Food plays an important role in keeping our cultures and traditions alive, says Chef Manish Mehrotra, the man behind Indian Accent, on creating a Ramzan menu.
Through the month of Ramzan, Iftar (the evening meal to break the day-long fast) is usually had with family and friends. This coming together to break the fast is an age-old tradition and usually, pockets in cities across India come alive with various food stalls offering up an enormous spread of delicious foods. Under the current circumstances, social gatherings aren’t possible but that doesn’t mean you can’t still partake in Iftar. Indian Accent, one of the most reputed fine-dining destinations in the country, has a Ramzan tasting menu on offer. The restaurant in Delhi has won numerous awards including the recent listing as the highest rated Indian restaurant on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
We caught up with Chef Manish Mehrotra, the man behind Indian Accent on creating this unique menu.
TG: How did you go about the process of creating this Ramzan menu?
MM: To create the Ramzan menu, we researched what people eat in various parts of the country and world for Iftar. There’s not much documentation, with a lot of dishes and recipes passed down across generations verbally. There might be some common elements such as pakoras, or dates, but given the different versions that are made and used, it can be interpreted in many ways by the one who creates the dish. All these inputs helped us understand what direction to go in. So, with certain common elements factored in, we gave it our unique Indian Accent twist.
TG: Speaking of the Indian Accent twist, could you give us an example of how you’ve done this with the Ramzan menu?
MM: Take the kheema samosa as an example. Now, this is a dish that has been around for a while and is more popular in western and southern India. In the northern parts of the country, samosa is made slightly differently and usually doesn’t use meat as a filling. Food, at the end of the day, is all about stories and nostalgia. Our version of the kheema samosa takes various elements from different parts of the country. Usually, the meat filling can be quite dry, so we decided to do that differently. For the samosa shell, we used the technique prevalent in the north. And for the garnish, we used a crumble of the kind of samosa shell that is usually made in Maharashtra. So, it presents not just wonderful flavours to the diner but also, connects them to the various regions that inspired this creation.
TG: Obviously, it can’t be easy to choose favourites here, but which one dish would you highlight off this menu and why?
MM: Most of the dishes on the menu are inspired by traditional preparations, which are not only delicious but have rich legacy. But for me, what truly stands out, is the Kheema Dahi Vada. It’s really special and not something people have experienced before. Dahi vada is a popular dish across the country and makes for a great Iftar dish, especially in the summer months. Obviously, it’s made differently too, across regions. One other source of inspiration for this dish was a traditional Rajasthani preparation, where they douse Mutton Shammi Kebab in yoghurt. To stuff the vada with meat was a challenge but ultimately, the results turned out great.
TG: Given the numerous festivals celebrated in our country and of course, the integral role food plays in nearly every one of them, what would your advise be for anyone looking to create such a specialised menu?
MM: Naturally, the dishes on such a menu have to be tasty but most importantly, they have to invoke memories. Our job as creators is to ensure that every bite reminds the diner of that festival, that it connects them to great memories associated with those celebrations. The food should transport them to their childhood, or remind them of their family traditions. One could easily have fast food for Iftar, but all that does is satiate hunger. And the role of food encompasses so much more. It’s possibly one of the best ways to keep our cultures and traditions alive.