TD Conversations: Chef Ritu Dalmia’s love affair with Italy and its cuisine

Talk of Italian food in India and Ritu Dalmia’s name is usually on top of the list. Her restaurant Diva in New Delhi has been winning people’s hearts for over two decades with its authentic Italian fare. She also runs two successful restaurants in Milan — Cittamani and Spica. In this interview, she talks about Italian cuisine.

Ritu Dalmia fell in love with Italian food very early in her life — when she was just 10 or 11 years old. She thinks it is an easy cuisine to love and there is a reason why it is the number one cuisine in the world. “There is something very wholesome and comforting about the cuisine. Italian food is bursting with flavours and that’s the reason Indians have found a resonance with it. It is more about taste and not just how it looks. Even when it comes to vegetarian food, Italian has a number of recipes one can try as compared to any other European cuisine,” she tells us.

Ritu Dalmia has learnt many things about Italy through its food. She’s been travelling to Italy for about 40 years now and each time there is something new to discover. She has two very successful restaurants in Milan that are poles apart from each other. While Cittamani is an Indian regional cuisine restaurant and focusses on home style food as well, her restaurant Spica is an ode to travelling. “Spica is about my travel memories, it is about the food I have loved whenever I have travelled and it is an evolving process — if I go somewhere and love the food there it goes into Spica’s menu,” she says.

While speaking of food globally people usually think of London, New York and Sydney — when asked why she opened her restaurants in Milan she says that she does not want to be in a crowded space. “I wanted to be in a space that would welcome me, where there was ease and there was still a sense of the unknown, so the only city that came to my mind was Milan. Here people love whatever comes their way. It may have been a bit of a gamble and risk but four years later it has paid off,” she says.

Her journey has been interesting. She started an Italian restaurant in Delhi — Mezza Luna — in the 1990s when she was just 22. The restaurant was way ahead of its time and Delhi could not fathom that food so she had to close it. Dalmia moved to London where she started an Indian fine-dining restaurant Vama that did well.

She then started Diva in New Delhi in 2000 which was when her food journey properly began. Dalmia tells us that she has seen the flavour profile of Indians change over the years. “Travelling became so much more and exposure to the global palate became more so people do not want Indianised Italian anymore — they are exposed enough to want the gnocchi the same way.”

In this interview she tells us about her comfort Italian food, Italy’s coffee culture, her favourite Italian ingredients to cook with, how the cuisine of Italy varies regionally. She also gives us a quick guide to Milan.

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