Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Accomodating the Indian Palette

When KFC opened an outlet in Chandigarh, it must have dreamt of cash registers ringing almost instantly; after all,  Punjabis are known to relish their chicken. Unfortunately though, the outlet found it a wee bit hard to attract customers, owing to the very typical taste of American fast food. Eventually things — rather ingredients — had to be toned to suit the Punjabi palate and now if you go into the same branch located in the Sector 8 market, you will hardly find a place to sit.
This is a case in point that in India we know our taste buds very well. A huge range of fast food coming from various countries has had to be adapted to suit us.
Look at the innovative pizzas that are available right, left and centre. Pizza Hut recently came up with as many as 15 variants of the Italian dish where flavours were derived from regional preferences. The names of these offerings were as sumptuous as the dishes themselves. You got to pick between Chettinad Paneer, Nimbu Mirchi, Sev Puri, Chatpata Veg Masala, Chicken Do Pyaza and Chicken Achari, just to name a few. Any bakery irrespective of its size will have a wide range of pizzas to offer to its discerning customer.
Pasta has also found devotion from the food-lovers of this country and you might find your chowmein wala bhaiya now diversifying into this. Pasta is another staple food from Italy. It is an essential part of traditional Italian cuisine. Pasta travelled with the immigrants crossing the border from Italy into Canada and America. It soon became a popular fast food owing to its versatility. It could be the main dish, have a soupy avatar or be simply part of a baked dish. We generally refer to all our pasta as macaroni but there are quite a few types of pasta available. They fall mainly in two categories — dried and fresh pasta. The macaroni, fussili, penne and farfalle are the most visible variety whereas spaghetti, which resembles noodles, is also gaining popularity.
McDonald’s had to take into consideration the local flavours of the country. The result is its most loved product, the McAloo Tikki Burger. A spin on our shammi kababs and you have the McGrill. Both these products are unique to Indian markets.
The most popular of our fast foods is chow mein or stir-fried noodles.
Offered at every market along with other preparations like a fiery soup or momos, the chowmein is available in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian form. You also get an American twist introduced to this Chinese dish. To add a unique spin and to may be Indianise it further, some stall owners will often add chaat masala to the dish before it is placed in front of the consumer on a paper plate.
The dumplings, from our neighbouring countries of Nepal, Bhutan and China, are also available at many evening markets. Steaming hot momos, coming out of round tins, are often served with a paste-like chilly sauce that has a hotness quotient equalled by few others. Momos are available in a fried form as well. Momos are an extremely light preparation and have very subtle flavours to offer.
The Nepali noodle soup called Thupka has also transcended the border and found a niche place at stalls in our markets.

(And here is the link to the article in my Food column in The New Indian Express first published on August 24, 2012)

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