Indian food has often been relegated to ‘takeaway’ status abroad, with most restaurants being understated ‘mom-and-pop’ industries trying to adapt to the Western flavours with heavy creamy curries and ‘naan bread’. But recently we’ve seen a trend towards awarding restaurants like Semma, Sona and Chai Pani and a new era might be on the horizon.
The first thought most people have when they hear about the Michelin Guide is the pretty standard – ‘Huh, I wonder why it has the same name as the tyre company?’. And divergent as those fields are, they seem unlikely to be related. But surprise! They're one and the same.
The Michelin Guide began in France as a project by the tyre company to list and recommend restaurants on different routes to people wanting to stop off for a bite to eat. These restaurants were given a star rating, one for a guaranteed good meal, two for something exceptional and three for a completely unmissable experience. Over the years, that guide grew in prestige and scope and now is one of the most coveted awards a restaurant can possess.
Many people gripe about the lack of Michelin-starred restaurants in India, but the truth is, it’s not a reflection of the quality of restaurants or some perceived cultural slight, it’s down to a technicality. The awarding of a star is only applicable to countries where the Michelin Guide operates and although it’s spread beyond France to the rest of Europe, New York, Hong Kong, Dubai and London, it doesn’t currently operate in India. So India doesn’t have any starred restaurants, simply because there’s no Michelin Guide India to put them in.
in Asheville Minnesota was named America’s most Outstanding Restaurant at the James Beard Foundation Awards. Serving affordable and delicious street food, the restaurant has been lauded for its chaat, rolls and variety of regional thalis.
Someone from India may glance through the lists of pakoras and uttapams and wonder what all the fuss is about. But that is the crux of the issue. In India, we’re spoilt by how readily and widely available good food is. The local chaiwalla might have the best vada pav you’ve ever tasted, the random dhaba you stop at on your trip may have an exceptionally beautiful butter chicken, or even the small Malvani joint that charges a pittance for a fish thali may be a meal you’ll remember forever. The scope of Indian cuisine is just too vast to conceptualise, and although there’s a long way to go towards showcasing its many facets, the trend towards awarding places that let their roots lead the way is a good omen for the future.