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The LF Report: Trends that make 2020 an Exciting Year for Food

From plant-based food to pickling; zero waste drinks to authentic Chinese cuisine, the landscape is luscious!

It’s the season of predictions—a time to talk of diets, new themes, ingredients and superfood du jour. 

Internationally, crystal balls have been gazed at to get a sense of how the world will celebrate food in 2020. Trends such as the popularity of colour purple and the same-hued yam are reminiscent of short-lived stints. There is also news of elevated desserts such as high pancakes and stacked crepes making it big. In an effort to be health-focused, the world is looking to reduce its alcohol consumption. Assisting the cause are low alcohol cocktails and shockingly, the rise of mocktails! But these food trends maybe a few years away for India.

At the same time, India is closer to the global culinary landscape than ever before. As a global wave towards sustainability gains momentum, India’s vegetarian repertoire and ancient sustainable food systems could lead the way. And while the world discovers the benefits of
ashwagandha, turmeric, fermented foods—we back home are rediscovering the latent potential of desi foods. 

So what does our culinary landscape look like in 2020? Here's the big picture, from the who’s who in the Indian food industry who tell us what will be on our plate in 2020 and why.

FOOD TRENDS 2020

  • Indigenous foods will continue to be on chefs and homemakers mind, alike, particularly grains such as barley and millets.
  • Exploration of regional Indian cuisines will go further bringing to limelight newer regions such a Odia, Chattisgarhi and Himachali.
  • The art of preserved food in forms of, traditional and modern, pickles, fermented foods, etc. will see a resurgence.
  • Veganism has given way to a plant-based lifestyle where alternative foods dominate; think pulses, fruit flour, fake meat and more.
  • From farm-to-fork to using vegetable peels and offal, zero-waste kitchen is no longer the future--it is here!
  • India has come a full circle to renew its love for Chinese food; this time Indian Chinese will not looked at with derision.
  • Online food ordering market in India is likely to grow at over 16 per cent annually to touch USD 17.02 billion by 2023, enough said. 
  • Cost-effectiveness of cloud kitchens will continue to make them the most lucrative business proposition in the food service segment
  • Days of gimmicky food are long gone; a genuine dining experience--childhood memory or wanderlust causing--is an imperative for success.
  • Home chefs are paving the future of Indian food and now they're venturing into the food business to successfully prove their mettle.
  • Necessity is the mother of invention holds true for India's bar leading to a wave of exciting experiments, ranging from emulating zero-waste tenets to attracting new age consumers.


Indigenous foods 
Imported foods such as quinoa and chia seeds may have stolen the spotlight for a while, but India’s need to rediscover our own culinary heritage is at an all-time high. Over the last few years, eating local has become an established trend. In 2020 it is about going the extra mile and accommodate hyperlocal produce and ingredients. Manish Mehrotra of Indian Accent, one of India’s top chefs, believes that Indian chefs will continue to look in their own backyard (read local markets) for ingredients to cook with, and showcase the country's powerhouse of indigenous produce. Culinary experts like him don't just source their ingredients from local farmers but also highlight their provenance to the diners.


Celebrity chef Ranveer Brar, believes that indigenous grains such as barley and millets will see the resurgence building up in 2019. Barley dates back to the Rig Veda period and millets have forever been the Indian farmer's chosen food. "You'll be eating more of amaranth, sorghum, pear millet, and indigenous rice, which have been a part of the Indian diet for centuries," he says. So far, ragi, jowar and bajra have stolen the spotlight. Will the trend make the kodo, barri, jhangora and kangni millets popular among foodies, is what waits to be seen.   


"Indian chefs will continue to look in their own backyard for ingredients to cook with"  - Chef Manish Mehrotra


Micro cuisines FTW!

Litti Chokha, Bihari Cuisine 
A few years ago, if someone asked us to pick a regional Indian cuisine, our best bet was a restaurant serving some version of the Indian Thali or the South Indian dosa joint in town. The last decade saw the evolution of regional Indian cuisine on restaurant menus, and today Bengali, Gujarati, Kashmiri. Malvani, Andhra are par for the course.  

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In 2020, the exploration of regional Indian cuisines will go deeper, at a sub-regional level. Forest produce such as Mahua will be seen on high-end restaurant menus, startups in Chattisgarh are making ready-to-make products with Mahua. On TV and social media, chefs like Ranveer Brar, Kunal Kapur to Aditya Bal and Thomas Zacharias have been exploring the gallis and koochas of the Indian culinary treasure map. In his #ChefOnTheRoad explorations, Zacharias of The Bombay Canteen uncovers micro-regional cuisines from unexplored corners of the country. Video sharing platforms have popularised home chefs and village kitchens where the heroes are homemakers and grandparents cooking forgotten Indian recipes.     

"The list is only expected to grow with the help of home cooks and curious restaurant chefs, dedicated to highlighting unexplored or forgotten recipes and reviving traditional techniques," says Zacharias, who was Chef of the Year at LF Epicurean Guild Awards 2019. Watch out for Bihari, Odia and Chhattisgarhi cuisines this year. 


Ferment, Pickle, Preserve! 

Another extension of the sustainability project will involve more restaurants shunning packaged goods for house-made condiments in 2020. Be it sauces, spices, oils or liqueurs and bitters (for beverages), establishments are speedily switching to making most of their stuff in-house. “I can see preserved goods coming back in a big way with pickling and fermenting on the rise,” shares well-known Mumbai-based restaurateur Keenan Tham. If the success of this concept in Rahul Akerkar’s 2019 opening, Qualia; chef Sujan Sarkar's Rooh Delhi and Old World Hospitality's Comorin, Gurgaon is anything to go by, the trend will only find fresh fervour in 2020


Rise of Plant-based lifestyle and alternative foods 
The last decade saw veganism and ethical food take centre stage. Now, 2020 takes it a notch higher, putting the spotlight on plant-based foods and their impact on human health and the health of the planet. The success of brands such as Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat and their alternative-meat burger has led to a tidal wave of interest and adoption in vegan and plant-based lifestyle. Co-founder of Kasa Hospitality that owns Pune’s Sante Spa Cuisine, Kaneesha Jain, says this emulation of international plant-based trend will be seen in piecemeal fashion in India. “We are seeing a clear inclination for plant-based foods such as hemp seeds and moringa replacing whey, or flours made of apples and pineapples toppling over nut-based ones. So, if bajra and nachni were popular in 2019, it is likely that by the end of 2020, we’ll see a lot more of fruit-and-vegetable-based products, including with milks.”

Banana Flour

The future of protein is plant-based. Yes, that bowl of dal that's always been our manna, is emerging as the healthy alternative to animal protein, internationally. “As more people ask for alternatives, the more likely it is that restaurants will find ways to cater to these special needs. This is why you may notice vegan/keto/gluten-free options on regular restaurant menus, even if they haven’t positioned themselves as a healthy establishment,” says Jain adding that the potential for its growth is veritable. 

After fortified and functional foods, alternative foods are the future. We may be years away from cooking with crickets (or insect) flour, but leading brands offering alternative meat and protein, are now looking east. “Pulses have the potential to be our main protein. The world over, food brands providing wholesome alternative plant-based proteins are working with pulses,” says chef
Sabyasachi Gorai of Lavash by Saby, an Armenian-Bengali restaurant in Delhi. 


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"The world over, food brands providing wholesome alternative plant-based proteins are working with pulses"  -  Chef Sabyasachi Gorai


Clean foods and zero wastage drops anchor 

Cooking with kitchen leftovers 
The shift to sustainability is a circular process—from championing local foods to switching to cooking energy-efficient cooking techniques to reducing waste and using all parts of the produce to managing the waste that is generated. While some of these concepts are inherent to Indian cooking and home kitchens, several chefs and restaurants have been adopting cleaner practices in their restaurants, a trend that is growing stronger in 2020. From Hara House in Bikaner to New Krishna Bhavan in Bengaluru, zero-waste kitchens, as well as cooking concepts, have been on the rise. At New Krishna Bhavan, wet waste generated by the eatery is given to a piggery, while rag pickers collect the dry waste and the sediments of leftover coffee and tea get dumped in a compost pit.

Cooking with discards such as carrot leaves, watermelon peels, fish innards, pork blood or even meat bones, is a trending topic among woke foodies. Case in point, O Pedro’s kitchen where skin, peels, bones, whey, and leftover bread are put to good use. “We believe in waste to taste,” says Chef 
Hussain Shahzad, executive chef at O Pedro


A 'Real' Chinese invasion is on the cards 

Chinese food
Whatever be the political situation between the two neighbours, Indians have appropriated Chinese cuisine and made it our own. Other Asian cuisines such as Thai and Japanese are also enjoying their time in the Indian sun, but we will always have a special place for fusion Chinese aka Chindian. Experts predict that the growing consciousness around food will manifest in the comeback of ‘authentic’ Chinese fare in 2020. Affirms Mumbai restaurateur Gauri Devidayal, “Chinese is picking up again, but it’s coming back in an authentic avatar and in a more cost-effective manner.” With a Cantonese diner on the cards for Devidayal, and a Mumbai-based comfort Chinese food restaurant under Zorawar Kalra’s Massive Restaurants brand, among others, this latest food trend shows promise. 


Two in 3 non-home cooked food occasions are either order-ins or take-aways. Trends are similar in metros and smaller towns   -  UberEats Food Moods of India 2019 Report

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Ordering-in is the new normal 

“There has been a cultural shift in terms of food consumption, with more people embracing the ordering in trend. Ordering in is almost the same or probably cheaper than cooking for a family of five,” shares Kishore DF, the man behind Big Nasty, Seijo and The Bombay Bronx. All hail mobile and online ordering for take-out or delivery. According to a study by business consultancy firm Market Research Future, the online food ordering market in India is likely to grow at over 16 per cent annually to touch USD 17.02 billion by 2023.

According to UberEats Food Moods of India 2019 report, consumers are getting used to enjoying restaurant food in the comfort and convenience of their homes. “Two in 3 non-home-cooked food occasions are either order-ins or take-aways. Trends are similar in metros and smaller towns, though the takeaway trend is slightly higher beyond metros where delivery is relatively less well spread owing to logistic challenges. However, this is likely to be only a matter of time,” shares the report. 


Cloud kitchens make big gains 

From Biryani in bulk to healthy calorie-specific meals, cloud kitchens are taking up a large space on restaurant delivery platforms. They’re present everywhere, from big cities to small towns—their low operating costs and high margins make them a good business proposition. Amit Desai of Auber-Gin, Mumbai says that the main reason for the growing popularity of cloud kitchens is a 20-25% reduction in the cost (of setting up a restaurant), which leaves room for experimentation at a low capital.  

What does that mean for you? More options for ordering in—different cuisines, tailored and combos meals delivered at your doorstep! The rise of cloud kitchens, has resulted in foods such as the biryani, to be packaged and delivered like pizza, reported Business Today. Brands such as Behrouz Biryani, Biryani Blues, and Biryani by Kilo have made biryani the top-selling item ordered on delivery platforms. Healthy, meals, Chinese food, meal-in-a-box are all concepts popularised by the growth of cloud kitchens. 

According to international auditing agency Deloitte, the Indian online food delivery market for both aggregators and cloud kitchens is expected to become a $5 billion opportunity by the end of 2023. Several established F&B brands are betting big on it. E-commerce giant Amazon is speculated to foray into this segment and launch its food brands in Bengaluru. Online food delivery platform Swiggy has set up 1000 cloud kitchens for its restaurant partners. Mumbai-based restaurateur Karan Tanna has set up the country’s first investment and incubation company Ghost Kitchens Pvt Ltd, for startups in the cloud kitchen segment. Watch out for the next big food trend promoted by cloud kitchens!


Experiential dining takes the lead
Experimental is out and experiential is in, according to Rocky Mohan, founder of Gourmet Passport and Director of Mohan Meakin Ltd. And Rachel Goenka, the CEO and Founder of The Chocolate Spoon Company, agrees. Restaurateurs are focusing on the story of food, from the cutlery to the lighting, the ingredients and the recipe--the diners of 2020 want a wholesome experience and a bite. “There is no more casual attitude by the customers towards the food they eat,” shares Amit Desai, Founder/Partner of Auber-Gin, Mumbai. 

Considering nostalgia is an important ingredient in the evolution of a dish, chefs are creating experiences that evoke these feelings among diners. Chef Saby's recently launched Poppins Hotel, in Gurgaon, plays on this emotion. The menu is a picture of his travels across India—from highways to homes. “I think clean, wholesome recipes with fresh local produce that our country has in such abundance, provides an experience like no other and it is a trend that will only grow in 2020,” says Gorai.


Home chefs rising 
2019 saw an upward tick in ‘pop up’ dining and luncheon events. Home cooking events seem to be riding the next wave. Home chefs are welcoming guests or joining hands with restaurateurs to give curious diners a new and nuanced experience. “Home chefs have the privilege to start their own business, owing to the greater curiosity of regional foods. This clearly signifies that they can make money and earn an edge with a feature-loaded, turnkey food delivery solution to launch their own meal ordering and delivery website,” shares Gautam Anand, Founding Trustee, Cuisine India Foundation. 


DRINK TRENDS 2020


Zero-waste drinks set the bar high
After a short-lived boom of bar trends such as molecular cocktails, drinks today have found a new lexicon more in sync with the millennial. Sustainability for one: “Zero-waste in drinks is the next big thing,” shares Akriti Agarwal, CEO at Mumbai-based craft cocktail bar, Thirsty City 127. “We have also started growing some ingredients in-house, like barley grass,” she adds. Bartender Ami Shroff echoes this when she says, “I see a growing interest in fresh ingredients and the possibility that bartenders and mixologist will consider growing their own herbs.”


Keshav Prakash, founder of the Mumbai-based The Vault, a concierge for fine spirits and whiskies, goes a step further to argue that the alco-bev industry in India is more sustainable when compared to the Indian food industry because we’re culturally inclined towards the concept of reusing material. “The lack of readymade, branded, micro-ingredients such as bitters, has led bars to make them in-house. In-house alternatives contribute to making cocktails interesting,” he says. 

Technique will become a focus for bartenders—processes such as clarification, fat-washing and fermentation are likely to pick up. “Batch cocktail, cocktails on tap are making a come-back with the availability of better-quality ingredients and tools,” suggests Varun Sudhakar, head of innovation and operation (beverage) for Gourmet Investment. This, however, is restricted to bigger cities in India. "
But it is catching on as it provides a great opportunity to engage with customers and for consumers to experiment with a wider range of alcoholic beverages," elaborates Sumedh Singh Mandla, CEO of VBev, a wine and spirits importing company. 


With inputs from Annabelle DCosta, Shraddha Varma, Suman QuaziSayoni Bhaduri and Priyamvada Kowshik

Images: Shutterstock.com

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