Chili fields in India

Red Magic on a White Plate – Varq Restaurant Delhi

1) Aperitif: Food for thought 2) Main Dish: Varq Restaurant Delhi 3) Dessert 4) How to reach There (map)

Usually we do not encourage you to explore India by spending a lot of money. We believe that India can offer great travelling opportunities without needing to splurge, making it enjoyable even for those who want to travel on a budget. This post is somewhat different though. Today, we will be introducing a restaurant in New Delhi that is far from being low budget, at least by Indian standards. Why is it worth the extra money?

First, the food is outstandingly delicious, and that is always a good reason. Everyone needs a treat once in a while, and giving yourself a tasty meal in a nice restaurant can be counted as one of those treats! The second reason is that the food on your plate represents another face in a constant dialog between India and the west. It has become a domain for discussion of India’s attitude towards its own tradition and the changes India is willing to accept for itself and its place in the world.

The discussion between Indians about tradition and globalization can be seen everywhere; in cinema, arts, politics, literature, and the economy. It just becomes slightly more interesting and easier to discuss when it gets on your plate! The menu at Varq can be considered proof for an elegant reconciliation between many contradicting elements shaping India’s search for self identity in the modern world. This delicious lesson in globalization and food fusion will cost couples approximately $130.00 for a full meal.

Chili fields in India

The red life source

Aperitif: Food for thought 

The question of the authenticity of Indian gourmet cuisine is a big issue among food critiques and bloggers, yet almost everyone agrees that Indian elite food has gone through many changes. The most evident transition of traditional food per se to fine gourmet started 20 years ago, not in India but in London!

There were few challenges though that Indian cuisine was facing. The biggest issue was presentation: How to convert “bowls of brown goo” –as put by some critiques- to gourmet food presentation. The second challenge was to overcome the issue of spices, and more over, how much they were used. This is a tough one to deal with.

So let’s put some spices on that one…

Indian food is defined almost culturally by chili and masala (mixture of spices), and is famous for its spicy hot taste. Chili is a trade mark of India (not only as food) but as one of the major source of life for many Indian villages for centuries. As pointed out by Mahatma Gandhi during the struggle for independence, the life in India’s villages represents the very soul of India.  In his touching book Discovery of India, Nehru, India’s first prime minister, felt that the Indian sentiment, which is crucial for nation building, lies in the villages.  With spices being the core source of existence for these villages, it is easy to see why separating India from its spices is almost unthinkable.

A frame from the movie Mirch Masala

A frame from the Mirch Masala

A straight forward example can illustrate why chili might be hard to remove from Indian cuisine, as a principle and as a mark of identity can be seen in the Bollywood movie Mirch Masala. The story is about chili growers in a small village, in pre-independent India, who are being suppressed by the British colonialism, taxes, and humiliation. It may be accidently that the movie plot revolves around a village of chili growers, but it could also reflect something else: deeper concerns to the Indian sentiment. The same sentiment that Gandhi, like many others after him, thought is rooted in the never ending fields of India, often painted red with chili; a sentiment which links India to its past, to its traditions, and to its ability to maintain a self-ruled way of life. The village symbolizes these values, and diverting from these values can violate the core of identity.

That is a definitely a big challenge for modern Indian chefs. Combining the imperatives of a modern, sophisticated, yet subtle-tasting cuisine with the rough chili taste that preserves self identity will ensure that India’s cuisine can move forward without losing its core roots.  Modern chefs must be near magician to get these conflicted poles into a untied dish, but somehow, they manage to pull it off!

For those of you who wonder how the movie ends, you probably guessed right…the tax collector appointed by the British commissioned officer gets bitten like hell by the villagers who used the only weapon they knew – Chili!

It may explain even in the slightest why the breakthrough in Indian elite restaurant scene had to develop in London and not India. In 2001, Atul Kochhar from Tamarind restaurant in London, became the first Indian chef who received worldwide recognition for his work, and was the first to get a Michelin star. He later went on to receive the same recognition for his new restaurant Benares in 2007. Later on other Indian chefs began receiving Michelin stars, such as Vivek Singh, and NY based Vikas Khaana (who is in People magazine’s exclusive list of the Sexiest Men alive!)

Atul Kochhar the first India chef who received a Michelin star

Atul Kochhar the first India chef who received a Michelin star

Criticism about the food in Indian restaurants in India is mostly about the issues mentioned, and most of these chefs have that criticism in common; however as Vir Sanghvi -one of the pioneering Indian food critiques-noted:

“London may have had a historical importance in the development of Indian food, and its chefs may have made some valid contributions, but the future of Indian food lies in the same place as its past – in India itself.”

This is where we get to the Main Dish of the post

Main Dish: Varq restaurant Taj Hotel, Delhi

Varq is the Hindi word for foil. Edible pure silver is often used in Indian cooking as a garnish, adding a shiny touch to dishes. Varq is used both in savory and sweet dishes. Varq is also the name of one of the best Indian restaurants in India, and it is the Taj Mahal Hotel’s flagship restaurant. It is said that same way that varq enables a shiny touch to Indian sweets; Varq restaurant provides a shiny attitude to Indian elite cuisine.

Varq restaurant in Delhi India

This is the places where integration of world cuisines is happening. Hemant Oberoi, India’s best known chef, has managed to bring the east and west together without sacrificing each of their special identities and styles. With new techniques and innovative approach, he has created a perfect mix between western style food presentation and authentic Indian flavors. The menu is a rich accumulation of Indian recipes. Varq retains the traditional Indian method of cooking, while using exotic ingredients like sea bass, sand crab, black cod, morels and Iranian berries.

Hemant Oberoi, Varq's chef

Hemant Oberoi, Varq’s chef

Varq restaurant Delhi  might be the most famous of the new wave of Indian restaurants, but there are many others which have followed its path. Indian Accent, also in New Delhi, is run by Manish Mehrotra, a chef who originally specialized in Thai food and who has lived in London. Mehrotra’s food is authentically Indian but his style is as smart as anything the London chefs can dish out.

Dessert:

Three words: Gulab Jamun cheesecake. Normally I don’t chose Indian desserts if I have the option, as their texture isn’t enjoyable and they’re just too sweet; however I do love the big fuss around the sweets in India but I’ll leave that to different post. In the meanwhile, try the Gulab Jamun cheesecake. It is absolutely lip-smacking, and you’re guaranteed to love it!

After having the Varq experience in New Delhi, you will have a whole new understanding of Indian food and cuisine. You will even have a better outlook the great street food India has to offer.

 

It’s recommended to make reservations to make sure you can be seated in a timely fashion.  For reservations, contact the restaurant directly:

1, Mansingh Rd, New Delhi (see the exact location on the map)

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