Since time immemorial, fermented foods have been an important part of the Indian diet since fermentation is one of the oldest and most cost-effective traditional methods for producing and preserving food. In every region of India, you can find some kind of ferment; from the unassuming rice kanji of the west to the flavourful akhuni from the northeast that even had the Netflix film, Axone based on it. After constantly being overshadowed by their western counterparts, native ferments are now making a comeback across the Indian gastronomic landscape.
Calling herself a Shepherd of Microbes, Payal shah, a trained psychologist along with Candice, a chef influenced by Malaysian, Mexican and Indian cultures, run India's first Bangalore-based fermentary called Kōbo based in Bangalore, an online shop dedicated to selling ferments only. On Kōbo's socials, you can find everything there is to fermentation from Finadene, Aam Kasundi, Tofu (Fuyu), Sriracha, or the German Christmas special Gluhwein.
Headed by biochemist-turned-chef & restaurateur, Rahul Akerkar, Qualia in Mumbai is a restaurant that relies extensively on fermentation. While exploring the sweet-sour, agro-dolce profile of foods the team at Qualia ended up creating a menu that has one fermented element in each dish. At the restaurant you’ll find jars of cucumbers, celery, honey-fermented berries, garlic, corn, tomato and several other vegetables, spices and nut.
Chef Vanika Choudhary has forged a deep connection with the food she creates. Having grown up in Srinagar, Vanika went to school in Jammu and now lives in Mumbai. Her restaurant is Noon is rooted in her food philosophy of eating seasonally, using indigenous ingredients and preparing food with age-old traditions. She incorporates all three with contemporary flair for a chic dining experience. As you stroll through the expansive space occupied Noon in Bandra Kurla Complex, you will first notice the refrigerator stocked with ferments in bottled jars.
When Chef Gresham Fernandes of Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality was doing his three-month-long stagiaire programme at ReneÌ Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen, he was drawn back to the vast landscape of ferments in India. He believes that kanji, the Indian counterpart of kombucha is still hidden in the shadows and to make it as popular as kombucha, Indian chefs will have to make good use of it in contemporary cuisine in the form of glazes, marinades, and cordials.
With modern eating habits that have damaged out digestive systems with bad bacteria and the last few years of the pandemic, that drove all conversations towards strengthening and maintaining our immune systems, India is starting to see a bit of a 'fermentation movement' raising awareness about gut health and probiotics with ancient indigenous ferments in a modern light. Kombucha is already claimed by the hipster kingdom but there's plenty of other fermented foods in India that are now inching towards the spotlight as nutritional superfoods.