be restaurants that will focus on something specific, like say Lingayat cuisine. These are things you will see happen closer to the end of the year. One will hope that Mangalorean cuisine and the various communities within it will also come to the fore.
Manu reiterates a common strain of thought saying that chefs are now looking inwards. "Food like millets will be cool again. A lot of chefs are beginning to embrace our own biodiversity. We are beginning to look at things that have been always in our backyard but that have been sacrificed at the altar of the exotic. That is something that I am rooting for big time. He adds that we are also going to see more chef-driven restaurants popping up. Things are too chain and brand right now. There'll be a revival of mom and pop restaurants."
Publisher & managing editor, Food Lovers
Kripal Amanna is the founder of Food Lovers, a pan-India content and experience platform dedicated to the celebration of food, wine and dining across print, digital and social with a viewership of over a million users per month. He has over two decades in the hospitality and food & beverage space behind him, both from a consumer and industry perspective. What has always struck me about Food Lovers is its attention to detail and the amazing production quality. I have had the chance to write for them on occasion.
Small plates are happening in small patches, but I think you will see more of it... it allows the chef to showcase more. Kripal Amanna
Kripal too believes that the trend of going back to our roots and to comfort food that began some time ago is going to continue. "Local ingredients will be used both in their familiar as well as in innovative ways. You are going to see food that will take you back."
As far as new trends go, Kripal sees the concept of small plates as an idea that restaurants as well as in-room dining at hospitality units are going to consider more. "Today you have a lot of single travellers. You want to explore food, whether in your room or outside. You can't do justice to typical portions that restaurants dish out. Small plates are happening in small patches, but I think you will see more of it. From a restaurant's perspective, it allows the chef to showcase more".
Speaking on the beverage scenario he says that wine has been on the upswing in India and people are going to explore more of food and wine pairings. "Another reason why that will happen is because chefs are reinventing Indian food. Presenting familiar ingredients and dishes in a slightly international format which then helps lend the meal to dining with a glass of wine. We are going to see more of this."
As restaurant experience blogger, I have had the pleasure of chatting with Suresh on multiple occasions. Suresh has travelled widely and dined in the finest restaurants across the world and in India, and has used his experience to give a futuristic twist to traditional Indian cuisine which he calls Naya Zaika, the equivalent of nouvelle cuisine.
I see the second and bigger wave of Pan-Asian cuisine hitting our shores. More Indians have travelled to the Far East now than ever before...Suresh Hinduja
It takes one conversation to know how much he loves his food and how much he knows about it—whether it is a conversation on provenance, on cuisines, on cooking or on culinary experiences, large and small, Suresh is a veritable treasure house. He believes that, "Restaurant chains, especially the funded ones have their work cut out to prove their excel sheets. Going forward, it's going to be the survival of not just the fittest, but the most agile; the ones who can bypass processes and pivot as the situation may demand."
He adds, "I see the second and bigger wave of Pan-Asian cuisine hitting our shores. More Indians have travelled to the Far East now than ever before and the market is ripe to cater to their new found tastes. However, market dynamics will support only Pan-Asian restaurants and not a single cuisine menu like let's say Vietnamese."
Blogger and author, Mumbai
Kalyan was one of the first food and restaurant bloggers I began following back in 2007 or so when I took to blogging. He has come a long way from being a regular corporate guy to one who today follows his passion. He recently released his first book, The Travelling Belly: Eating through India's Bylanes.
Regional cuisine will pick up as well, though an individual regional cuisine not native to the city will require selling a story around it. Kalyan Karmakar
For 2017, he too states that food that draws on Indian heritage but is presented in a contemporary way, will become more popular. "Good, solid flavours but, plated the way a young, well travelled couple in big cities would in their own home is the vibe that will be reflected. This is comfort food for the modern generation."
What Kalyan believes should happen is that pricing needs to be at par, if not below that of western restaurants, as customers come from the point of view of "why spend so much for Indian?" Alternately the experience must be made very different from those restaurants that are in general the definition of "posh but non-5 star" Indian for us.
He also says that restaurants that focus on produce and on provenance will gain popularity. "Regional cuisine will pick up as well, though an individual regional cuisine not native to the city will require selling a story around it."