It is the bestseller at the bar at Benaras,” says international chef Atul Kochhar, swirling the iconic Mumbai Martini, the irresistible blend of vodka with ginger strains, curry leaves and a slash of lime. The signature cocktail has wowed diners at his Michelin-star restaurant Benaras in London, and is now a prized drink on the menu at his Mumbai eatery, N.R.I. (Not Really Indian). But the karipatta is intrinsically Indian. And the edgy twist the slightly pungent leaf brings to the drink lends it that winsome edge.
The modest curry leaf is reinventing itself with utmost pizzazz. From forming the core ingredient of the hot, spicy South Indian tadka that laces idli, sambhar, appam and aloo, the karipatta has soared to the elixir bounty yonder in zippy forms, much beyond the finely ground powder, flavoursome rubs and seasoning essential, forms in which it nestled in grandma’s kitchen caddy. “The curry leaves rolled into cocktails help in maintaining sugar levels in the body, especially in the tropical Indian climate,” says Kochhar. Talk about a cool way to stay cool.
“Consumers today are well travelled, they like experimenting with different flavours in classic drinks such as martinis and margaritas,” says Harshard Jain, Business Head, Beverage Solutions, Marimbula, a leader in the mixers manufacturing arena. “The growing trend is the inclusion of Indian ethnic flavours in cocktails that has given rise to the use of more locally produced ingredients such as karipatta. Being bitter, the leaf works beautifully with sour-based fruit syrups, including strawberry and raspberry. This balances out the flavours while enhancing the taste and giving classic cocktails a refreshing twist. Another growing trend is the use of cold-infused karipatta in flavoured iced tea.”
At Pune’s The Little Door, co-owner Tanu Narang serves up two specials in L’iltini and Aamhito. “L’iltini rolls in vodka-gin with a splash of pineapple juice, cucumber and curry leaves. It’s a hot seller, with its piquant taste, prompting us to bring in Aamhito in our new desi menu. Aamhito brings in classic white rum infused with mango pulp, green chillies and curry leaves.While hosting friends at home, my co-partner Bhuvan experimented by adding curry leaves and cucumber to gin and soda. Everyone loved the drink, so that is how karipatta entered the bar at The Little Door,” she says.
Pulling a leaf out of the popularity of the karipatta, the bar menus at the popular Farzi Cafe, Masala Bar, Masala Library and Made in Punjab (from the house of Massive Restaurants) are bragging of supersonic concoctions as well. The jampacked Farzi Cafe in Mumbai, Gurgaon and Dubai wings in the Vodka Curry Mango Chutney Foam, a heady blend of the fresh curry leaf shaken together with lime-stroked sugar topped with mango chutney foam. Masala Bar rocks the marquis with curry leaf-flavoured coconut fizzy mix with vodka in An Evening at Chowpatti. The Ginger Curry Leaf Martini makes for a mean boozy mambo with minty tones and fresh curry leaf-ginger muddle in a sweetish sour icy rendition.
Says Aman Dua, head mixologist, Massive Restaurants Pvt. Ltd., “We have always tried to showcase the robustness that Indian cuisine and ingredients offer. While herbs—including mint, basil and thyme—have been popular as flavours for cocktails, very few Indian herbs and spices have made their way into mixology. Our focus on using ingredients such as karipatta in our signature mixological innovations across our various restaurant concepts is strong. Karipatta brings a distinct and refreshing flavour to the beverage. The biggest challenge while using the curry leaf is that an instant infusion of the flavour is not possible, making it a lengthy process, taking around four-five hours. If done hastily by instant infusion, the curry leaf tends to overpower other flavours in the drink.”
Curry leaves also work well in strengthening hair roots, zapping away dandruff and in delaying greying of hair. With so much to gain, you could perhaps think of growing karipatta in your balcony.