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Posted at: Feb 10, 2019, 1:18 AM; last updated: Feb 10, 2019, 1:18 AM (IST)GRUB GAB

Spicing it up

Spicing it up
Namesake: Practically every major Indian city hosts a fine dine establishment calling itself Saffron

Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu

What’s in a name, you ask? I’m beginning to think the biggest challenge for those perched on the threshold of a new restaurant is christening it. Not only must it reflect an anticipated dining experience, it must embody the brand’s values, and, above all, resonate with potential customers. Keeping it short, catchy, original and concept-centric isn’t as easy as it sounds. Creativity in spelling, rhymes, alliteration, puns, and humour — all come into play in quest for the perfect moniker.

A commonly observed global trend is to name them after locations, regions, people at the helm, the actual food itself, and often, after food pairings. Alongside the unassuming vegetable, enriching ingredients like herbs have also found their way onto eye-catching signboards. Equal homage is paid to the glorious spice, especially in India, where it is inextricably linked to the cuisine in providing both flavour and wellness.

While debate continues to rage on about whether it originated in Central Asia or Greece, one thing is for certain: Kashmir produces the finest quality saffron in the world. It is therefore unsurprising that practically every major Indian city hosts a fine dine establishment calling itself Saffron. This includes the dinner-only restaurant serving Frontier cuisine at the JW Marriot in Chandigarh, where Chef Naveen Handa’s mushroom and pine nut Galauti Kebab is locked in a close contest with his saffron-speckled shahi tukda as its raison d’etre.

Within four years of the opening of their flagship in Rajendra Place in Delhi, Imly has mushroomed into eight outlets across the NCR. Offering near authentic pan-India street food under one quirkily styled roof, it borrows its name from the Hindi word for tamarind. How intrinsic imli ki chutney is to these treats — from chaat papri to sev puri — is something only true devotees of kerbside snacks will recognise. Widely used as flavouring around the world, the somewhat sweet and tangy tamarind is native to Africa, and an indispensable part of South Asian cooking. 

So intense is the aroma of wasabi japonica, a close relative of mustard and horseradish, it is being mulled as a fire alarm for the deaf. Even as I write, Japanese scientists are working on how to waken people from deep sleep with its scent. Till such time, it continues to be the slow-burning relish that gets you all teary-eyed when tucking into your sushi and sashami servings at the upscale Wasabi by Morimoto restaurants housed in the Taj Mahal Hotel in both Delhi and Mumbai.

Though Punjab can never get enough of its green component, parts of the world lean heavily on the whole, ground, cracked, or bruised seed of the mustard plant. As concepts go, however, Mustard in Goa and (now in) Mumbai has got it down pat. It meets over the two cuisines that not only display a great amount of penchant for this pungent yellow condiment, but also heartily use it in its purest form. I’m talking Bengali and French, presented in two separate menus by food historian Pritha Sen and Chef Gregory Bazire.

Funnily (almost) enough, despite a whole lot of professional help just a click away, with online name generators, baptism misadventures abound around the world. It didn’t take long for Crapitto’s Cucina Italiana to down shutters in Texas. Wonder if the Australian seafood specialist, Frying Nemo, is considering a rethink? Or, for that matter, Tequila Mockingbird!

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