1. Innovative Indian
Straight-up desi, while it will continue to proliferate, just won’t cut it in the upper echelons of the dining scene. Following the nouvelle Indian path laid by chefs like Manish Mehrotra and Bakshish Dean, restaurants will be experimenting with unusual flavours and combinations—a beaten rice starter, maybe, or a marriage of East Indian bottle masala with the Bihari litti-chokha—discovering new uses for local produce (a jute greens lasagna, anyone?), borrowing international serving ideas (an array of mini-idlis or bite-sized chaats served tapas-style) and decor tips (no more mournful ghazal singers or maroon linen, but peppy, light spaces with music to match). Simultaneously, there’s a movement towards the food of our forefathers, riding on a yearning for a less complicated time. This is food as it was cooked in family kitchens 80 or 100 years ago: Demanding of labour, time and skill, but vastly comforting and fulfilling. Expect nostalgia menus, resurrection of forgotten recipes and lots of feelgoodness.
2. The Unadventurous Diner
The principal reason why Indian cuisines will rule the roost, however, goes back to the oldest principle of economics: Demand. Spoilt, perhaps, by the plethora of ingredients and flavours that have developed over hundreds of years in each corner of our country, we are a people who have a never-satiated hunger for our own foods. If we venture out of our home-food comfort zones, it is to try other Indian cuisines or ‘appropriated’ foreign cuisines, from Chindian to the McAloo Burger. But when we like it hot and spicy, there’s no better option to the Indian, be it the Goan Reichado or the Rajasthani Lal Maas, the Sikkimese Thukpa (with red chilli paste!) or the Mangalorean kori-rotti. The desi menu never runs short of choice.
3. Imports Are Harder
Since October, various regulatory agencies have been cracking down on packaged imports that violate any letter of the law. As a result, massive consignments of foodstuff have been held up at the ports. Though by December the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India had relaxed its stand a little, importers fear that over the next three months, ethnic products—especially those with geographical indications (such as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée for France or Italy’s Denominazione di Origine Controllata)—will dry up. What’s a top-end Italian eatery without its supply of Parmesan cheese or Roma tomatoes? Or a Japanese restaurant without its gari or fresh wasabi? The innovative restaurateur will adapt his menu to Indian near-equivalents; the intelligent restaurateur will steer clear of imported cuisines altogether and investigate the vast culinary treasures of the subcontinent.