Want to please yourself? Balancing Sin and Mindfulness This Holiday Season

Indulgence comes in many avatars; always has been. But being mindful even when you indulge is an eye opener. Long limited to homemade treats, the delicious and healthy label is what draws in this year when we eat out.

Diwali is here, winter has just set in and the confinements have been lifted. You treat yourself with revenge; after all, you deserve it after almost two years of desperation and a particularly dismal summer.

Indulgence comes in many avatars; always has been. But being mindful even when you indulge is an eye opener. Long limited to homemade treats, the delicious and healthy label is what draws in this year when we eat out.

Grandma’s kitchen

Fresh kadha, gur and til ke laddoo, ragi uttapam, sprouted chana. A focus on healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, protein quality. Seasonal and local vegetables. It is not your mother who gives you healthy food, but an integral part of the menus of the big hotel chains.

Anticipating food trends and customer demands, chefs took to the drawing board during the pandemic to recreate menus that balance sin and the soul. Local, seasonal, fresh and alternative grains, plant-based foods, healthy fats – trends that were improving even before the pandemic, have been implemented on such a scale that they are now ubiquitous.

According to Chef Arun Sundararaj, Director of Culinary Operations at Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, “People are emerging from the pandemic and many are wondering what healthier I can get and what makes me better. They are very aware of what to eat and much more aware. And any suggestion for a dish with healthy ingredients like berries or millets immediately finds its favor. Even those who want to party do so with responsibility.

Himanshu Taneja, Marriott Hotels Culinary Director for South Asia, observes, “There is a paradigm shift in what we have observed over the past 20 months. People have understood why health is important. Even if they are forgiving, they know when to apply the brakes. Being at home and eating at home made them more disciplined in their eating. “

No wonder the Taj menu for their Qmin delivery app has an exhaustive “Innergize” section that offers vegetarian and healthy options like detox drinks, millets, seasonal vegetables, fruits and traditional desserts with unprocessed sugar. .

Marriott offers a “Mood Diets” menu as part of its delivery options with ingredients that improve mood and have a positive effect on body and mind. These include fermented foods, foods high in omega 3 and 6, seeds, nuts, and dark chocolate. For cocktails, they offer a wide range of zero alcohol drinks, which do not contain alcohol but mimic the flavor of the original drink.

At Hyatt’s Andaz in Delhi, organic turmeric from Dehradun and local honey are an integral part of the food, says chef Akshay Bhardwaj. A new addition this season is the mulethi badam ki kheer which helps clear the sinuses during the winter.

“We have always focused on local and artisanal products and these are getting a big boost now,” he says. It is as if grandmother’s cooking had become commercial.

Far from hotel chains, restaurant brands also speak the new language. “Healthier products are in greater demand because restaurants are also getting busier! Food delivery is popular, but on-site dining is picking up steam as people combine shopping and dining out. Vegan, sugar-free or naturally sweet desserts are in demand. Customers have also started asking questions about the source or origin of the ingredients and locally sourced products are preferred these days, ”says Rohit Aggarwal, director of Lite Bite Foods, which owns the Punjab Grill brands and You Mee.

Adds Zorawar Kalra, Managing Director of Massive Restaurants, “The pandemic has brought about a change in consumer behavior. People have definitely become health conscious and they want to know what they are eating. But at the same time, people failed to come out. As the holiday season has started, we are seeing an increase in attendance. People can’t wait to get out.

His new Delhi company, Louis Burger, offers gold leaf burgers and premium ingredients while also offering a vegan version.

For those who embrace maximalism, indulgence has no better name than chocolate. Offering premium chocolate and desserts, Mumbai-based Ether Chocolate, which delivers all over India, remains unabashedly purist. According to Prateek Bakhtiani, founder and chef of Ether, “We regard our product as an indulgence and make no concessions to its meritocracy. While we are certainly looking to experience more food inclusiveness in the future, for now our product is chocolate indulgence, sugar and all. Fortunately, we have a clientele that shares this approach.

He plans to take his products one step further with a more cerebral and luxurious approach to artistic chocolate making.

Fast forward

Chef Sundararaj feels he is consciously eating and focusing on health until the pandemic becomes a distant memory. For now, the indulgence is balanced with an inclination towards high quality ingredients. He strives to achieve dishes with a high nutritional profile, including vitamins, minerals, protein and good carbohydrates.

Chef Vivek Rana, Executive Chef at Claridges New Delhi, included seasonal, gluten-free, vegan, and keto-based options at the Pickwick Restaurant. Calorie counts go with many dishes, and luxury vegetarian ingredients are included.

A five-point formula works for Chef Taneja, which includes good protein, high quality fat, complex carbohydrates, more roughage, and elimination of processed sugar. “For example, we are replacing regular mashed potatoes with mashed sweet potatoes. These changes lead to a tasty and healthy food plate. People know it and ask for it, ”he says.

Green, red, yellow and purple

Eat the colors of a rainbow, they say. For a country with a large population of vegetarians doing just that, finding a wide variety of options is rather difficult. With the exception of the usual paneer and mushrooms and some popular Indian preparations, there isn’t much to wow the plant eater. This is the void that people like Aftab Sidhu and his partners seek to fill. Offering Asian cuisine at their new venture Green Mantis in Delhi’s Khan Market, Sidhu sees a positive response, so much so that a vegan place is already in the works. In his kitchen at Green Mantis there are Vietnamese, Malaysian, Chinese, Bhutanese and Thai dishes that are all plant-based. No fish oil or oyster sauce, which have been replaced by vegetarian versions. That a completely green place opens in a city in northern India, in a place with the steepest rents, says a lot about a changed customer.

At Marriott, Chef Taneja focuses on plant proteins, incorporating them into many of his dishes across Asia. “We go beyond the obvious vegetable protein like tofu and buy vegetable protein from other sources, like pea protein, and a certain amount of vegetable protein is part of every menu,” he says. Marriott also offers an Eat Well program, where all properties build their own gardens and use fresh produce sourced there.

There has also been a deluge of herbal alternatives that can be used both in homes and in restaurants. One of these initiatives, Wakao Foods, uses jackfruit as an alternative to meat to offer a range of dishes. Launched in October 2020, the brand now supplies all of India, has links with major hotel chains and plans to expand to Europe, Asia, Brazil and Canada in just one year. According to Sairaj Dhond, Founder and CEO, “When we launched, people were starting to look to simulated meats or plant-based meats globally and we assumed India would follow the trend soon. “

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