Risotto slips down as easily as Whitney Houston hitting the high notes of I Will Always Love You. But this time I took unusually long to gulp it. For one, it was emitting a heady sea-like fragrance. And unlike other risottos that look pleasingly pale, this one was strikingly black in colour. I asked our host to explain this visual modification. “We have just added a few spoons of squid ink,” beamed Chef Matthew Cropp from Trident. Squid ink, a liquid that oozes from the ink sac of a squid has become a popular add-on in pastas such as gnocchi and risottos across the city. The jet black juice delivers a tepid, pelagic aroma to the pasta and leaves a pleasant briny aftertaste. And it’s not just the ink – the island city has been flooded with exotic ingredients from around the globe and we certainly aren’t complaining.
Restaurants in Mumbai are experimenting with ingredients that mean rarity for the culinarian and promise a gastronomical caravan for diners. For instance, the fiery wasabi root that doubles up as sushi add-on is flown on a weekly basis by some Japanese restaurants in the city. The fresh plant with a jagged peel is dexterously brushed against pearly white shark skin that has been placed on a piece of raw wood. Within minutes, the chartreuse green root gets coarsely pasty and is served immediately, before the piquancy begins to fade away. When devoured, wasabi creates a tingling sensation on the tongue, stimulating the nasal passage. Check for animation on face. Traditionally wasabi is paired with sushi or sashimi, avant garde restaurateurs have been experimenting by blending the root to make zesty wasabi-flavoured dips, cold soups, appetizers and desserts such as cheese cakes and sorbets for daring diners.
Another ingredient doing the rounds of the metropolis is the truffle. Truffle (pronounced as ruffle with a T) may not look like a gem, but the taste is no less than a million bucks (sometimes even costing that much). “Sniffer dogs or pigs are used to hunt down these woody mushrooms, since they are embedded deep within the ground’s surface,” informs Chef Cropp. The fairer version of this musty mushroom is so rare that the hunter auctions his find and the buyer seldom cooks them. Four Seasons, recently hosted a white truffle festival that doubled up as a cooking class for their diners. Trident worked around with its black cousin, serving patrons with pastas, salads, risottos that wore dainty slices of this aromatic mushroom. Another facet to these globetrotting ingredients is that they are at their best in the cooler winter months. “Be it artichokes, parsnips, lettuces or oysters — winters have the best produce,” informs Chef Cropp.
In an ever evolving foodscape like ours, chefs are constantly under pressure to concoct something chic to keep the diner from getting lured by competition. “Well-heeled patrons, who travel extensively, go abroad and enjoy the local cuisines with immense gusto. When they get back home and find a restaurant doing something similar, they come to relive that experience,” says Chef Amol More of JW Marriott. Marriott recently hosted an asparagus festival where exotic white and green varieties were imported for an exhaustive asparagus-based menu.
Chef More’s hallowed kitchen is also stocked with ageing balsamic (even as old as 35 years), Vitelotte potato (violet-blue potatoes with black skin that taste sweet and starchy), designer salad leaves, white truffle oil, Italian mussels and the likes.
While purists term them as ‘attention-seeking props’, these work wonders for some. There are days when Trattoria at Taj President runs out of tables for the breakfast buffet. The reason? Their live honey comb. It’s not as rustic as the real one and it definitely doesn’t have any bees hovering but the flamboyance is hard to neglect. If you manage to get past the low-cal baked blueberry yogurt, you will notice how the syrup dripping out of the comb is sparkling golden, as opposed to bottled honey that is a few shades darker and thicker.
Our recommendation: smear it on your hot toast or drizzle on a fat piece of butter milk waffle.
It is not just the swanky restaurants that have been inundated with gourmet goodies. The cafes and delis of Mumbai are besotted too. To crosscheck I take a look at the The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf cafes across the city. It’s a Saturday morning and their INOX outlet is abuzz. While I would have preferred to relax in one of their capacious, red leather sofas and sip on a chilled Southern Blend iced tea, I quickly get down to business. The cafe stocks an array of aromatic tea blends that deliver a myriad flavours from across the globe. Japanese cherry, Moroccan mint, raspberry Ceylon, vanilla Ceylon and Swedish berry make tea-drinking quite an exotic experience. Apart from this, CBTL is the only one to bring down roasted chocolate-covered espresso beans that are blended in your coffee on request. The bean added a unique coarse texture and a cocoa-y aftertaste to my Black Forrest Ice-blended coffee.
Though it’s only a handful of restaurants that are pampering us with these epicurean delights, I hope for the rest to catch on soon. Till then, I am happy with my tub of wasabi-flavoured ice-cream that goes from being sugary to zingy at the flick of my finger.
Green Bean Salad with fresh Black Truffle Dressing and Parmesan Shavings
Ingredients: 200 gms cooked green beans, 120 gms parmesan cheese flakes, 300 gms assorted lettuce leaves (designer salad leaves), 40 ml extra virgin olive oil, 40 gms fresh black truffle, 5 ml black truffle oil, 5 ml vinegar, salt and pepper as per taste.
Method: Prepare a dressing by whisking extra virgin olive oil, truffle oil and vinegar together. Finely chop 20 gms of black truffle and add into the above oil-vinegar mix. In a large salad bowl toss the green beans and salad leaves along with the dressing. Lightly season the salad with salt and pepper. Garnish with parmesan flakes and the remaining black truffles (finely sliced). The salad is ready to be served.
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