Appetizers are no longer just a prelude to the 'more important' main course in a meal
Phorum Dalal traces the rise of the entree as the prime attraction with diners preferring to share starters and bond over a meal instead of gorging on the mains
The first-class passengers in the Titantic were served a 10-course meal. And that’s not a patch on the 21-courses the French indulged in till the early 20th century where a lunch or dinner could last half a day.
“Meals lasted over four hours, sometimes even moving from one chamber to the next depending on the course,” chef Sameer of Baluchi, the pan-Indian restaurant at The Lalit, Sahar, tells us.
“The French introduced 17-course meals, beginning with a soup, fish, entre, main course, dessert and ending with coffee. Today, the number of courses have come down to maybe four or five. Now, 45 minutes to an hour is enough to finish a good meal,” says Sameer.
But it’s the entrée, that has taken centre stage after years of being a mere stepping stone for the ‘more important’ main course that followed.
When Baluchi for instance introduced a pan-Indian menu two years ago, they incorporated an interesting entree, the Kebabo Ki Jhalak, which came with a choice of four vegetarian or non-vegetarian kebabs along with the special dal baluchi and a naan. “Most patrons enjoy this as a meal and skip the main course altogether, going straight to the dessert. The well-travelled Indians are increasingly open to trying a contemporary version of the classics. Even our Paneer Tikka and Hara Bhara Kebab are tweaked into interesting shapes with different fillings. We serve a Rann in the appetiser section, which serves as a full meal for someone who doesn’t want to go the four-course route,” says Chef Sameer.
Less but more
Indeed, with greater focus on health and a conscious decision to stay away from heavy main courses, the eating-out habit of Mumbaiites has undergone a radical change in the last few years, says Rakesh Talwar, head chef of Spare Kitchen, an Indo-talian restaurant in Juhu. “The entrée could mean the soup, starters or salads has become the most popular choices for diners,” he says. The Chicken Kurchan, which is made by combining vegetables with strips of tandoori chicken in scanty gravy, turns into the Chicken Kurchan Tacos in the appetiser menu at The Spare Kitchen. “The new breed of chefs are very adaptive to the entrée menu and they are actually thinking out-of-the-box to come up with different creations,” says Chef Talwar.
Some chefs believe that the days where food was relished and was a culinary experience have been left behind. “We are social eaters, and it is more about beverages and food rather than food and beverages,” laments Chef Jolly.
“People love a quick-bite, be it the tapas or wafer-thin pizzas. I was in Lucknow recently and I met an 80-year-old chef who put in a very nostalgic way: ‘Khanewale mar gaye aur pakane wale mar gaye’. This may be too extreme a comment, but the concept of the main course is fading and social foods or bonding foods have taken over,” he opines.
Take for example the menu at Andheri’s popular eatery Little Door. Almost 80 per cent of the dishes can be shared. Tanu Narang Moghe, chef and partner at the restaurant, says her customers are happier trying more dishes, but it is not a complete main-course trader. Similarly, the Mezze Platter at all the Café Mangii and Le Mangii across the city is a top seller. Chef Simarpal says while orders vary depending on people and the location of the outlet, the entrée menu has a certain creativity to it that makes it a winner. “Every one wants to try more flavours and more dishes today,” he says.
Another reason the entrée is getting all the attention is because Mumbai diners love to share their food, says Janti Dugal, food director at Mamagato.
“Entrée, is the new main course. The pizza has made its way into the entrée menu because it’s a lighter options. People are happy eating less but want to be able to taste more dishes,” concludes Dugal.