Saturday, January 5, 2013


Most Indians, given a chance, will prefer foods of Indian origin like roti, idli, poori, samosa, etc which have been consumed in the country for hundreds of years. Modern education, frequent travels abroad, almost 300 years of British rule, constant media exposure etc have contributed to distinct shift in the food tastes from Indian to western type. The onslaught of western products like bread, pizza, pasta, soups, salads, sandwich, pastry, French fries etc has obscured or diminished the attraction for traditional foods to some extent. Added to this the excellence in presentation, high degree of ambiance and better hygiene and sanitation credentials have further added to the lure for western foods. However if recent attempts by some of the Desi product players are any indication, Indian foods may yet beat back the aggressive attempts by global fast food chains to obliterate the traditional dabhas and Udipi restaurants. Here is a take on this new trend which is really remarkable. 

"Global brands like McDonald's and Pizza Hut have taken the casual, functional eating occasions to a level of excellence. At a cross-cultural platform, they bring in standardisation of products and service, hygiene, transparency of process, branding and a very contemporary ambiance. They also establish in our minds a new price point for casual dining: Rs 50 for a simple burger and Rs 100 for a snack meal. We get used to new price points and with all the modernity and good service, we don't give much thought to the value we get. It is important to realise that no vada-pav or idli eatery, starting from Udipi prices, can hope to scale the Rs 40 price point. Those price points (and customers who have no problems in paying that price), are a result of global players in this space. At a 100-rupee price point for an idli and coffee, any Udipi diner worth its salt knows that it can create a completely exciting world of taste, ambiance, choice and service. Courtesy McDonald's and its global peers, customers are more than willing to pay Rs 100 for an idli meal too! That's when our Udipis and Darshanis can morph into Idli Factorys or Banana Leaf Cafes. They know their splendid recipes and fresh food formulae for generations together. The pots and plates and backroom methods change a bit and we have idli-dosa joints, chat-and-bhel counters and ice gola stalls in malls and elsewhere, which can attain global standards with ease. At a highway halt at Muzaffarnagar near Delhi, McDonald's and Haldiram's are located within a common facility. They share a common parking lot, security area, restrooms and housekeeping services. Both have a very modern decor. Their prices too are similar. Their menus are completely different, though. Haldiram's even has a special Vrat (fasting) menu during the fasting week of Navratri in North India. This is a popular highway stop for people driving in and out of Delhi. The parking lot is full; this place is busy! At the same hour of the day, the number of people eating at the Haldiram's side of the facility is double that at McDonald's. The shape of the Indian casual dining opportunity is now crystal clear. Thank you, McDonald's!"

It is true that the foreign origin fast food chains did show that Indians are ready to respond to good. clean and safe foods served in an ambient environment by paying prices almost double that charged by Indian restaurants. The crux of the point raised by the author of the above critique is that such a transformation is taking place because of soaring prices for foods in many food restaurants during the last one or two years. A question that begs for an answer is whether such a transformation will be pan India phenomenon or just restricted to some metropolitan pockets in major cities?. If it is a limited trend, the same may be a desirable one as only rich and upper middle class consumers will patronize them. But if all desi restaurants start this game of modernization, where will the aam aadmi (common man) go for a bite of hotel food as a part of relaxation occasionally? It is the duty of every state government in India to ensure that small food serving enterprises survive, selling low cost affordable foods to more than 90% of the population who cannot dream of going to the high end fast food outlets serving Indian foods. What is most important is to make these catering units conform to minimum safety standards and provide reasonably clean environment. The endeavor of Kerala state in this area is laudable, worth following by others. 


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