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South Asian influences can be found everywhere, but especially through food. Food is a labor of love. For South Asians, feeding and entertaining is part of the culture. No one goes to sleep hungry—ever. To honor the delectable cuisines of South Asia, I decided to dig below the surface to find South Asian chefs, business owners and innovators that are putting modern twists on traditional cuisines, filling much-needed holes in the food industry and creating an inclusive place to share and celebrate South Asian food. It’s time to expand your mind and your palate.
Below is a round-up of 10 South Asian culinary game-changers that are cooking up a storm. A Sri Lankan chef has taken up residence in a famous British hotel called The Dorchester and has revitalized the menu, while a MasterChef contestant shares her baked goods through her Instagram and cookbook. Meanwhile, a founder reclaims the history behind chai and a founder creates mouth-watering high-protein snacks. There’s so much to celebrate (and eat). We recommend following these game-changers on Instagram ASAP.
The restaurants and treats on this list sound so tasty that they’re worth hopping on a plane for. You might be inspired to add some of these restaurants to your bucket list, but there are plenty of options that you can order to your home, including a meal kit and a cookbook, so you can try your hand at making some South Asian desserts at home.
I hope you ate before reading this, because otherwise you’re going to be hungry. Sorry!
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Zara and Giuliano, founders of Protein & Pantry, are self proclaimed foodies with a passion for health and fitness. When they realized that the current market did not have enough high-protein snacks, the duo decided to make their own healthy treats and launched Protein Pantry. Their brand is inspired by their respective South Asian heritages which taught them to cook from the heart and share a variety of flavors with others.
2. Pali Hill
Bangalore-born-and-raised chef Avinash Shishadira (“Avi”) moved to the UK to cook French and Italian food, but realized that he wanted to reconnect with his Indian roots and recreate some of the dishes he grew up eating with high-quality local seasonal ingredients. The South Asian chef shares how he believes food is who we are and aspires to share the vast food options in India to the rest of London. Visit Pali Hill to try Chef Avi’s favorite dish, Mangalore Bun & Crab Sukkha, a perfect marriage of sweet, spicy and creamy. Yes—those flavors can co-exist.
DabbaDrop is London’s first plastic and emissions-free takeaway service, delivering a heat-only meal, consisting of one dal, two plant-based curries, homemade roti/naan and rice, to hungry customers. Founded by friend duo Anshu Ahuja and Renee Williams, DabbaDrop’s meals are delivered in the Mumbai-inspired reusable stainless-steel tiffin boxes (known as a dabba), which are collected on next day delivery. Sounds hassle-free, but flavor-packed!
Executive Chef Mario Perera is bringing his Sri Lankan appreciation for spice and heritage to the iconic British hotel on Park Lane. For a limited time, he introduced a Sri Lankan menu including classic dishes like Hen’s Egg Hopper and Ammi’s Ceylon Chicken Curry, inspired by his mother’s recipes. Hailing from the city of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka, Chef Perera is now inspired to create a bespoke banqueting experience for Asian weddings and events.
5. Amala Chai
All talks of food would be incomplete without the iconic South Asian beverage: Chai. Founders Akhil Patel and Archie Cooper Moat fell in love with chai on their picturesque trip to the Indian Himalayas and returned to London to start a market stall to fill the gap on this classic brew. Amala Chai is a traditional masala chai company on a mission to reconnect Indian chai with its authentic roots and pays homage to the ingredients and traditions of India, specifically Assam and Kerala. To learn more about their social mission and support of rural farming, visit them here.
Founder Saima Duhare believes food is not only a conversation starter but also something that brings people together. Halal Fresh is a recipe box catering to halal eaters, an initiative started after she realized that Muslim consumers were looking for halal food options incorporating diverse cuisines like Chinese, Italian, Mexican and Brazilian, among others. Her recipes pay homage to the unique flavors and taste combinations within the South Asian umbrella with a fresh, healthy twist.
Husband and wife duo Vicky and Mitesh Popat created PlantOGram, an online agriculture and farming company with more than 200 types of fruit trees, which helps consumers understand where their food comes from. The vegetarian couple, who are modern-day farmers, are the first Indian-Americans specializing in green culture. They draw inspiration from their South Asian roots to (literally) plant new ones. Their plants make great gifts and can be shipped domestically and internationally.
Hetal Vasavada, baker, cookbook author, and former contestant on season 6 of MasterChef, left her healthcare career to jump into the food industry. As an Indian-American woman in the culinary industry, she’s bringing change to the kitchen culture that is typically male-dominated and hopes to bring empathy to kitchens through her cooking. As a South Asian, she believes food is the easiest gateway into any culture and helps break down cultural barriers. Her delectable baking is heavily inspired by her heritage. Don’t believe me? Check out this gulab-jamun cake or cardamom dulce de leche penda sandwich cookie.
9. Dinesh Patel
There’s room for one more MasterChef here. MasterChef India season 5 finalist Dinesh Patel is a UK-based pastry chef and patisserie owner whose experience post-MasterChef gave him the chance to immerse himself in his heritage. Dinesh is on a crusade to change the perception of South Asian desserts by highlighting their complexity, cultural history and fusing technique and artistry into his bakes. What a sweet idea! He also swears by ras malai, his favorite dessert of all time.
10. Saffron Tree
Hyderabadi-born food entrepreneur and CEO of Saffron Tree, Monalisa Fathima, set up the Indian food brand inspired by dishes her grandmother taught her to make. Born to an Anglo-Indian Catholic mother and Muslim father, she realized after immigrating to the UK that there was a gap for authentic Indian food. In June 2019, she launched a range of classic Indian dishes and blend kits that grew from her love for food and was inspired by her South Asian multi-cultural heritage.