Food trends in 2017: From rising demand for local ingredients to molecular gastronomy's fade out

This article is part of our 2017: A Year In Review series

It’s the season where the party shoes don’t really come off and nostalgia kicks in with full force. Here’s looking at 2017 through the lens of experts in the field, on trends that came, that stayed, that fizzled out and which may roll into the new year.

A year of going indigenous

One trend that really caught on this year was that of going back to one’s roots. “There has been a dramatic shift in the mindset of chefs and they have started looking at indigenous ingredients, even while making international food. We are no longer obsessed with imported ingredients,” believes Riyaaz Amlani, managing director of IMPRESARIO Entertainment & Hospitality. Kripal Amanna, publisher and managing editor of Food Lovers and anchor of Gourmet Biker, feels that this shift is not limited to how chefs approach food. He says, “There’s a growing consciousness among evolved diners about what’s on the plate. There is a focus on freshness, leading to chefs dishing up micro-green salads, guacamole, etc tableside. Knowing the provenance of produce as a concept too, is gaining ground."

Bridging these two observations, Anisha Rachel Oomen, food journalist and co-founder of The Goya Journal, a digital publication focused on culinary storytelling, feels that this year, more restaurants are naming the farms and regions they source their produce from, which is fantastic because it helps the diner understand where their food is coming from, and in a small way, they become invested in the farms that supply this produce.

The Table, Mumbai's Quinoa Risotto made with Morel Mushrooms which are found in the hilly areas of Himachal and Jammu & Kashmir. Image from Facebook/@TheTableRestaurant

The Table, Mumbai's Quinoa Risotto made with Morel Mushrooms which are found in the hilly areas of Himachal and Jammu & Kashmir. Image from Facebook/@TheTableRestaurant

And it is this understanding that has also led to the popularity of the farm-to-table concept this year, with a small, but gradually increasing number of dining establishments curating meals from produce that is harvested in their own dedicated farms. Think The Table and Masque in Mumbai, Pluck - Pullman New Delhi Aerocity, and The Roseate House in New Delhi, besides quite a few smaller establishments across the country.

In fact, The Indian Food Manifesto adopted during the recently concluded Tasting India: Farm to Table Symposium in New Delhi, has as one of its core resolutions the idea of supporting traditional produce. “This can be done by creating a national alliance of hotel and restaurant owners, chefs, hotel management institutes, food producers and marketers, public advocacy groups, tour operators and students to promote the values of smart eating based on food that is good for us, good for the planet and good the farmer,” explain Sanjoo Malhotra and Sourish Bhattacharya, co-founders of the Symposium.

Mumbai-based restaurant Masque believes in using vibrant local and seasonal flavours. Image from Facebook/@masquerestaurant

Mumbai-based restaurant Masque believes in using vibrant local and seasonal flavours. Image from Facebook/@masquerestaurant

The demand for healthier options

Not too long ago, eating out was an indulgence, meant only for celebrations. But now, with more people eating out frequently, the demand for healthier options has influenced dining out in 2017.

“There has been a strong shift towards a healthier menu with foods that are organic, vegan, gluten-free, more salad and millet-driven than your usual carb-loaded menus,” observes Roxanne Bamboat, freelance food & travel writer and owner of The Tiny Taster. “I think 2017 was a year of experimenting with trends which seemed to have caught on in the West, but then slowly, organically became all about local, seasonal Indian produce and how to make our vegetables more appealing. It became about highlighting the diversity of Indian food, regional Indian cuisines, especially vegetarian food and local ingredients, all of which have an inherently healthy aspect to them."

“In the summer of 2017, people quenched their thirst with clear popsicles,” recalls Zorawar Kalra, founder & managing director of Massive Restaurants and judge on MasterChef India, 2016 (Season 5), as he speaks of the beautiful fruit-based ice-creams that made an appearance this year. “With food trends like zero wastage, farm-to-table, seaweed in food, healthy smoothies and ice creams (vegan ice creams and other kinds) emerging this year, diners saw a healthier menu with more vegetarian options," he added.

Anisha says that the slow shift to including millets in restaurant menus was a great trend this year. “In a country where one of the biggest problem is diabetes, it's encouraging that chefs are using the ingredient in interesting ways, training the diner’s palate, and helping them make the shift toward healthier choices”, she says.

A cocktail being constructed at Philtre, Gurgaon. Image from Facebook/@philtrebistro

A cocktail being constructed at Philtre, Gurgaon. Image from Facebook/@philtrebistro

While we're on the subject of food, we cannot deny that drinks are an inevitable part of eating out. Ajit Balgi, founder of The Happy High, a wine, beverage & food consulting and experiences firm based in Mumbai, says that the biggest drink trends of 2017 were the rise in restaurants popularising Gin and Tonic and unheard-of classic cocktails like the Boulevardier and Airmail. “2017 has been great, as people have been more accepting of taste profiles like some bitter cocktails or beer styles. Indian players also made a mark on the global scene with Paul John's Kanya being recognised as the best Asian whiskey and Fruzzante, India's first bottled cider made from chikoo or sapota winning a silver in the 'Outside the grape challenge' in San Francisco within a year of their launch. The bartending scene grew from strength to strength with places like The Bandra Project and Nomad in Mumbai, and Philtre in Gurgaon getting added to the list of must-visit cocktail places," says Ajit.

Trends that fizzled out

As with every year, there were trends that fizzled out. Riyaaz feels that molecular gastronomy as well as the theatrics associated with food gradually petered out this year, because all the drama does not really do anything for the flavour. Charcoal as an ingredient seems to have had mixed reactions, with some believing that it made for a slow-but-gradual acceptance among diners while others thought that it does not really make an impact and rightfully fizzled out. “At the beginning of this year, bartenders seemed to have been enamoured by liquid nitrogen, lacing almost every cocktail and concoction with this potentially dangerous element,” recalls Kripal. “However, due to certain unfortunate incidents and the uproar that followed, this trend seems to be fast dying out,” he says. “Serving cocktails in those hideous skull-shaped mugs and having cocktail garnishes that are large enough to poke your eye out thankfully went away quickly,” says Anisha. While Roxanne recalls matcha tea becoming a bit of a rage, it didn't quite seem to catch on. "I think the Freakshake was also a huge trend that has now slowly petered out," she says.

The Bandra Project's drinks on display. Image from Facebook/@thebandraprojectin

The Bandra Project's drinks on display. Image from Facebook/@thebandraprojectin

The year that was

“2017 can be summed up as a year of exquisite food experiences! Diners demanded innovative dishes and new food trends for a greater culinary experience and showed the willingness to spend more at dining spaces," says Zorawar. “This encouraged chefs and restaurateurs to experiment and innovate to be able to match the diner’s needs," he adds.

That being said, Kripal feels that with the growing complexity and stress in today’s world, diners are seeking culinary experiences and simpler dishes that are non-pretentious, perhaps even with a tinge of nostalgia. Diners do not want to be intimidated by what’s on the plate. Restaurants that understand and cater to this trend seem will do well. “2017 was a good year for traditional flavours, ingredients/produce and dishes to make a comeback. I also saw in this year the focus on small plates, more than ever," he concludes.

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Updated Date: Dec 29, 2017 15:27:18 IST

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