DSSC Secret Conversations: The Men Channeling Delhi’s ‘Orient’ation With Asian Hawkers Market

As Delhi’s only Asian cuisine food festival comes back for thirds this weekend, we got cracking over steaming dumplings with its founders, Tanveer Kwatra (Culinary Director at W Hotel Goa), Siddharth Mathur (Director & Head of Food at Impressario), Sourish Bhattacharya (Acclaimed Food Critic) and Atul Sikand (the man behind Sikandalous Cuisine-one of India’s largest online recipe curating groups).

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It was the shared love for oriental cuisines, creating a food festival removed from the usual, and tactical business sense that brought the four together to charm over India’s food capital with a typical Asian style food market, they tell us. With two successful runs under their belts, there’s no denying that Delhi’s palate has taken kindly to this concoction.

Risk maketh the F&B industry, and so they dared to launch AHM, offering cuisines from only one end of the world, among the hoard of food fests featuring all kinds of cuisines from across the globe. “The popularity & diverseness of Asian cuisine is so vast, that we had to create a festival dedicated to it,” says Sid. Tanveer talks about what made them take the plunge, “Asian cuisine is the most popular cuisine after Indian food and the strength lies in the concept, therefore there was never a hesitation.” Speaking on this industry’s openness to experimenting he says, “[This industry’s] creative competition is so fierce that there is always a need for innovation. F&B has always given me a sense of accomplishment and there is always something exciting you look forward to as you start your day. Not to forget “Food”. Food is an indispensable part of our lives is something that is always a blessing for a chef. Food not only meets connoisseurs, but meets fashion and art too which has made it a trend in the today’s marketplace, therefore food of course, is a key driver.”

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Add to that a zest for bringing forth a unique experience, “a focussed food festival different from the likes of Diwali melas which set up food stalls sans discretion, we wanted to showcase Delhi’s amazing culinary skills,” as Atul shares, and we have a niche food festival making Delhi re-orient every year.

“We cater to a niche market, so people know they’ll get great food here. This works for our restaurants because unlike other places, we don’t have over 100 different stalls, fewer restaurants mean that each one gets an opportunity to exhibit their work. The variety we put forth, you could go to the festival for 10 days and not repeat a dish.” From a footfall of 42,000 is their first year, which grew to 55,000 during the second edition, the formula Atul speaks about has certainly cracked the code of a smashing food fest, which maintains ‘food’ as the focal point.

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The journey leading up to the third edition has been exciting, says Sourish, “Good food, manifold options, manageable portions and prices that are easy on the wallet- that’s what AHM is all about.” But wait up, they aren’t going to serve sumptuous dishes while leaving you high and dry, Lord of the Drinks and Carl’s Jr.’s oriental shakes will have you returning to the bar, and Bombaykery’s desserts will be there for the perfect finish to your Asian adventures. They may put together a cuisine specific festival, but that hasn’t stopped these men from keeping the variety alive, “Our first preference is for restaurants that are well-known and critically acclaimed, or are very popular at the Market. Our next targets are new restaurants, new concepts, original flavours, and newcomers to the Market,” he adds.

Telling us about the range of restaurants they’re looking to feature, Tanveer says, “As far as the new entrants are concerned we have Pings Café Orient, Wokin Street,  Burma Burma, and Eest at The Westin Gurgaon is debuting as well. We are also quite excited that Guppy and Asian Haus are back this time and Pa Pa Ya from Mumbai will once again showcase their magic. The likes of Neung Roi, The Fatty Bao, Big Fat Sandwich, ThaiCrate, Benihana, Chi continue to be there along with Asia 7 and Honk. We also have Yum Yum Cha launching their newest baby called ‘Noshi’ and Jom Malay will bring Malaysian food in this Edition.”

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While their array of flavours from the far East brings an east-to-west smile on our faces, the soy on the dim sum is the pricing- between Rs 125 to Rs 500. On how do they manage to cap India’s top restaurants at a mere 500 rupees, Tanveer says, “We suggest participants to not focus on bigger portions as patrons are keen to try different restaurants.” Siddharth seconds him, “The idea is to make smaller & affordable portions, which allow people to try multiple dishes.” And as Sourish quips, it all boils down to “A dose of gentle persuasion!”

And that’s not where the buck stops, they have a heavy dose of entertainment lined up too, adding to their host of flash mobs and live music concerts they have “Comedians doing some crazy stuff this time,” as Atul puts it. At this point, polishing off the last dumpling off our plates, we were wondering if there’s any aspect of this food fest that they haven’t taken care of perfectly!

Speaking of creating a space for yourself in the industry, Sid, who worked in Private Banking for nine years before taking the leap of faith and following his passion for food, says that, “I feel so blessed to be surrounded by all things food today.” To those looking to set foot in the business, he lends a pearl of wisdom, “Do your homework, be meticulous, go with instinct but proceed with caution.” Tacking on that, Sourish gives importance to getting the basics right, The F&B industry is a people-centric business, so if you are not passionate about entertaining people, if you don’t find joy in their happiness, and if you can’t handle criticism, this is not where you should be” he says.

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The festival seems set to ace the game once again, having set shop in Delhi’s heart, we ask them  if our friends outside the city will get to attend an AHM anytime soon- peeps from Mumbai and Kolkata-you guys can start prepping for the excited shaking dance. We’re probably being greedy here, but who wouldn’t love to have such a food festival for other cuisines too, while Sourish keeps us guessing with a “Wait and see!”, Siddharth lets our hopes stay afloat by letting on that he can see it with Indian cuisines. If there’s one in the offing, you know who’ll be lining up for sure (us, duh!).

With those dreams in our eyes, we sipped our jasmine tea and asked this power of four few DSSC rapid fire questions before saying our farewells,

What’s your all time favourite Asian dish?

Tanveer: Great dim sums and Dan Dan noodles find a huge fan in me!

Sourish: Classical Sashimi with no dressing of any sort. Nothing like raw fish sliced at the right angle, with the right knife, by an anal chef!

Sid: Sushi every time!

Atul: I love a mean Thai Curry, Sushi, and Pork Belly- can live off it for the rest of my life!

Best Asian food experience in Delhi?

Tanveer: Dim sums at Yauatcha are nice and sushi at Yum Yum cha is brilliant, for Thai food Nueng Roi is my go to place.

Sourish: Without doubt, and this one’s a tie, a recent lunch I had at The China Kitchen (I love their new dim sum) and the two dinners I have had at Honk at the Pullman New Delhi Aerocity.

Sid: That’s just impossible to say. I’m happy eating chili chowmein from a truck, to having a three-course duck meal in a five star hotel restaurant. And everything in the middle!

Atul: My newest discovery has been Burma Burma, have been there 15 times already!

The strangest dining experience being a part of the industry?

Sourish: The most ‘interesting’ experience I have had is doing a tasting of dishes made with beetles from the Amazon forests at a high-end food trends symposium in Brussels.

Any one thing you hate about the industry?

Tanveer: I would not use the word hate but everything you do is a package of pros and cons.

Sourish: Copycats. I dislike people who pass off the ideas of others as their own.

The Asian Hawkers Market is being held from October 21 to 23, at Select Citywalk, New Delhi. The food festival will run from 12pm to 11pm on all days.

This conversation is a part of the DSSC Secret Conversation Series, where we get candid with the ace of base industry disrupters.