Take a look at the items on the menu at the new Starbucks coffee shops in Mumbai, which opened this week in a joint venture with India’s Tata Global Beverages Ltd. As Megha Bahree and Margherita Stancati show you at The Wall Street Journal’s India blog, they include a series of curious “fusion” items:
murg tikka sandwich
tandoori chicken sandwich
tamarind peanut chicken calzone
the Konkani twist (it’s a long puff, Bahree and Stancati report)
I know that there are no other coffee shops or restaurants started by western companies that sell quite the same things as these, but as I discovered earlier this year while looking for lunch in Delhi’s Connaught Place, this is a representative sample of the style of food that you’ll find. That goes for Dunkin’ Donuts, Cafe Coffee Day, Barista and so on.
That’s not a problem. What I don’t understand is why people get excited about a new American chain eatery opening in India when most of what they sell tastes so Indian. I would have thought that the attraction was the opportunity to try something exotic, something that you can’t get anywhere else. I’ve always thought it would be interesting to go to another country and turn people on to bagels and cream cheese. In India, would I have to concoct mango chutney cream cheese? Special Punjabi Panchranga Mother’s Recipe pickle cream cheese in a special marketing joint venture? Melted GHEE on a bagel? Naan-style pumpernickel? Anyone who knows what a bagel tastes like will understand why this is not fusion, but the rise of mutant food.
I concede that the tamarind peanut chicken calzone probably tastes good, and if I go to Starbucks in India, I’ll order one. But the idea that you must adapt foods from the West to suit Indian tastes so you can operate on a chain store basis feels off to me in a culinary sense, even if it makes economic sense.