When you think about Assamese cuisine, you tend to think of main course items like masor tenga and aloo pitika but you won’t necessarily think of Assamese food when you want to grab a quick bite. Well, talented chef Atul Lahkar aims to change all that. He recently opened Khorika Cafe which offers Assamese flavours with a contemporary touch.
Aimed at Global Palettes
Located on Lamb Road, Guwahati, the cafe offers a menu that is quite different from his other eateries. It also offers items that you wouldn’t find in any other cafe in the city. ‘The whole idea behind the cafe was to make regional food appeal to global palettes. Everywhere you go, especially in big malls in metro cities, you will find stalls offering different cuisines from different parts of the country but it is rare to stalls that serve Assamese cuisine. And why it that? It is because we haven’t packaged and presented it the right way.’
The menu has been designed in such a way that you can order any item at any time of the day. There are Northeastern platters which includes Assamese dishes served along with items from different NE cuisines. There are also unique platters where Assamese dishes have been paired with delicacies from other Asian countries like China, Thailand and the like. The menu also features sizzlers and barbecue accompanied by regional sauces. And unlike other cafes where you are served tea with a cookie or biscuits, here you can sip on a cup of organic or green tea while taking a bite of traditional snacks such as ladu and pitha.
Presentation is Key
Now, it is important to understand that foodies don’t just eat with their mouths but also with their eyes. The way a dish is presented can play a big role in its popularity and this is something that Chef Lahkar is well aware about. ‘The idea at Khorika Cafe is to appeal to the younger generation with modern presentation. I am offering ethnic flavours with a twist. There are two benefits to this, the first being that the younger generation will welcome these flavours which will lead to commercial success and the second plus point is that through this, I will be able to showcase the global potential of our cuisine.’
High on Flavour
Assamese food is packed with flavour but it is not very eye-appealing. In most restaurants, and homes for that matter, the presentation is pretty rustic but Chef Lahkar has used his years of experience in the food industry and good instinct to take presentation up a notch despite it being a challenge. ‘The highlights of Assamese cuisine are the aroma and the fact that it is low-calorie organic food. We also use a lot of medicinal herbs that not only adds to the taste but have other health benefits as well. However, when it comes to colours on the plate, we don’t have much variety. So, the challenge was to make it more eye-catching which is why apart from white rice, we are also using black rice and red rice to bring in a contrast.’
Another reason to check out this new cafe is the affordability. Chef Lahkar admits that it was a conscious decision to keep the prices reasonable. ‘I am targeting young people and working professionals who want to have a good meal without spending a lot of money. If I am economical and ensure that I have zero wastage then I can afford to keep the prices low.’
The menu is quite varied and so if you are visiting for the first time; it is easy to feel a little overwhelmed. Chef Lahkar recommends the smoked pork with red rice, the boiled chicken with rice, and the sizzler and barbecue items. He also speaks highly of the smoked tea chicken that you won’t find anywhere else.
By Meeta Borah
This article was first published in Eclectic Northeast January 2018 issue