India is definitely not a country for mild flavours. And a new generation of Indian entrepreneurs are cashing in on it by adding a delicious twist to our favourite traditional snacks.
Nikita Puri goes on a tasting tour.
In the past few months, Nandini Raghavan and her team in Mumbai have been busy understanding how much cheese is too much.
"You put too much of it and the khakhra burns," says Raghavan, the co-founder of a food start-up called Snaximum.
Besides adding cheese, herbs and olives to khakhra, the traditional Gujarati cracker, Mumbai-based Snaximum also makes them in blueberry and red velvet-flavours.
"We've actually had customers replacing cupcakes at birthdays and parties and opting for these slightly sweet [wheat-based] khakhras," says Raghavan.
It's clearly a brave new world, and even as we wait for trends such as smoky bacon-flavoured tea to reach Indian shores, homegrown entrepreneurs are stepping up to give desi flavours a twist for modern times.
Initially introduced as a Diwali special, for instance, motichoor laddoo ice cream now has an immutable place on the menu of the ice cream parlour chain, Ice Cream Works by Cream Centre.
Rounded off with cardamom, this creamy flavour is inspired by the timeless desi mithai and features boondi with saffron and magaz (melon seeds).
Present in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bengaluru and more, Ice Cream Works brings out Rooh Afza special during Ramadan, and gajar badam halwa, rasgulla and thandai ice creams during other festive times.
While other homegrown twists here include Calcutta Meetha Paan, Pista Badam Chikki, Shahi Mewa Malai, the spiced fruit specials feature pink guava with red chilli ice cream.
Another chain specialising in cold desserts, Apsara, offers a tamarind sorbet infused with jeera masala across Mumbai and Bengaluru.
In this world of technicolour food, aesthetic appeal goes a long way too, feels Ankit Agarwal, co-founder of Fumo Creams.
New on the block, Fumo Creams is rolling ice cream flavours such as jamun into tacos across counters in Delhi, Noida and Gurugram. All these ice creams are freshly made, often flash frozen using liquid nitrogen.
"We believe in the merits of eating food that is fresh; why should our ice creams be old then?" asks Agarwal, who for the longest time was worried about how his customers would react to taco-shaped waffles.
But after offering these taco ice creams at catered gatherings, Agarwal was thoroughly encouraged to set up counters across Delhi and around.
India is not a country for mild flavours, and customers wholeheartedly welcome innovations in food, says Snaximum's Raghavan.
In the months to come, Snaximum, which currently operates in Mumbai via online orders, plans to tie up with retail stores. Its immediate expansion plans include opening with peanut butter nankhatais in cities like Pune, Delhi and Bengaluru.
"We'll keep experimenting with local flavours. Our goal is to give traditional snacks a twist," says Raghavan.
While their puffy and flaky kharis come in caramel, blueberry and dark chocolate flavours, their beetroot chips have been flying off the shelves. But it's the flavoured cookies that retain your attention: the banana cookies look like miniature yellow bananas, and the watermelon cookies resemble tiny pieces of the cut fruit.
Besides love for the fruitiness of it, one could dig into a bag of these for the aesthetic appeal alone.
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