CHENNAI: The frequent barrage online of bizarre street foods in India cookies and cream vada pav, Fanta omelette, Oreo ke pakode (fried Oreo), mango Maggi has made me rather impervious to culinary surprises. Or so I had thought until I found myself scrolling through the unique menu of Carl’s Kitchen, a recently launched cloud kitchen.
The project under the brand Blanche’s of JMJ Seafoods Pvt Ltd (exporters of seafood) offers an assortment of items hot dogs, samosas, lasagne, Thai curry, pizza, baos, momos, spaghetti and more with an oceanic twist. The expected pork, beef or chicken is replaced by tuna or swordfish (and the occasional prawn). “As seafood exporters, we offered 125 plus products under our brand HookCatch but we noticed that in India, people still buy only 5-6 varieties of fish.
We realised that unlike other countries we don’t eat fish by species. For us, every fish is (just) fish, whether snapper or grouper. But each of our products tastes different. Plus, India generally consumes fish as gravy or fry but we wanted people to taste fish in different formats and so, we wanted to create sausages,” explains Arshad, the project head. And thus, after much research and development, came about their unusual selection of items.
While everything on offer seemed worth a try, we settled for the few options that seemed the most uncommon. The tuna fish Punjabi samosa was flaky with a kick of spice. The tuna in the filling with potato, onion and spices was nearly unrecognisable, albeit delicious with the minced texture of meat samosas. The accompaniments of the tangy tamarind and date chutney and the earthy and fresh mint chutney kept the snack familiar to the palate. It was a good start, followed by another winner with the tuna fish chicken and cheese hot dog. The bun though slightly dry was marked with the name of the kitchen and held a simple, savoury tuna fish sausage which was, much like the samosa, indistinguishable from any other meat. The cheese and peri peri mayo added some tang to the sweetness of the bun and the savouriness of the meat.
Third came the Singapore chilli crab bao which was heavy on the fishy flavour but a good dose of spice from the chilli, wrapped in a soft dough. While most items were easy to accept, the pizza salumi left more to be desired. The dried cheese and peppers combined with the overpowering scent and piscine taste of the tuna fish frankfurter and swordfish ham were confusing on the bread and the palate. That being said, the tuna fish Thai red curry with the aromatic gravy and plain rice offered a better experience, as did the spaghetti and tuna fish meatballs (for those who don’t mind a fishy aftertaste).
From the dough of the breads and buns to the sauces and dips — everything is made by the kitchen, and the switch to lean meat keeps the options healthier than others on the market, informs Arshad.
At the end of the meal, it was easy to store everything back in the cardboard containers which, as Arshad explains, are designed with a tear system to give a nice appeal and hygienic feel with little usage of gum. The containers open out in plates and can fold back to their original size.
The name of the kitchen is based on an imaginary character who loves all food and several cuisines. The one-of-a-kind product aside, Carl’s Kitchen prides itself on its quality and standard operating procedures. “We would not serve our customers anything that we would not give our families. Our SOPs across (currently) nine outlets are strong with all systems in place. We have control over the product from the raw material itself. Tuna and swordfish are critical to handle and require a lot of expertise. We have renowned labs where samples of every product are checked.
We also have experts at the purchasing harbour who begin the quality check before sending it to the factories. Only after the testing is approved do the fish go to production,” Arshad says, adding that they are looking to permeate other tier 1 cities (and later, tier 2) soon. The establishment was conceived as a cloud kitchen since people want food on the go, he adds, but a Carl’s store is in the pipeline that will offer the customers the experience to grab a quick bite. While the people of Chennai may still seem apprehensive about trying the products, it’s certainly an amusing experience.