No, India’s not on the list, I checked

Remember this name: Disfrutar. Although it sounds like the latest weight-loss pill, it’s actually a restaurant in Spain. It was recently—three days ago—ranked #1 in the prestigious line-up of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, regarded as the Oscars of global fine dining. It’s owned and run by chefs Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casanas, alumni of El Bulli, Spain’s school for kitchen magic.

Nothing is what it seems to be in Disfrutar’s 31-course menu. What looks like a simple cheese sandwich turns out to be bread made from frozen tomato water with a filling of gazpacho. In another dish, they somehow liquify corn, make little spheroids out of it, reassemble it to look like corn again, and serve it on a cracker with a bed of caviar.

All that’s fine, but I’m from the second country on the planet that says it’s the world’s greatest country, and I want to know where we stand in this list. Has Indian cuisine once again broken all records and emerged as the world’s leader, shining the light towards new culinary frontiers for others to follow?

In brief, you want to know about the other 49 names on the list. I’ve checked the list thoroughly and I don’t think you’ll like the answer. Firstly, there is not a single Indian restaurant—that is, one situated in Mahaan Bharat—on the list. Indian cuisine is present, though in spirit rather than on the plate.

Before you burn down the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy, let me add that none of its employees or sponsors has any influence over the results. The Academy has more than 1,000 members, each an expert on food and restaurants, with as many men as women. The winners’ list is decided by dividing the world into 27 geographical regions, each with its own culinary chairperson selected because of their local cuisine savvy. 
Each chair selects a voting panel of 40 chefs, restaurateurs, food journalists and gourmets. All votes are anonymous.

So maybe it’s a good time to start asking where Indian cuisine stands among the planet’s cuisines. 

Apparently, we don’t. Indian cuisine is not in the top three of any list. A cuisine without rules where you can add as many spices as you like to anything you like and call it genius is probably best acknowledged as a free-for-all. 

Time and again, Italian and French cuisines top the list, and we may put this squarely as the white Western civilisation putting its thumb on the scale. But even the world’s so-called “three grand cuisines” are Chinese, French and Turkish. 

There’s a small glimmer of hope. In 2023, pickyeaterblog.com did a worldwide survey of the top five cuisines with the greatest influence on the world’s palate by analysing Instagram hashtags, mentions and 82,095 restaurants in 50 great cities. Italian cuisine topped again, of course, but Japanese, Indian and Korean came close behind. The study found that Chinese restaurants were the most visited, followed by Italian, Indian and Japanese.

Since you’re dying to know, the most popular single item eaten in the world is not the uthappam but the pizza, with over 60 million mentions on Instagram.

I lied a little about India’s absence on the world’s 50 Best Restaurants of 2024. There are two that could be said, if you’re not paying attention, to be inspired by Indian cuisine.

Gaggan, by Kolkata boy-brat-genius Gaggan Anand, has been on this list five times, ranking 10th (2015), 23rd (2016), 7th (2017) and 4th (2019). Then he broke up with his partners and started his own restaurant, with the strikingly original name of Gaggan Anand. He’s back on the world list now, in position #9.

Gaggan Anand, however, is food as performance. You go here to be awed and humbled, not ravished with Chicken Tikka Masala, Dal Makhani and Reshmi Kebabs. It is molecular Indian food, ingenious, clever and full of surprises, but not a show you’d go twice for. Gaggan himself told me once that he agreed.

I initially skipped the other restaurant on the World’s 50 Best list because it sounded like a shampoo. Tresind Studio. On closer inspection, it turned out to be an Indian eaterie in Dubai. The menu, following the mesmerising tradition of all Indian menus, tells us that we are a civilisation that is over 5,000 years old, and in a deep bow to the ruling party’s preferences, calls it the Rising India menu. It offers the apparently rich cuisines of the Thar Desert (who knew?); the Deccan Plateau, the Coastal Plain and Islands (umm, which ones? Port Blair?); and the Northern Plains and the Himalayan Mountains. Omitted are the cuisines of Bengal, Kashmir, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. 

On even closer scrutiny, the menu seems to feature non-consensual sex between various Indian classics and standards from Italy, France, Japan and China. I spotted Shiso papadum, Cacao ghevar, tender coconut kushiyaki, yuzu rasam, buttermilk ravioli, and kebab scarpetta.

My humble suggestion is that we start our own World’s 50 Best Restaurants, all of which are known to be in India.

You can reach C Y Gopinath at cygopi@gmail.com
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The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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