Embarking on a global culinary adventure with Indian cuisine

Kamal Kant Pant, Principal of Institute of Hotel Management Pusa, New Delhi, shares insights about how enhancing the recognition and popularity of Indian cuisine in international markets can positively impact various sectors, including food processing, exports, and farmers’ incomes.

He discusses the learning that we can draw from countries like Italy and Thailand for promoting India’s culinary excellence on the global stage, collaboration of Government with industry stakeholders for effective strategies for promoting Indian cuisine internationally and various other aspects.

Kamal Kant Pant Interview on Indian Cuisines

IBT: Italy and Thailand have successfully leveraged their cuisines to boost exports and tourism. What key learnings can India draw from their experiences in promoting culinary excellence on the global stage?

Kamal Kant: Italy and Thailand have rich food culture, varied regional cooking styles, which connect with the masses. Both the countries offer a wide range of traditional meals, street food and fast food/ Combo meal options. That is why they could ignite interest in people of all age groups. Some of the key learnings for India could be:

Authentic Regional Cuisines of India: India, a subcontinent, has a varied climate, soil and vegetation and therefore the cooking style changes accordingly.  Our cuisine contains many distinct regional cuisines. For most people, it is hard to imagine a country of the size of India with its diversity. Our diverse food, language and culture could bring home the larger concept of our country to the world.  This diversity could become our strength if we can showcase the regional cuisines of India to a global traveler

In advertising, the stories and emotions they evoke attracts the buyers to a product. Cuisines of India need to be marketed in a similar fashion. Documentation of stories and not just the recipes holds the key. Indian cuisine is taste bound and not really bounded by standard recipes, in the absence of a standardized produce year round.

However, we need to create a continuous chain of knowledge transfer to the younger generations of chefs, so some degree of documentation and standardization is required. Establishing culinary schools or promoting courses of authentic Indian cuisine (which also have a practical exposure component) can help in bridging the gap between home cooked food and restaurant/commercial food.

Export Promotion: Every food movement to popularize a cuisine in the global market is usually started by the ingredient suppliers/ exporters. In the case of India, it has happened by pull mechanism, wherein Indian diaspora and few other enthusiasts convinced their local stores to import spices and ingredients from the country. Other ingredients like rice, lettuce etc were used by the importing countries in their own recipes.

This is unlike how the Italians or Spaniards or Japanese would promote their ingredients. They bring their food culture and cuisine with the ingredients. Availability of ingredients sets the ground for new cuisines to create a fan base at the world level. Indian exporters of spices, local ingredients, rice etc need to incorporate native cuisines specialist chefs in their value chain to complete the ecosystem.  

Food promotion through festivals: Creating a buzz in the market, showcasing the best of food, flavors, textures through food festivals from time to time is a great way to promote Epicurean Tourism. 

Slow food of India: Fresh, local, seasonal has been the base of our cuisine, no matter which region it is. This could be aligned with the global slow food movement and make our cuisine appeal to niche markets of health and sustainability. 

IBT: How can the Indian government collaborate with industry stakeholders to develop effective strategies for promoting Indian cuisine internationally? What role can culinary experts like yourself play in this endeavor?

Kamal Kant: The Indian government needs to collaborate with industry stakeholders, including culinary experts. The Government can constitute a Culinary Advisory Committee of renowned chefs, culinary educators, food writers, and industry leaders, who can come together on one platform to share ideas, brainstorm on new initiatives and give recommendations on policies and strategies to promote Epicurean Tourism. As hospitality educators, we can contribute in exploring the regional cuisines, documentation and possible standardization of the recipes. Few more areas could include- 

Festival of Indian Cuisine: Teams of chefs can curate experiential workshop cum food festivals for groups interested in learning and experiencing the Cuisines of India at one place. Exporters of Indian spices and ingredients, people interested in opening new restaurants serving authentic Indian food, international tourists who want to have background of our food, business travelers with family, embassy officials of various nations, etc, can learn about the roots, local ingredients, regional cooking styles, culture of 8-10 regional cuisines at one place itself. 

Training, Skill Development and Certification: On behalf of the Ministry of Tourism, GOI, IHM Pusa can develop short duration training programs on mastering Indian cuisine and increase its appeal at international level. Certification can be issued as per MOT guidelines. 

As culinary experts, we can serve as a bridge between the government and the food industry, offering expertise, creativity, and passion for Indian cuisine. Our background of modern trends, international food standards, knowledge of traditional techniques, modern trends, and international culinary standards can be proven effective in bringing the change and elevating the stature and presence of Indian cuisine worldwide. 

IBT: Food processing is a crucial link in the value chain for promoting Indian cuisine abroad. What innovations or improvements do you see as necessary in this sector to meet international standards and preferences?

Kamal Kant: When it comes to catering to masses, food processing becomes a crucial link in the value chain for promoting Indian cuisine abroad. To meet international standards and preferences, several innovations and improvements are necessary in this sector:

  • Ensuring Food Quality and Safety by implementing strict quality control, proper labeling and packaging. 
  • Cook – chill technology, freezing and vacuum packaging the food to extend the shelf life without compromising taste and nutritional value.
  • State-of-the-art food processing equipment and technology to improve efficiency, consistency, and product quality. Chefs and food technologists work together to ensure the best experience for the customers. 
  • By implementing these innovations and improvements in the food processing sector, India can not only meet international standards and preferences but also position itself as a reliable source of high-quality and diverse Indian food products, further enhancing the promotion of Indian cuisine abroad.

IBT: How can Indian cuisine be given a concise definition, given the immense diversity in tastes, flavors and styles of preparation? Would it be better to promote regional cuisine varieties?

Kamal Kant: We must not try to discover something like “Indian Cuisine”. If the differences in German, French and Italian cuisine can be appreciated by the world. Tamil cuisine is so much different from Kashmiri or Punjabi cuisine. The ingredients used in the north may not be familiar to the people in the south. The techniques used by either are unimaginable to the other, like processing meat in making ‘’rishte’’ or ‘’Gustaba’’ as opposed to fermenting and dry roasting the masalas and lentils in the Tamilian cuisine.  

Immense diversity in tastes, flavors, and styles of preparation found in food of India, across the country makes Indian cuisine different. Rather than trying to homogenize Indian cuisine into a single definition, we should celebrate the diversity of regional cuisines. Each region in India has its own unique culinary traditions, ingredients, and cooking techniques. If at all classification of cuisines of the country needs to be done, there can be at least five different mother cuisines which could emerge. 

Despite the differences, the common thread which binds all the regional cuisines is the concept of creating a dish as amalgamation of all the ingredients in one. It is like a concoction, where some ingredients may be decipherable, while others may vanish in the background but still maintaining their importance.   

This is unlike Western cuisines, where flavor of each ingredient used stands out in the resultant preparation. It emphasises the use of aromatic spices, herbs, rice, lentils, and various cooking methods like frying, grilling, and slow simmering. 

Promote culinary trails and experiences that take travelers on a journey through different regions of India. These trails can include visits to local markets, cooking classes, and tastings of regional specialties, allowing tourists to savor the authentic flavors of each region.

IBT: Could you share examples of successful initiatives or collaborations that have already made an impact in promoting Indian cuisine overseas?

Kamal Kant: India has been asserting its soft power lately. Observance of International Yoga Day has kindled the interest of the world in the satvik food and Indian form of vegetarianism. Likewise the International Year of Millets has served the purpose of placing the millet cuisine on the state banquet tables in the white house and elsewhere. 

Culinary diplomacy leads to cultural understanding and promotes Indian cuisine as an integral part of India’s cultural heritage. In the recently concluded G-20 Summit, serving our Indian cuisine, especially millet-based dishes to the world leaders, was a great initiative. 

We have case studies of successful restaurants that have expanded overseas. Moti Mahal is credited with popularizing dishes like butter chicken and tandoori cuisine. They expanded internationally with franchises in the United Kingdom, the Middle East, and other locations. Key drivers of Success are constant quality and consistency in taste, adaptation to local preferences, and showcasing the authenticity of North Indian cuisine.

Various cities around the world host “Taste of India” festivals featuring Indian food stalls, cultural performances, and cooking demonstrations. These festivals offer an immersive experience, bringing together Indian flavors, music, and culture, creating a sense of authenticity and community.

Celebrated chefs of Indian origin with  Michelin-stars on their jackets have played a significant role in promoting Indian cuisine globally. Their restaurants and appearances on international cooking shows have helped raise the profile of Indian food. His passion, knowledge and visibility in the global culinary scene have made Indian cuisine more accessible and appealing. India has often showcased its culinary heritage at World Expos, offering visitors a taste of its diverse regional cuisines. Several international airlines offer Indian menus prepared by renowned Indian chefs, giving passengers a taste of Indian cuisine while flying. 

IBT: What challenges do you see in promoting Indian cuisine and culinary products on a global scale, and how can they be addressed?

Kamal Kant: Promoting Indian cuisine and culinary products on a global scale presents several challenges, but with strategic approaches, these challenges can be addressed effectively. Highlighting the unique aspects of Indian cuisine, such as its diverse regional offerings, vegetarian and vegan options, and health benefits. 

Perception of Indian food being spicy and oily – Many people associate Indian cuisine with being spicy and oily and it can deter those who prefer milder flavors. If such people were introduced to curries from Assam and other North- East states, where oil is not used at all in preparation of mouth-watering curries, they will come to terms with the vastness of cuisines from India. Likewise the chicken and bamboo shoot stew from Arunachal would make a Minestrone spicier in comparison.

Awareness needs to be created that Indian cuisine is diverse and not all dishes are excessively spicy and oily. By promoting mild and flavorful options alongside spicy ones to cater to various preferences can be a great way. Northeastern food and food from southern and central India offers totally a different experience. 

Lack of Awareness – Some potential consumers abroad may not be familiar with Indian cuisine beyond a few popular dishes. Launching educational campaigns, culinary events, and cooking classes to introduce people to our extensive cuisine, collaborating with food bloggers and influencers to create content that showcases the richness of Indian flavors are some of the ways to clear the myth related to our cuisine. 

Ingredient Accessibility – Not all Indian ingredients are readily available in every country, making it challenging for people to recreate authentic Indian dishes. By encouraging the export of Indian food products and spices, and promoting local alternatives that can be used to replicate Indian flavors. 

Ensuring the authenticity of Indian cuisine when prepared abroad can be challenging – By promoting the use of certified Indian restaurants and chefs who have received training in Indian culinary traditions and formulating guidelines and certifications for restaurants abroad to maintain authenticity could be a possible solution to the problem. 

IBT: What advice would you offer to young chefs and entrepreneurs looking to venture into the export of Indian food products or culinary experiences?

Kamal Kant: My advice to young chefs and entrepreneurs is to invest in their own cuisines rather than an exotic one. Your body has centuries of experience locked in your DNA to appreciate and recreate your own food. There is no better time for serving the cause of cuisines of India. We have managed to catch the fancy of the world, it is not going to be there forever.

So make hay while the sun shines. Cash in on the focus which is on India and take our food, our culture and other produce global. Millets, jackfruit, Moringa, Neem etc provide us a golden opportunity. There are not many competitors for supplying them to the world at the moment. Showcase them and establish them before the competitors emerge globally. 

Research – Study the literature which is available for the cuisines of the world. Study the flavors, cooking techniques used to get them and look at the Indian ingredients and food culture in that light. Interact with the street food vendors, sweet and snack makers and other traditional cooks and food ingredient processors and get the traditional knowledge from them. 

Experiment – Experiment with new flavors, cooking techniques, and presentation styles while respecting the essence of Indian cuisine and adapt your food to cater to evolving global consumer preferences. 

Protect Authenticity – Never  look at our cuisine from the western lens and do not try to simplify it for any audience. Simplification will end up in stereotyping our cuisine and locking it up in a magic ingredient called curry powder in the previous century. Let us not restrict ourselves to 4-5 gravies like the western mother sauces but maintain authenticity of cooking processes to elicit authentic flavors, as the consistency in taste and quality is essential for building a strong reputation.

Learn – Learn about the intricacies of Indian cuisine in our festival food, temple food, regional specialties, and authentic cooking techniques, as continuous learning and right skills are essential to excel in the culinary field.

International – Visibility at international level by using digital marketing, social media, and online platforms to promote Indian Cuisine helps in building your brand. 

IBT: What are the emerging trends or opportunities in the global culinary scene that India can tap into to further enhance the appeal of its cuisine abroad?

Kamal Kant: Indeed, there are several interesting trends that Indian cuisine can capitalise on:

Food as Medicine– Promoting Ayurveda’s healing power through food could be a game changer. After Covid- 19 , people have realized the importance of building immunity, long term health and wellness and connecting with food as a healer. We should promote the health benefits of Indian spices like turmeric and cumin, as well as dishes rich in legumes, whole grains, and vegetables.

Vegetarianism – Growing interest in plant-based and vegetarian diets has given India an opportunity to promote a rich tradition of vegetarian cuisine. 

Synergies – Indian cuisine lends itself well to fusion. Collaborating with international chefs to create innovative dishes that combine Indian and other global flavors.

Sustainable farming – Promote sustainable farming practices, supporting local farmers, and highlight eco-friendly aspects of Indian cuisine, which is indeed another value addition. 

Market the experience – Developing culinary tourism packages that offer immersive experiences, cooking classes, and visits to local markets, allowing tourists to engage with Indian cuisine on a deeper level.

Regional engagement – Increasing interest in regional and locally sourced ingredients, like ingredients from Himalayan belt can be utilised to our advantage. Local ingredients from Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh offer many unique qualities and a list of health benefits, making a lot of them superfoods. 

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