[FoRK] India's dining scene

Rohit Khare khare at alumni.caltech.edu
Thu Apr 21 10:00:01 PDT 2005

The point about italian cabinetry being cost-effective while washing 
machines or not is quite telling... that said, I wish I could afford a 
subscription to UpperCrust over here!!


April 20, 2005
As Cash Flows In, India Goes Out to Eat


YOGURT hasn't traditionally been a source of family tension among the 
Indian middle class. But things have changed in this most 
traditionbound of countries.

"Much to my mother's chagrin I use store-bought yogurt," said Rujuta 
Jog, 24, a recently married office worker. "And my mother-in-law was 
upset when she saw that I use Pillsbury flour to make rotis. She still 
prefers to buy wheat and grind it fresh."

Ms. Jog's mother, like most Indian women of her generation, has always 
cooked everything from scratch. But unlike her mother, Ms. Jog works 40 
hours a week outside the home. She and her husband often just order 
from restaurants, which are more varied and widespread than ever before 
in cities like Bangalore. Millions of others are doing the same. The 
amount spent nationally on meals outside the home has more than doubled 
in the past decade, to about $5 billion a year, and is expected to 
double again in about half that time, according to Euromonitor 
International, a market research company.

As India has opened its doors to foreign trade, millions of its people 
have found themselves with more lucrative jobs, less free time and 
greater exposure to foreign influences. In the process, what they eat 
and the way they eat have changed.

Prepared food is a sliver of the overall market in India, still a 
developing rural country. But its sales have increased more than 70 
percent since 1998, by Euromonitor's figures.

"I love shopping at the new-style grocery store where I can get 
ready-to-drink packaged Nestlé buttermilk, prepared ginger-garlic paste 
and even frozen chickens I don't have to clean," Ms. Jog said. "They 
are not even very expensive and save me so much time." Formerly exotic 
vegetables are now more commonplace in urban areas. The legendary 
Crawford Market in Mumbai, formerly Bombay, sells broccoli, iceberg 
lettuce, thyme, basil, rosemary, bell peppers and other non-Indian 
vegetables. Pasta in bulk is available alongside basmati rice. 
Neighborhood butchers in Delhi now sell marinated meats and precut, 
cleaned poultry and meat.

Once the groceries are taken home and supper is prepared, even the 
dinner table may look different.

"In the old days, since only the men worked outside the home, they were 
served first," said Sathya Saran, a senior executive at Worldwide 
Media, one of India's largest publishing companies. "Now everyone eats 
together, and the entire family dynamic has begun to shift."

The shift is not always smooth.

  "There is a tug of war between generations," Ms. Saran said. "The 
older generation prefers to eat at home and cook the traditional way 
and has the mantra 'save your money.' The new generation, they are all 
about spend, spend, spend."

In part that is because eating out, other than at snack stands and tea 
shops, was once a special occasion, with the restaurant often a hotel 
dining room serving Indian food. Now it's an everyday thing.

"Eating out is in these days," said Arvind K. Singhal, chairman of KSA 
Technopak, a management consulting concern that has surveyed the Indian 
food and restaurant industry in depth. "It is entertainment."

Rashmi Uday Singh, Mumbai's best-known food critic, said the restaurant 
terrain has been transformed since she began writing reviews 23 years 

  "For instance," she said, "Mumbai has recently seen the opening of a 
spate of new Japanese sushi bars like Tiffin at the Oberoi hotel, a 
lounge that serves sushi and Indian side by side. Sushi was virtually 
unheard of in the past." Restaurants serving Korean, Moroccan, 
Malaysian, Indonesian, Italian, Lebanese, Burmese and Mongolian food 
have also opened recently in Mumbai.

  "The growing middle-class double-income families have more disposable 
income," Ms. Singh said. "They travel, have access to cable television 
and the Internet. All this has led to more exposure of the palate to 
the outside world."

  Gev Desai, executive chef for ITC, one of India's largest luxury hotel 
chains, agreed.

"In the 1970's and 1980's our international menu consisted of Russian 
salad, shrimp cocktail, French fries ... oh, and something baked," Mr. 
Desai said. "Recently, though, I had a conservative Hindu lady explain 
to me the specifics of a risotto she wants for her son's wedding, and a 
traditional Bohri Muslim family requested Mongolian hot pots."

Ritu Dalmia, the chef and owner of Delhi's premier Italian restaurant, 
Diva, said diners have become much more sophisticated. "When I first 
opened Diva people would send back al dente risotto because they were 
used to very soft cooked basmati rice," she said. "Now many know the 

Shiraz Engineer, who trains computer customer service representatives 
in Bangalore for Dell International Services, finds a more worldly 
approach to food even at the company cafeteria.

"It's reasonable and offers good choices: Chinese, Thai, Malaysian and 
Italian, in addition to North and South Indian," Mr. Engineer, 26, 
said. "And for the health-conscious, fresh fruits, fresh juices and a 
simple salad bar."

Some companies are hoping to provide employees a bit more 
sophistication about drinks as well as about food. With more business 
being conducted in restaurants, courses on wine and cocktails are 
becoming popular. An online company called Tulleeho provides wine 
forums and bartending classes at its Web site, tulleeho.com, as well as 
tours of new Indian vineyards.

  At the more casual end, American chains and imitators are becoming 
more popular. McDonald's offers home delivery and a "crispy Chinese" 
vegetarian burger; Pizza Hut's only all-vegetarian outlets are in 

Ms. Jog's husband, Vivek, a computer sales executive, brought back an 
appreciation for American coffee culture when he returned from a stint 
working in Boston for Intel. Café Coffee Day, India's answer to Dunkin' 
Donuts, was ready for him. "I miss Dunkin' Donuts," said Mr. Jog, 31, 
"but C.C.D. substitutes well. That is the place to be."

"Gone are the days when people used to hang out at the neighborhood tea 
stalls," Farzana Contractor, editor of UpperCrust, India's leading food 
and wine magazine, said jokingly.

But most Indian palates are still attuned to Indian flavors.

  Homegrown Indian-style chains like Nirula's and Haldirams are also 
giving the Western chains a run for their money. Many Western-style 
malls that have opened up in urban areas offer food prepared to Indian 

  "In one local mall in Mumbai an eatery geared toward the Indian 
Gujarati middle class even offers a pickle tasting bar," said Vikram 
Doctor, marketing editor at The Economic Times, referring to Indian 
spiced pickles that come in jars. More restaurants are expected to open 
up in the 40 or more new malls set to open in Gurgaon, a technology 
boomtown south of Delhi.

As large as India's middle class is - it is estimated to make up about 
a quarter of India's population of more than 1 billion - for most of 
the country the new dining options are out of reach. Some fear a 
copycat phenomenon, as new eating habits are emulated by those who 
can't afford them.

On the other hand, increased spending by both consumers and 
corporations is having some benefits for less affluent Indians. As new 
restaurants have created higher demand for produce the ITC hotel chain 
has begun a program to educate small farmers in new techniques to 
improve the quality of produce for restaurants in the company's hotels 
as well as in the economy at large. In 2003, 3.1 million farmers in 
29,500 villages sold $100 million in goods under the program, according 
to the magazine India Today.

For those with more income, opportunities to spend grow all the time.

Sanjeev Kapoor, a celebrity chef whose cooking show, "Khana Khazana" 
("Food Treasures"), is the longest-running program on Indian 
television, has an infomercial promoting the Sanjeev Kapoor Tandoor, a 
sort of George Foreman grill offered as a healthy new-age timesaver. 
Mr. Engineer just bought a microwave whose maker offers free cooking 
classes. And the Jogs are installing a modular Italian kitchen with 
cabinets custom-built to store Indian spices.

"Our parents are concerned we are being extravagant and spending over 
one and a half lakhs" - 150,000 rupees, or about $3,400 - "on this," 
Ms. Jog said. "But we really liked it."

But the Jogs' new kitchen will not have a dishwasher or a food 
processor. "I have a bai," Ms. Jog said of her maid, "who comes in once 
a day to chop vegetables, mop the floors and do the dishes, and at 
one-tenth of what a machine would cost."

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