India’s food evangelists
A quiet revolution is brewing in India’s food industry. Average middle-class Indians are regularly eating things some had heard of but many had never consumed over ten years ago: pizza, pasta, cinnamon rolls and nachos (never mind cranberry juice, cappuccinos, margaritas and
mohitos mojitos). But foreign food is only half the story.
To an outsider, Indian food is one of the most distinct cuisines on earth. Yet anyone living in India knows what a misnomer the phrase is. It’s like using “European food” to describe both Italian and French cuisines, because India is a land of over a dozen definitive cultures and cuisines.
So for most Indians, this food revolution began by experimenting with food from other Indian regions. A Delhite, used to meat in a thick and spicy gravy we all know as curry, might feel adventurous having a dosa for lunch. The fermented crepe served with a coconut sauce is a food from south India, where people might feel a little jaunty eating momos from India’s northeast. The list goes on.
COURTING INDIA’S CHANGING PALATES
And where is this selection most commonly found in one convenient place? Food courts in shopping malls.
Go on a Saturday or Sunday to any of the mushrooming shopping malls in India and you’ll see multi-generations tucking in to all sorts of food. Grandma can stick to her own cuisine, but her son might have a dosa and her daughter-in-law might have something from the North West Frontier Province, while her granddaughter might opt for a pizza or even a salad.
Food courts might have been the first enablers of adventurous eating in India, but an even bigger evangelist is on the scene: modern grocery stores.
Slick new shops provide a wide range of food from all over the country and beyond, neatly stacked in big clean aisles. And these are not just the preserve of India’s upper class. As many stores streamline their supply chains, they can offer food that’s often in better condition and sometimes even cheaper than open-air markets, making it hard for shoppers to resist, especially given the convenience of having everything in one, air-conditioned shop.
Many of these stores have even kicked off the culture of laying out food samples for patrons to try. The sight of a sari-clad auntie nodding her head in approval at the piece of parmesan cheese she’s sampled is as endearing as seeing the northeast Indian girl chomping appreciatively on the kuzhalappam, a savoury coconut pancake from the southern state of Kerala.
While some stores just offer samples of foreign brands, from Oreos to Sara Lee, one store really takes the cake in offering a wide variety of regional samples.
Go to any new Food Bazaar and you’re likely to find two dozen kinds of namkeen (a grain, dal and nut snack-food) and the same amount of mithai (Indian sweets) on offer with eager sales clerks happy to give you a sample. At the new Food Bazaar in New Delhi, I counted over 26 different pickles and mustards from all over India.
A food executive with Future Group, which runs Food Bazaar, told me a Gujarati Indian living in Chicago used to be able to get his favourite dal or bean easier than a Gurjarati living in Delhi – because it was easier to freeze it and ship it overseas then send it across the country.
As that’s changing, more and more Indians are getting to sample cuisines from the far reaches of their own country. Betting they’ll like what they taste, Future Group is working with many small food firms to get them to mass produce even more local products.
Given this food evangelism, Bengali mustard could be soon packed into sachets and found in a food court near you.
For more on how India’s food revolution is developing the food industry – check out these video reports:
India’s Changing Tastes Stir Global Food Brands: Convenience food is becoming the norm for India’s growing middle class and companies, from global players such as McDonald’s to local brands like Britannia, are cashing in, as Reuters Insider Lyndee Prickitt reports.
KFC Feasting on India’s Soaring Demand: The president of Yum! Restaurants International, parent of the KFC and Pizza Hut brands, tells Reuters Insider Lyndee Prickitt that Yum! will open 1,000 new stores in India during the next 5 to 7 years as the appetite for fast food grows.
A Recipe to Beat India’s Weak Supply Chain: Reuters Insider Lyndee Prickitt talks with the owner of Jumbo King, a local fast-food chain, to find out how he’s navigating around India’s poor infrastructure to get ingredients to his outlets.