London, New York, get set to savour northeast Indian delicacies

August 2nd, 2008 - 9:53 am ICT by IANS  

By Maitreyee Boruah
Kolkata, Aug 2 (IANS) The West may be high on tikka and tandoori, but here come meat with bamboo shoot, cooked wild herbs, banana stems and more. Dishes from India’s northeast are set to invade palates in London, New York and Paris through a new restaurant chain. Guwahati-based master chef Atul Lahkar is hoping to put northeastern cuisine - which is low on oil and boasts of herbal and organic fare - on the world food map by opening eateries abroad.

“It has been my dream to take the region’s cuisine to the global market. I am glad that through support from friends and food connoisseurs spread across the world, my dream will soon materialise,” Lahkar, 42, told IANS.

“The best part about northeastern cuisine is that it is not only mouth-watering, but is quite healthy and simple to cook,” he added.

He is planning to open the restaurant chain exclusively serving ethnic northeastern dishes in global cities like London, New York, Paris and even in exotic Athens by next year.

Over a period of eight years, Lahkar has ventured into every nook and cranny of northeast India and documented over 200 recipes. The chef now wants to make delicacies from the northeast as popular as Chinese, Continental and Mughlai cuisines.

The idea to go global was fuelled further when three of Lahkar’s eateries in Guwahati serving ethnic cuisine gained enormous popularity - not only among locals but also among foreign tourists.

“Due to the introduction of global food habits across the region in the last two decades, the new generation has almost lost interest in the food prepared by our grandmothers. But the three eateries started by Lahkar in the last few years have revived the lost glory of northeastern food,” said Guwahati-based food critic Husina Salam.

Lahkar said: “After visiting my eateries in Guwahati, many Assamese NRIs have asked me to popularise Assamese cuisine in the global market. To gauge the response to northeastern delicacies outside the region, I visited Bangkok, London and Paris, to name a few.”

Everywhere he carried his food, the response was overwhelming.

“Less of oil and lots of herbs and organic food products is the secret behind the taste of ethnic cuisine from the northeast. Moreover, our dishes are very innovative and quite different from usual Indian dishes, which is its USP,” said Lahkar.

The chef developed an interest in cooking various dishes of the region from his grandmother when he was a teenager.

Some of Lahkar’s recipes form part of the everyday menu in a typical household in the northeast. Be it khar (alkaline), khorika (barbecued dishes), or pork cooked in bamboo shoot, Lahkar’s inspiration has always been the simple and healthy food habits of the region.

“If chicken, beef, pork and mutton form the integral part of the northeastern food spread, then vegetarian fare can have various items such as kosu shak (Egyptian arum), dhekia shak (a species of fern), bon shak (wild herbs), posolar khar (banana stem), to name a few,” added Lahkar, who has written two cookery books.

Alaska-based entrepreneur Jayashree Khataniar, during a vacation in her hometown Guwahati, said: “Whenever I am in Guwahati, I make it a point to visit one of Lahkar’s eateries to taste authentic cuisine of northeast.

“He is surely helping the cuisine to gain popularity.”

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