Should a hamburger be black? Perhaps not. But yes, it is certainly possible to do. Last year, Burger King made news around the world by introducing a black burger in its Japanese restaurants. The buns were baked with bamboo charcoal (entirely edible) so that they looked black. The beef patty had black pepper so that it looked dark. The cheese had been coloured with more bamboo charcoal so that it looked like a puddle of congealed engine oil. And the garlic sauce had been mixed with squid ink so that it took on a dark sheen.
As Japanese media covered the launch of the black burger, Burger King’s global rival McDonald’s rolled out its own black burger. But it did not use bamboo charcoal. The blackness came from squid ink and thankfully they did not colour the cheese black as well.
Japan has many food trends (to say nothing of nightclubs and TV game shows) that the rest of the world will never emulate but the black burger has caught the global imagination and variations on the basic black burger are now available in much of the world.
Now, the black burger has come to Delhi. This version is served at the Khan Market outlet of the South African Peri-Peri chicken chain Barcelós (the South African chain that is not Nando’s). Though Barcelos has an international Portuguese-African menu, the Indian operation departs from the global pattern to create its own kind of food: Portuguese-Mediterranean casual dining would be a good description.
And the black burger has been launched only in India, where the burgers are among the Khan Market restaurant’s more popular dishes. Because Barcelos is aiming for an Indian audience, there is no question of using beef. Or even buffalo. Or lamb. Or goat.
So, as you may have guessed, this is not a burger in the traditional sense but a grilled chicken sandwich served in a burger bun. It’s the bun that gives the burger its name. It is darkened using permitted food colours. (Can you really see anyone going for bamboo charcoal in Delhi?) And the buns, which are baked by Barcelos, also have a garlic-celery flavour to add to the overall taste profile.
At present the black burger is not on the regular Barcelos menu but is advertised separately on a tent card placed on each table. But it is still the single most popular dish in the restaurant. On the night I went, nearly every table had ordered a black burger.
Why was it so popular? It could have been the taste --- it is made with real chicken not a breaded, minced chicken patty. But I think it was also the novelty value. People like the unfamiliar. And the burger actually looks quite stunning: much better than most normal Delhi burgers.
And some people eat with their eyes!
Vir Sanghvi is India's best-known food writer and TV host. His book, Rude Food won the Cointreau Award for Best Food Literature book in the world and his food and travel shows on channels such as TLC and NDTV Good Times have won numerous awards and continue to be watched by millions.