A few years ago, ice creams came in less than 10 flavours. Vanilla was the simplest and tutti frutti the most exotic. Those days are no more. Bangalore's Sujala Parekh, who makes the Orchard Fresh brand of ice cream, has flavours that make tutti frutti sound vanilla. They include olive oil, sweet tomato, red wine and fig, wasabi, masala tea, moong bean halwa, basil and green peppercorn. Such unlikely flavours are not limited to frozen dessert as menus across the country are tempting patrons with all sorts of flavoured foods from whisky cheese to, as bizarre as it sounds, chocolate mutton curry.
According to Mohit Khattar, the MD of Godrej Nature's Basket in Mumbai and Delhi, "Globalisation, higher disposable incomes and exposure to emerging trends in world cuisine have, over the last few years, fuelled this growth of flavoured foods." Chefs such as Nimish Bhatia from the Lalit Ashok Hotel, Bangalore and Arindam Bahel from Mumbai's Rodas Ecotel are consciously stirring some wacky flavours to enrich the novelty factor in their cuisine. For instance, one of Bhatia's specialties is dahi ke khak kebab, a dish made of yogurt infused with smoke and served in an aubergine shell. Parekh believes that "the increasing fetish of food pairing has given a new idiom to food. For example, lemongrass and lemon ice cream with Thai food or parmesan cheese and caramalised nuts ice cream paired with Italian food".
Such dishes don't make occasional appearances on menus. They're fixtures and are ordered fairly frequently. However, an item like chocolate mutton curry has to be ordered a day in advance at Nawab Saheb, a restaurant at the Renaissance Hotel in Mumbai. Master chef Bhairav Singh Rajput says that he was inspired to make it after tasting a chilly chocolate curry at a food festival in Korea.
Kunal Vijaykar, who anchors the Times Now show, The Foodie, recalls having a litchi chilly mousse flavoured with lemongrass at Rodas Ecotel in Mumbai and paan shots served at the end of meal at Punjab Grill. Owned by celebrity chef Jiggs Kalra, Punjab Grill mixes betel leaves, fresh cream and sugar or gulkhand into the paan shot, which is served complimentary in a shot glass.
Often patrons demand outrageous flavours. Bina Doshi, who makes handchurned ice creams in Mumbai, recalls a recent request for ice cream that has the flavour of tea with either glucose or Marie biscuits. Another client wanted sea salt and caramel flavoured ice cream. Senior sous chef of Delhi's Smoke House Grill, Mayank Tiwari, who came up with saffron, spinach and rosemary enriched iodine salts as an accompaniment to certain dishes, says he will shortly launch bacon ice cream (coffee ice cream with cinnamon and bacon fat) and chocolates with olive oil and wasabi. Bonobo, a hip bar in Mumbai, serves mango and lemongrass kulfi with tandoori fruits. Co-owner Sahil Timbadia also talks excitedly about his upcoming cola barbeque sauce. "Indians used to heavy flavours are finally giving in to subtleties," observes Timbadia.