Why “Best Of” Lists Often Overlook South Asian Cuisines

But as these restaurants and chefs rack up recognition and business from ardent fans, do mainstream accolades even matter?

Mallika Basu

June 16, 2022

Why “Best Of” Lists Often Overlook South Asian Cuisines
Cauliflower Bezule (Rasika, Washington, D.C.)

Ashok Bajaj, the restaurateur behind Rasika in Washington, D.C., has applied 11 times to the James Beard Foundation Awards, which aim to celebrate those pushing America’s food culture forward. Rasika has earned a “superlative” from famed critic Tom Sietsema, who couldn’t get enough of the “floppy-crisp dosa filled with shredded goat” and “turmeric-kissed scallops brightened with a light lemon sauce.” While Rasika’s chef, Vikram Sunderam, earned a nomination in 2019 for Outstanding Chef, he did not win the ultimate prize. A veteran restaurateur of over 30 years, Bajaj finally made the shortlist on his 11th attempt this year but, alas, did not win during the awards ceremony earlier this week.

Other South Asian restaurants among James Beard nominees this year include Chai Pani and Dhamaka, as well as chefs Cheetie Kumar (Garland) and Chintan Pandya (Dhamaka). Chai Pani and Pandya both won awards. Over in the U.K., the National Restaurant Awards announced its top 100 best restaurants this week with chef Chet Sharma’s Bibi the only South Asian to make the prestigious top 50. 

Meanwhile, the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy features only one Indian restaurant on its top 100 list (Indian Accent in Delhi) and only three Indian restaurants on its regional Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022. There is only one Bangladeshi and one Pakistani restaurant with Michelin distinctions. The only Indian eatery deemed worthy of two stars is Campton Place in San Francisco, while 11 restaurants have a one-star rating.

In sum, South Asian cuisine is a rarity on these “best of” lists. But as these restaurants and chefs rack up recognition and business from ardent fans, do these mainstream awards and accolades even matter?