The humble khichdi stopped short of being the national dish of India last year. But it has kept the pot boiling in food innovations. The country’s comfort food number 1 is making a comeback on restaurant menus, thanks to a growing appetite for healthy meals.
In Ahmedabad, hospitality professional Preet Kadia and entrepreneur Meet Lakhani have partnered to start Urban Khichdi. The casual restaurant in Vastrapur offers a smorgasbord of the gut-friendly food that is not usually found on restaurant menus.
Explains Kadia, “I spent many years away from home studying hospitality management and working in hotels and clubs, and missed home foods. Thus I began to think of starting a place that offers homely food. I decided to make khichdi, the definitive comfort foods for millions of Indians. It has many variations—from the Patli Khichri of the Sindhis to the Khichuri of the Bengalis—and appealed to me as the focal point for a new restaurant.”
Soon, Kadia started his research and found four aspects to the superstar of nutrition. “First, I worked on the simple khichdis we make at home when we do not feel like having an elaborate meal. Second was sourcing recipes of the regional versions of khichdi that exist in different states. Third, I went on to create my own signature khichdis that would appeal to different palates like those who like spicy and tangy food, or have a sweet tooth. And the fourth and last one was having khichdis with Thai flavour or mixed with crunchy Tex Mex snacks; as people also want global takes on comfort foods.”
And meeting a like-minded partner in Lakhani, a textile and garment businessman, who has recently entered the restaurant industry, gave momentum to the idea of setting up Urban Khichdi, near the university area. Lakhani says, “Urban Khichdi is an interesting counterfoil to the heavy and fried food being served everywhere. Affordably priced foods could wean students away from junk food to well-balanced meals served with curd and ghee.”
The Green Moong Khichdi is the simplest kind, the Swaminarayan Khichdi takes inspiration from the Swaminarayan and Vaishnav temples, which is prepared without onions or garlic. “The Vaghereli Khichdi is the variety made in Gujarati homes, while the Panchkutti Khichdi inspired by Marwari cuisine has different kinds of dal and ghee. Many people like garlicky food, so we have Hare Pyaz ki Lehsooni Khichdi which is a hot-seller.”
With plans to take the brand across India and overseas, the duo has also given equal importance to desserts. “Sukhdi, Moong Dal Halwa, Pudina kheer and Paan Shot are a big hit,” says Lakhani.
The yellow signboard outside is as charming as the culinary novelties inside this bistro-style restaurant. Comfortable furniture and pleasant interiors apart, the wall—painted with images showing how humankind evolved to eat cooked food—acts like a visual appetiser. In 2017, khichdi became a top social media trend, after the news broke that it was going to get India’s national dish tag; now it’s the main course of a gastronomic trend.
Highlights of menu
Pudina Mirch Khichdi, Kolhapuri Khada Masala Khichdi, Masaledar Vegetable Khichdi, Palak Paneer Khichdi, Chulbuli Khichdi with tang of kokum and tamarind, coconut-laced Malabari Khichdi, Mumbai Tawa Khichdi, inspired by risotto and Cheese Masala Khichdi.