Picture the scene: An ultra-opulent wedding party at one of the UAE’s most spectacular beachside venues. The number of food options competes with the number of jewels the bride is wearing. And what does everyone want to eat?
Khichdi, the rice and lentil casserole dish that is as bland as porridge but is known across the subcontinent as the ultimate comfort food, was the most sought-after preparation.
‘It had guests smiling and people were queueing up for seconds,’ says Sudhagar Subramaniam, complex director of corporate sales at Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort.
Surprised? You should be. When it comes to food, or anything else related to putting an Indian wedding together, over-the-top is the only normal. Whether it is classic dishes laden with calories or those that look red-carpet-ready in terms of presentation, food at Indian weddings – an event that normally spans several days – has always been an integral measure of the event’s extravagance.
But with weddings reaching ever-greater heights of extravagance, Friday speaks to experts from the F&B industry – all of them with decades of experience under their belts – to find out what the new trends in the Indian wedding scene. On the menu: Social media.
1. One on one
The charm of live cooking stations has not worn out. With chefs churning out fresh delicious food as per the guests’ request and in the process showcasing their skills, these corners of the buffet are actually the show stoppers for their personal touch to the culinary experience. While in the past years the live cooking stations were involved in preparing chaats, dosas and jalebis, UAE chefs have now incorporated international trends too.
From a Turkish ice cream counter, where the chef regales guests with his antics while serving delicious dondurma, to shawarma stands that give you the option of choosing your fillings, live counters, as they are known, are now the highlight of the expansive feast. ‘Because the food in Indian weddings is usually quite traditional and taste-oriented, guests look for innovative ways in terms of presentation and a certain ‘show’ element,’ says chef Joerg Unger, executive sous chef, weddings and events and Indian cuisine at Atlantis The Palm.
The guests at Indian weddings in the hotel, says Joerg, love to watch his staff toss up a portion of fried rice or noodles cooked to their taste, or devour hot-off-the-grill kebabs that are cooked on request.
2. Pomp and splendour
In a social media-driven world, it is imperative that just like everything else, food is picture-friendly, says Saneesh Varghese head chef of Dubai’s Oberoi Hotel. When there is a room full of guests, most of whom are on some form of social media, wanting to upload interesting pictures of the event, it is vital that food offers a sense of spectacle as well. ‘Since social media makes for a great marketing tool for hotels as well, the staff is motivated to outdo themselves,’ says Saneesh. Sudhagar agrees.
‘Weddings these days are creating their own hashtags, which makes the event very public and easy to browse and as organisers we need to make sure, not only our brand standards are maintained but also that the event is picture-friendly; and food is no exception.’
From flambéing to innovative use of dry ice, while theatrical presentation is key to making the event unforgettable, what is equally important for that wow factor is [small] tapas and elegant plating, adds Saneesh. ‘However, quality is of prime importance,’ he warns.
3. Keep it real
In spite of which trendy cuisine is currently popular, what is true and traditional still holds appeal. ‘Classic Indian dishes are still very popular with every generation,’ says Taj Dubai’s executive chef Jitin Joshi. Whether it is the dish itself or its flavours, people want it to be as authentic as possible. No compromise there. And which is that one dish which figures in almost every Indian wedding feast the hotel hosts? ‘Chicken biryani,’ says the chef.
Having said that, the chefs point out that the younger generation loves to play around with the names of the dishes, either to personalise it or to add a touch of fun to the entire experience. ‘From a cocktail named after the bride’s mother to a chicken tikka named after a character from a cult Bollywood film, the name tags at buffets are getting more and more creative, the credit for which goes to the social media savvy millennials,’ says Sudhagar.
4. Health matters
While many think of celebrations as that time when moderation is thrown out of the window, there is always a group of people who wants to stay true to whichever healthy-eating regime they are following. ‘More and more people are asking for gluten-free, vegan or food made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients,’ says caterer Rajnish Chadha, director of Kebab Grill 44 restaurantd. From sushi bars and salad counters to foods made with olive oil minus oil, butter or cream, there is an increasing demand for food that is guilt-free but delicious nevertheless. ‘Whether it is baked, grilled, steamed or sous vide, people are looking for a spread that does not hurt their waistline,’ he says.
5. Glocal gourmet
With UAE being home to hundreds of nationalities, Indian weddings quite often reflect the diversity. Hence the buffet needs to cater to varying tastes. ‘Normally, weddings hosted by UAE-based Indians have a fair mix of Indian and Arabic food,’ says Oliver Belliard, executive chef of St Regis Saadiyat Island.
The exposure to a dining scene that is an assortment of innovations, tastes and presentation, means well-travelled millennials are on the lookout for variety at all times. And this expectation is integral to creating everlasting memories. ‘Indians asking for Asian as well as Western cuisines for their weddings is quite a popular trend right now,’ adds Joerg.