What We Now Know. So, cooking’s come a long way since humans discovered fire , and with it, has the evolution of our palates. This h...

A Matter of Taste

23 April 2016


What We Now Know.

So, cooking’s come a long way since humans discovered fire, and with it, has the evolution of our palates. This has progressed to one of those whacky sciences that amaze you with new findings. But it doesn’t stop there. The knowledge is out of labs with people in white coats working in them to the street, where common folk like us want to know if we are supertasters. Matters of the taste buds are serious everyday business.

We’re asking for more flavours, colours, and ingredients at the dining table too.
The quest for variety and taste drives most of our food choices. Since we’re asking for more everywhere, we expect and seek variations of flavour, appearance, colour, ingredients etc. at the dining table too. Our taste buds are more accepting of ‘foreign’ flavours now; some years ago, blue cheese would’ve been considered unpalatable by many, as would have pâté or sushi. Now more restaurants feature these and other “tricky” dishes, which are finding more popularity steadily. Some seekers of adventure are taking the refinement of taste so seriously, they’re willing to give more foods a second chance which, at the first whirl, didn’t light up their palates. 

Wanderlust and Wonderment

Seafood retailers say consumers are getting adventurous and asking for varieties like octopus.
This newfound sense of freedom (from conventional choices) and thrill-seeking reflects in consumer behaviour in the seafood retail space as well. Says Shumu Gupta, one of Fishvish’s co-founders who first started with a restaurant: “We’re sometimes surprised by the levels of consumer awareness these days. People are travelling across the world and are going beyond pomfret and surmai that are traditionally typical “safe” choices. They return home and scout for produce and ingredients to recreate some of the magic of their travels. They want to go beyond cooking seafood “out of shape”—cooking it to the point of no recognition— which is what happens when you cook seafood for too long. They’re asking for octopus, squid, tuna and more; the first time we got emperor fillets, I wasn’t sure what to do with them, but we found consumers interested in those too.”

Travel indeed is the catalyst at play, the mainspring of the adventure wave. Shumu reveals how it converted him: “It was travel that made a fish-eater out of me. On your trips to various destinations, you eat many kinds of food, and appreciate the quality and taste. You would, of course, want to enjoy the experiences again without the effort and spend of a trip.”

For those of us who can’t plan long trips to buzzing cities and picturesque locales, there are more than enough resources to fill us in. A television show which revolves around a cooking competition may explain and depict examples of deconstruction in cookery. A website review of the latest fine dining restaurant to hit the culinary scene may talk about the degustation menu that showcases a selection of the establishment’s offerings. You may come across a blog post that discusses molecular gastronomy.

DIY Then

There are plenty of ideas to plan a DIY seafood degustation menu
Little wonder, then, that connoisseurs of good food have taken to the art of dishing up delicacies themselves, with guidance from the masters and the experts who share videos and recipes that break down complicated instructions into easy-to-achieve milestones. There are even layman accounts of trial and error that’ll inspire the novice to stay the course, and to expect and cross obstacles as they come. So you’ll find a deconstructed fish pie recipe inspired by TV; the dish has both the flakiness of the crust and richness of the creamy salmon and haddock filling. There are degustation menu ideas that make the most of your meal’s theme; so, a seafood-centric menu like this may have everything from oysters and tuna to prawns and snapper. Heck, there are videos featuring Heston Blumenthal cook his Perfect Fish and Chips that can take up almost eight hours to make.

You Want It? We Got It

For those who’d rather devote their efforts to the art and pleasure of fine dining, restaurants are going all out to ensure memorable experiences. We eat out much more now than we did a decade or two ago, as a consequence of the crunch for time and the convenience of having more options around to choose from. Thanks to the support of their patrons who are seeking out of the ordinary experiences increasingly, more dining establishments are daring to experiment with cuisines, themes, locations etc. Prashant Issar has been in the restaurant business “all his life”, as he himself describes it. Last year, he opened a restaurant called Mirchi And Mime in Mumbai that stands out for its menu, but more so for its service; the waitstaff are hearing and speech impaired. About dining trends, he says: “People are more conscious about what they eat now; an increasing number of consumers are turning to fish, since they realize it’s much healthier than red meat, or even chicken, for that matter. They’re trying new varieties everywhere they go, and requesting for specific species, if they’ve tried it somewhere else and have liked it. For our restaurant in Mumbai, we’ve received inquiries about barramundi, black cod, hamour etc, all of which come from different parts of the world. A lot of diners see a variety on the menu that they haven’t sampled before, and are keen to order it, if only out of curiosity.” 

He sees the awareness extend to other stakeholders in the supply chain. “Our local supply guy, who brings us fresh catch from the middle of the sea on his boat, can easily explain the difference in varieties, including the local and global names, characteristics etc. Overall, there is better quality and availability, which in turn builds more confidence that reflect in menus today. People are ready to think beyond basa and betki.”

It’s easy to find a Thai steamed fish around you today.
They are, indeed. They are also more than willing to look away from curries and fries, to dishes that retain the fresh flavour of seafood produce or play along harmoniously with fish varieties in preparations that don’t customarily call for seafood. Prashant’s restaurant’s menu lists dishes like Lobster Nihari and Lobster Makhani, and Masala Fish Tempura. Southeast Asian cuisine is pretty big at the moment, says Shumu; so, it’s very easy to find Thai steamed fish or Malaysian grilled fish in banana leaves around you.

Here Comes the Hotstepper

We’re compiling lists of dishes we want
to eat and places we want to dine at
The search for good food is now a surging movement that has spawned a whole slew of experts, food guides, social media groups and communities. We’re talking about how food should be. We’re putting up pictures of meals we have cooked, and the experience of putting them together. We’re sharing photos and reviews of meals we have eaten. We’re meeting complete strangers around a table, bonding over our mutual love for food. We’re putting together lists of dishes we want to cook and eat, and restaurants we want to dine at, based on recommendations. We’re ticking these off, one tasty meal at a time. 

Bon Appetit!





About the Author
An incorrigible gastronome, Rupika V is on a perpetual quest to find the best food around, and will happily travel far to find it.

Image Credit: Cover
Image Credit: More Flavours
Image Credit: Octopus
Image Credit: DIY
Image Credit: Thai Steamed Fish
Image Credit: Lists


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