I was at a mall in Indore, then the only mall in town. There was a modest food court offering all kinds of chaat, parathas , Chinese fare and, yes, burgers. What struck me was that the burgers were the most popular items in that place. There were people calling out for ‘burrghurrs’, ‘boorghurs’, ‘burhjurhs’ but the people behind the counters knew just what was required.
The corollary to this epiphany was that these were burgers, desi style. Burgers sans onion; burgers with thick veg patties or aloo tikkis as filling; burgers with and without cheese.
Snack? No siree, the burger has come into its own in India. Predated by our own vada pav , the hamburger first made its appearance here around the late 1980s or early 90s. Two round buns stuffed with delicious meat or equally delicious potato, with roundels of tomato, onion and a slice of cheese above or below the lettuce leaf. Usually, the sauce was generously sloshed on the filling itself; sometimes it was a side accompaniment and eventually began to turn up in the impersonal sachets we get today. There was no doubt about its yummy quotient; the only challenge was how to take a big bite without coming off as a greedy boor.
PHOTO: SANJAY RAMACHANDRAN
Of course I am talking about the evolution of the Indian burger. Out West, all sorts of additions and subtractions were going on; olives made an appearance atop the patty; the scrumptious grease emerged in its rendered fat avatar, mostly beef fat. Bacon, foie gras, sour cream and onion-flavoured chips were all the rage. Given that people tended to fix their burgers on their own griddles in their backyards, innovation and creativity became the order of the day. Not so in India, where we mostly continued to head to a restaurant for our burger fix. Or order them for picnics and informal parties.
But change was happening. Since cheese did not suit every desi palate, sunny side-up eggs became a tasty replacement. Again, chuck steak not being to everyone’s taste, chicken and lamb replaced the main meat ingredient. All sorts of sauces flavoured our burgers, from mayo to pudina chutney to barbeque sauce to even bhelpuri sauce… and it worked, too! And yes, we do relish too, except our relish (tofu, beetroot, scallion, jeera powder, anyone?) is sometimes both strange and wonderful!
Recently, the burger tried an upscale move. Restaurants like the popular Monkey Bar chain dry age multiple cuts for their burgers. The buns are made in-house, as is the mayonnaise, pickles and fries. They even use burger dust… a ‘secret’ blend of spices and herbs created in-house!
Even as the burger is shedding weight out West, becoming thin, flat and crisp, in India we continue to indulge our fondness for fat juicy burgers. Even as they feel it’s better not to pack the burger with too much to let the flavour of the meat come through, we add all sorts of victuals to it, mostly with great results. As for that problem of how to eat the burger without losing some of it to your shirtfront? Well, I’ve seen a lot of people go at their burgers with a fork and knife. But no, not in Indore.