The best meals in the world, according to The Bombay Canteen chef Thomas Zacharias
In this series, we convince the top gourmands in India to part with their guide to paradise on a plate
A quarter century ago, we only had our dadis, mummys and Sanjeev Kapoor to look up to for #chefgoals. Chef Thomas Zacharias was no different. At 8, he was already his grandmother’s private sous chef while making dosas. At 12, he joined a cooking class with two of his cousins, the only boy in a class of 30.
Now the head chef at The Bombay Canteen, Zacharias believes that “we can eat at the finest places, but if we are in a bad mood or if the service slacks, the food doesn’t count for much. The ambience is primary — that greeting at the entrance, how knowledgable the servers are… Food is just the catalyst.”
The compulsive traveller and his #ChefOnTheRoad posts have caused nationwide FOMO, so we convinced him to reveal his favourite haunts and what to order when you get there.
The best meals that Thomas Zacharias has ever eaten
A home-cooked meal in Majuli, Assam
“I was invited to dinner by a local family during one of my north-east trips. The spread included Bora Saul sticky rice, Patodiya Maas (marinated hol maas river fish wrapped in banana leaf and cooked buried under smouldering wooden planks), Pura Mangsho (Country chicken cooked on wooden skewers near the open wooden flame), Singha Diya Mangsho (marinated pork stuffed inside bamboo and cooked over the fire), a stir fry of Fiddlehead ferns, and the most incredible Mishing fish curry with mustard oil and bhul (local ridge gourd).
While I enjoyed the entire meal, I discovered an incredibly new preparation. It’s called Naamsing, an intensely aromatic chutney made of fermented fish which is charred over a wood fire, ground to a paste with local herbs, packed into bamboo stems and then fermented on the warm, smoky shelves above the fireplace for two years.”
Christmas lunch at grandma’s home
“One of my best meals happened quite early in my life. The whole feeling of the family coming together and chilling over a massive spread of pork, duck and roasted chicken is beyond compare.
We would also eat a lot of seasonal vegetables. I don’t remember the details of the dishes, but the thought of the Christmas lunch makes me very nostalgic. That’s the power of a good meal. It takes you back to good times.”
A last-minute reservation at Osteria Francescana, Italy
“Six years ago, I was trying to find a direction in my culinary efforts. I was experimenting with European recipes, and had taken a four-month sabbatical.
During that break, I had somehow managed to find a reservation at Chef Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. It happened thanks to a last-minute cancellation. Bottura spoke about how his menu is a tribute to his grandmother.
I had an instant epiphany. I stopped looking elsewhere for inspiration and dived deep into our own heritage.
Three months later, I quit my job in Europe, and returned to India, and joined The Bombay Canteen. It was an eye-opener of a meal for me.
My tryst with Bottura came full-circle when he visited India in 2018, and I had the chance to play host, this time.”
A 30-course meal at Blue Hill Stone Barns, USA
“It’s an incredible farm-to-table concept in upstate New York. My meal lasted for four hours.
Chef Dan Barber created a 30-course spread, and as unbelievable as it sounds, only 3 courses were non-vegetarian. The meal taught me a lot about working with fresh produce. It’s just so much more delicious than the produce we end up using.”
Wild thali at OOO Farms, India
“I have been fortunate enough to travel across India and sample all kinds of local cuisine. Last year, I visited the OOO Farms in Akole, Maharashtra that works with the tribal community in the state.
They had only used several wild vegetables with green chillies, onions and garlic. I tried mahua fruit, gharbandi, pendra and wild asparagus. I discovered a lot of new ingredients, and had also designed a menu using these ingredients.
I posted a photograph of the ingredients and quizzed my followers to name all the vegetables. It was a fun exercise.”