India’s food evangelists

June 27, 2011

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.

Click here to see an interactive graphic comparing India’s food industry to the US and China.

Comments

Sorry. I think my comment failed to post. I intended to write: “mojitos?”

Posted by bobbymacReuters | Report as abusive
 

nice one :)

Posted by averagejack | Report as abusive
 

average middle-class Indians had barely heard of COFFEE ten years ago??

Have you ever been to India?

Please research properly before you make some claims!

Posted by NMurali | Report as abusive
 

i think the reporter forgot to check how many south indian eateries have been flourishing in north and western parts of India since 1947.

Posted by doit | Report as abusive
 

Oh stop splitting hairs and enjoy the food.
Yes theres been south Indian food in Delhi – catering first to South India migrants in Delhi. And then we all start eating.But the soup they call coffee is a long way from yummy frothy latte… I can’t take Gujarati food, barely eaten Bengali (hate seafood). Like pizza, but never tried cinnamon rolls or kuzhalappam. But, hey, nice knowing it’s all out there.

Posted by RupinderCG67 | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
  • About Lyndee

    "Lyndee Prickitt tracks the India growth story for Reuters Insider as the Senior Reporter/Producer in New Delhi. The native Texan has been with Reuters TV for almost ten years, covering everything from breaking news to feature stories, both in the field and the regional hubs of London and Singapore. Before Reuters she worked for the AP and the BBC."
  • Contact Lyndee

  • Follow Lyndee