When the lockdown was suddenly implemented in March due to the widespread of coronavirus, the hospitality sector was one of the worst to take the hit in the accounts. A business that takes years to get stable and another few to make people walk-in through that door had shut shops overnight staring at a bleak future.
And, now that eateries have been allowed to home-deliver, the restaurants aren’t getting back to the business with a bang. They are now facing the new challenge of building a trust of hygiene, a sense of feeling at home amongst the patrons. More struggle will be in store for them when diners will start to walk in. The good old buffet for Sunday brunch will still be a distant dream for some months now, if not a year. Also, for us, when we walk in with a bunch of office colleagues or friends, not everybody will be comfortable with sharing plates.
That brings us to the question then where does the future lie? Well, some restaurateurs seem to be introducing bowl or bento box as a wise alternative to sharing plates. So, we can walk in, order our favourites and relish the food without the fear of sharing.
The future in a bowl?
Bowls and bento boxes are quite common for people preferring a mid-deal savouring of a balanced diet. And it has been a great ‘grab and go’ option. But will bowls become the new regular?
“Bowl meals have always been a big concept where rice/ noodle (any kind of starch), meat/ fish (any kind of protein) with pickle and fresh vegetables are plated and hygienically served. This concept can be a big win after lockdown as one clearly gets a full healthy meal to match one’s diet. Pocket friendly is another factor with this concept to make it a hit,” said Pawan Bisht, the Corporate Chef of One8 by Virat Kohli, Mango and Verandah in New Delhi.
A similar thought has been echoed by Chef Sagar Bajaj, Culinary Head, First Fiddle F&B Pvt. Ltd. “Considering consumers could be reluctant to dine in or around others for a prolonged period of time during this pandemic, they will prefer “grab and go” items that come with a good variety. So, Bento Bowl definitely falls in that category,” he says.
However, since Bento Box doesn’t have that aesthetic quality to appeal, chefs are thinking to replace those with bowls or plates designed the same way.
Only Pan-Asian cuisine?
These bowls are quite popular when it comes to pan Asian cuisine. “Fusion Dishes of Asian and European cuisine can be adapted in Bento Boxes — with items like Penne in soya Garlic and Fish Cilantro Tempura,” said Sumit Sinha, Director of Food & Beverage & Executive Chef, Crowne Plaza Today New Delhi Okhla.
But does that mean we need to forget about any other cuisines at the moment. Not really! “I have been doing Indian meal bowls for the past five years in my restaurants. I started Indian meal bowls in my previous restaurant Junglee Billee and doing it in my current Indian cuisine-based restaurant Verandah where I have carefully crafted vegetarian and non-vegetarian meal bowls for my guests,” said Chef Bisht.
Chef Bajaj echoes a similar thought, when he said, “Bento is a fancier name for the Thali system we have in India. We have been serving in this style for long in Indian regional food and can curate for other international cuisines as well.”
There’s a 'but', though…
While this is the way the food comes in minimum contact with staffs at the restaurant and ensures maximum hygiene, there are a few obligations on the table one of which is the food tends to get soggy when kept for longer duration.
But that’s a way to ensure freshness, isn’t it!
For bowl meals, Chef Bajaj recommends, “You pick a well-sectioned platter/ container. You just need to be extra organized while plating it up.”
“Bowl Meals dismiss any chances of food being kept for long before it is served. Food is freshly prepared following all the hygiene centric guidelines, served over sanitized meal bowls and can even be packed safely,” suggests Chef Sinha.
Opening up a new innovation window
Restaurant business thrives on experimentation. Be it cooking style, creating fusions, or simply plating – the chefs have created spells for years now. A new challenge of maintaining hygiene is in place now.
“Using smaller clay pots for serving traditional dishes such as Dum Biryani or curating concepts like Pan Pizza instead of Pizza as a whole could be quite a hit amongst the guests. The traditional Indian Thali concept will witness lot of innovation and fusion in the coming days,” added Chef Sinha of Crowne Plaza Okhla.
On the other hand, Chef Bisht believes, “Use of healthy, fresh, low carb, vegetarian, seasonal and local produce in a bowl or any other kind of cuisine is the new way of eating worldwide.”
At Plum by Bent Chair, Chef Bajaj is exploring inventive ways to serve food with minimum contact.