When was the last time one of the countless Mumbai culinary chroniclers went to town about the opening of an authentic Indian cuisine-slanted, fine-dine restaurant? Chances are, it’s a number you can count on one finger. While the city’s foodies, culinary czars and gourmet gurus seem to be over the moon, what with the near assembly-line-like emergence of international cuisine restaurants across the city. Celebrity chefs being flown down from far-off Scandinavian lands, open kitchens, meet-the-chef contests, unpronounceable mentions on the menu, the works, we’ve seen, experienced and read it all, this past year. And, this, one dares to mention is probably another avatar of the McDonaldisation of India that hit our shores a while ago.
It’s been such a lopsided affair that even the younger generation (read: school and college yuppies) has rather effortlessly, latched on to the bandwagon, in their eating out tastes and preferences. A visit to any popular mall will confirm this. While most fast food/fine dine restaurants serving international cuisine will be choc-a-bloc on most days, the Indian themed restaurants have a relatively lesser buzz around them. Unless of course, they happen to be one of the older restaurants that, we are sure, must be having to work extra hard to keep up with the more popular Johnny-come-latelys.
This story repeats itself across some of its bustling suburbs where restaurants have mushroomed before one can spell, let’s say, ‘Lokhandwala’. Be it chains or wannabe attempts into lesser-trod cuisines, restaurateurs seem to be steering far, far away from fine dine Indian cuisine. As of now, we suspect, this wave might be getting only bigger. Gone are the days when one would spot long queues lining up outside some of the city’s popular big-ticket restaurants that prided themselves in serving some of the finest seafood (but naturally), Punjabi and other Indian favourites. It was important to be “seen” in these restaurants too, as old timers will recall.
Not any more. No Tikka-Shikha or Navratan Korma, please. “It’s too DM (down market, for the uninitiated)”, we couldn’t help but overhear this shrill, protesting cry from a 20-something to her bunch of friends when they were politely told that the newest restaurant in the mall was booked, as a result of which they would have had to settle for the less-cool option, nearby. It’s these cries, perhaps, that have reached the ears of smart entrepreneurs and restaurateurs, ever clued in to the city’s changing dining out choices.
Ignoring India’s rich legacy of varied, regional cuisine is one thing, but watching it fade away from a city’s culinary map is unfortunate. Apart from a few Bengali, North Indian (often clubbed with Punjabi) cuisine restaurants that are going great guns, one begs to ask why aren’t we celebrating food from the rest of India? It’s an open-ended question, the replies of which, at the moment at least, seem to be buoyed by business sense more than culinary patriotism.