Not so long ago, Asian food often meant corn flour laden gravies served with saucy noodles. At the recently concluded Asian Hawkers Market in Delhi, we discover how the love for Asian food in India has gone far beyond the Chilli Chicken and Hakka noodles combo.
About three years ago four avid food lovers felt the need bring to Delhi a food festival that went beyond chiken tikka and kathi rolls. This was the time when food fests often meant chaat and choley bhature and Asian flavours were restricted to close confines of a restaurant. “We wanted a space that celebrated food but wasn’t like a Diwali mela,” recalls Atul Sikand, one of the four organizers. “So we decided to dedicate the space to authentic Pan-Asian cuisine.” The idea seems to have worked for the festival is already in its sixth season and shows no sign of slowing. “Asian Hawkers Market is a space where we bring together best Asian flavours under one roof,” says Sourish Bhattacharyya, noted food journalist, also one of the organizers. “The idea is to have a space where people can enjoy the best Asian food at the most affordable prices,” says Sourish.
While one might enter the food festival expecting everyone to be walking around with noodle boxes, the place turns out to be much more than an assembly of chow-mein carts. The food ranges from Malay to Indonesian, Burmese to Japanese, Chinese and Thai, and sometimes somewhere in between all this.
Dumplings & Dim Sums.
According to the Chinese, dumplings have medicinal properties. Looking at the number of people indulging in dim sums at Asian Hawkers Market, one would think Indians find them therapeutic too. From curried to fried, from vegan to gluten free, from cheese to avocado, dim sums are everywhere. “People love dim sums, they are light, easy to eat, plus they come in small portions,” says Jitin Mittal of Orient Heritage. His stall offers curry dumplings, seafood dumplings, and vegetarian dumplings; others meanwhile have an array of interesting offerings like avocado, water chestnut, and even bok chouy. “Our dim sums are completely gluten free and vegan,” says chef Siddarth from Kiara Soul Kitchen. He makes the vegan, gluten free dim sums in a bok choy wrap instead of traditional flour and serves them with his homemade sauces.
Homemade sauces, pickles, and original recipes meanwhile seem to be the buzzword at the market: while chef Parth Bharti from Pikkle shows us his spring onion and black garlic sauce, chef Harangad from Pa Pa Prank takes pride in his original recipe, the Japanese Nihari. “We add Japanese curry paste to our Nihari; it gives the dish a unique flavour,” he quips. The dish, served with baked triangular bread, is indeed different and not without a pronounced Japanese feel.
Sushi, Sashimi, Rolls.
Japanese flavours are omnipresent at the market with almost every stall presenting its version of the sushi, sashimi and California rolls. Some are authentic while some present the creator’s take on the dish. At You Mee, one of the latest additions to the market, the rolls are made with Philadelphia cheese and wakame, tuna and salmon, and edmame and asparagus. “Our rolls are made with our own recipes, and people are loving them” Lama, the manager at You Mee tells us. At Pa Pa Prank however the rolls seem to be more Indian – the beetroot roll served with salsa and green chilli is one such. Spicy, tangy, sweet, and hot at the same time, it is nothing like the original but does convey the restaurant’s theme of pranking its guests with hidden flavours. “We want people to discover our food and taste all we have to offer.” Inderjeet Singh Banga, the owner of Pa Pa Prank tells us. The reason, he says, he has attended all editions of the festival (this being the 6th) is because it gives him an opportunity to bring the food to an entirely new audience, and in turn get immediate feedback from them.
Trial Boxes, Tasting Portions.
Another way to reach new audience seems to be via trial boxes and small plates. “The only way to sample many things is to have small plates. It ensures affordability and versatility,” explains Sourish. “It also ensures there is little or no wastage,” he adds. Small plates come in the form of meal bowls, sampling portions, and trial boxes. Meal bowls are essentially made of a single combination; trail boxes brings an assortment of things in one box. “Trail boxes are for people who want to try everything, says Gaurav Mehra, the owner of The Trail Box, who puts everything from a spring roll to dim sum, curry, noodles and even salad in his boxes. To say that his box represents the festival in a nutshell will perhaps not be wrong.
Note: A version of this story first appeared in The Hindu.