India is an ideal setting for food tourism. People travel the world inspired by culinary shows, world’s top-restaurant lists, influencers and Instagram. India’s culinary ambassadors like Gaggan Anad, Manish Melhrotra and Vikas Khanna are packaging regional flavours innovatiley. This helps for the popularity and wider acceptance of Indian food in foreign countries.
Kolkata-born and Bangkok-based chef Gaggan’s restaurant ranked number five on the recently announced ‘World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ list in Bilbao, Spain.
Over the past few years celebraties like Gordon Ramsay, Gary Mehigan, David Rocco, Andrew Zimmern came, explored and celebrated the wide range of Indian foods instead of simply hunting for colorful histories.
Kaveri Sinhji, Cultural Anthropologist and Historian, Founder, Culture Rings, based in Bengaluru, who has been conducting food walks for international tourists for almost a decade now says,“About 90% of the people writing in for a booking say that they do not want spicy — spicy meaning chilli hot here. They love our cooking with spices though. They love cinnamon and cardamom and appreciate the various benefits that come from these spices, but chilli hot is not something they want.”
International visitors are worried about ‘Delhi Belly’ though they want to taste the street foods.
“So I tell them that I can’t give them a guarantee — just like they cannot give me one for their country. If you go to Bangkok, you eat on the street, you are not used to the water — and it is the water that can make you sick.” Sinhji says.
“Most Indian diplomats will tell you that there are some brilliant Indian restaurants abroad,” says Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, India’s former High Commissioner to the UK.
“However, there are also several Pakistani and Bangladeshi-owned Indian restaurants, and it is these that define Indian food for thousands of international diners. The onus then should ideally be to promote the right concept of Indian food.” He adds.
Restaurants like Gymkhana in London (modelled after Indian gymkhana clubs), which got a Michelin in 2014 are changing the old perceptions about Indian food.
Once tourists land in India, they first want to hit the streets for those promised samosas.
Aiming to change the questions on quality, hygiene and provenance of ingredients of street food, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), has undertaken numerous projects towards ensuring food safety across sectors.
Pawan Agarwal, CEO, FSSAI, says, “In consideration is also a campaign on recognising responsible places to eat at. This will be for restaurants as well as packaged food. Metrics to evaluate quality of produce used, hygiene, reduced food wastage etc, are being developed, and those displaying sincere efforts will be recognised, making it easier for visitors to make smart choices.”
“We should work towards an ideal that reads — Have you tasted food at all if you have not eaten in India?” says Sunil Alagh, founder SKA Advisors and TV commentator.
Hopefully that is not too far.