5 Trends in Indian Catering
More and more, Indian dining is trending toward Western customs — and caterers are responding in some creative ways.
Indian food can be the source of both excitement and chaos — enthusiasm over the plethora of dishes to choose from and indecision over what to choose for the final menu. From thalis to biryanis, dals to naans, Indian food offers a wide assortment of spices, vegetables and flavors from around the country.
In recent times, the fine dining experience, combined with Western influences, has brought forth new changes in the way Indian weddings and other events are catered. Below are some of the top 2014 trends catching our eye.
Traditionally, Indian food was served in the same vessel in which it was cooked: clay or copper pots. It was enjoyed in a similarly simple manner: as a communal experience from a single set of large dishes. Indian food didn’t need anything besides its unique colors, bold spices and wafting fragrances to sell itself.
Today, however, Western emphasis on presentation and design has influenced high-end Indian cuisine to follow suit. Elaborate dishes are cooked to perfection, and then arranged likewise on the plate. Examples include a dish of baby eggplant with crispy bhindi sticking out for textural contrast and desserts such as kulfi and gulab jamun served in martini glasses, rather than a bowl.
While maintaining quality, of course, caterers must go above and beyond in food presentation. Even if you opt for traditional pots, display them nicely, keep them clean, and make sure the food is piping hot (warm, not spicy, that is).
Street food makes a comeback
Indians’ love for food cannot be underestimated. And street food (known as chaat) defines local cultures. But as with any street food around the world, it is not usually neat to eat.
Event planner Preeti Vasudeva, of Preeti Exclusive Creations, notes that chaat food has entered the upscale catering industry. She says that pani puri water served in a shot glass with the puri on top is a classic appetizer — an example of a runny, crunchy street delicacy converted into its fancier counterpart. She also recommends grilled tikkas, a common finger food, served as kebabs on a skewer with jewel-toned veggies to stand out against the spiced paneer and meats.
The acceptance of street foods into high-end dining symbolizes collusion between India’s truest, tastiest forms of dining and the structured serving patterns.
The mouth-watering collection of Indian mithai includes floral-flavored gulab jamun and creamy rasmalai, among many others. So depriving guests of a wider selection of India’s finest sweets seems inhumane.
Nowadays, dessert buffets are offered in place of a singular cake or mithai. From barfis to kulfis, a guest can choose how to best satisfy his own sweet tooth. Buffet-style dessert also allows for a fusion mix of options, where guests can offer the classic sundae bar alongside a tier of colorful ladoos.
This trend resolves many a host’s dilemma over which popular Indian mithai to serve, and it also offers a fuller variety of flavors to cleanse the palate after a deliciously spicy Indian meal.
Ranjan Dey, of San Francisco-based New Delhi Restaurant, is no stranger to beverage menus that can be inspired to meet the personalized and unique expectations of fine dining. Indian events in particular are quick to embrace cleverly named cocktails that bring Eastern flavors together with Western favorites for a delightful sip.
“Guests enjoyed specially crafted appetizers and drinks, including ‘Bollywood Blues,’ made from Antiquity Whisky imported from India, ‘Maharaja Punch,’ crafted from Indian Old Monk Rum, and a special non-alcoholic Green Mango Lemonade,” explains Dey.
Such fusion cocktails are an excellent way to surprise your guests with drinks they’ve probably never had and introduce them to some fun new flavors. Serve them as cocktails and mocktails (non-alcoholic versions) so that all your guests can enjoy.
Typically, Indian dinners are served as buffets, due in part to the large volumes of food served, the wide range of dishes offered, and the number of guests attending. However, both Vasudeva and Dey contend that seated-style dinners are making a comeback.
Dey calls this a “Nouvelle Thali-Style Presentation,” referring to the idea of a family seated together around a large plate (thali) filled with various dishes and breads. Vasudeva adds that family-style meals increase the intimacy of a large catered event, and they can be as simple as bringing portions of 4-5 at one table and allowing each group to serve themselves from there.
These up-and-coming trends add to the art of Indian food while making the dining experience more enjoyable. This is a welcome change, as the extravagant taste of Indian cuisine is now further enhanced by such elements — formal dining habits will only build anticipation for the savory, spiced meal that is to come!
This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Catersource magazine