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Is Indian Food finally "hot"


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I was at a meeting recently with a very influential book editor recently. "Indian food is really heating up," I tell her and swear up and down about it. I quoted six trends, seven hot new restaurants, celebrity chefs, emails from The Food Channel Trendwire saying that its here. The editor looked at me and said -- well you may be right but I have heard this same story in 1998. Is it really happening this time

So is it??

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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I think in the big cities, Indian flavors are definitely hot, specifically the use of spices like cumin and garam masala in mainstream restaurant cooking. But I am not sure if Indian restaurants in particular have hit critical mass yet.

I think once there is a realization that there is more to Indian food than curries and bright red chicken tandoori and gobi aloo, and that there is so much more the country has to offer, there will be a watershed of interest.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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I think also movies like Bend it like Beckham are making the culture less exotic and more real. its funny I get asked for an Aloo Gobi recipe more than for any other one!

Actually, I really like Gobi Aloo. But its so typically inclusive of Indian restaurant sunday buffets, along with vindaloo, saag, dal and that rediculously bright red chicken tandoori (in or out of that creamy masala sauce) its not funny.

A week or so ago I was at a very small local Indian buffet that is popular with indian families -- the tandoori was not red at all, it had some sort of cilantro-mint seasoning on it. I really enjoyed it.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Assuming the the book editor is talking about the U.S., I tend to agree: If New York is a pertinent example, it seems to me that Indian food is continuing to increase in availability and popularity. In particular, the success of Amma as an upscale restaurant that provides superb food at great values but not cheaply is telling. That said, the fact that Amma is so unique in New York shows how much further things can go. Indian cuisine will really have "arrived" here when we can choose between Gujarati, Keralese, Bengali, Kashmiri, Chettinad, and several other regional styles, at various price levels.

Edited by Pan (log)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Assuming the the book editor is talking about the U.S., I tend to agree: If New York is a pertinent example, it seems to me that Indian food is continuing to increase in availability and popularity. In particular, the success of Amma as an upscale restaurant that provides superb food at great values but not cheaply is telling. That said, the fact that Amma is so unique in New York shows how much further things can go. Indian cuisine will really have "arrived" here when we can choose between Gujarati, Keralese, Bengali, Kashmiri, Chettinad, and several other regional styles, at various price levels.

pan, i am tempted to agree but i wonder if by this criterion even french or italian food can be said to have "arrived". i think it isn't till we see an indian style abomination on the order of the olive garden or p.f chang that it will truly arrive--regional specificity tends to be something that appeals to foodies. currently, it is by and large foodies (and indian immigrants) who eat at existing indian restaurants. i think it is going to take a much longer time for indian food to become a mass phenomenon. and i think it is going to need to become americanized in an interesting way for that to happen--just as chinese and japanese have in their mass version (sichuan, hunan etc. is for the foodie and immigrant audience, regular folks eat "chinese").

edit to add: p.s. no such word as "keralese"--you can say keralite, but the more accurate term would be "malayali".

Edited by mongo_jones (log)
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pan, i am tempted to agree but i wonder if by this criterion even french or italian food can be said to have "arrived". i think it isn't till we see an indian style abomination on the order of the olive garden or p.f chang that it will truly arrive.

I'm not sure who P.F. Chang is, but your point is very well taken.

From what I remember, the word "Keralese" is used in Malaysia along with Malayali.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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i should have said "in india". there are fascinating connections between malayali and malayan culture. i have to go to bed now but i can start a thread about it later. i expect that vikram, episure, skchai, bhelpuri et al will have far more in depth knowledge than me of these anyway, so hopefully one or more of them will either start it before i get to it or respond once i do.

edit to add: p.f chang's china bistro is to chinese food what the olive garden is to italian. except flashier.

Edited by mongo_jones (log)
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My question still stands. So is Indian going to become popular if it gets more "homogenized" like a PF Changs or a Olive Garden or if we start to see regional variations? or both?

What about the availablity of Indian spices in regular grocery stores -- Gaint, Safeway, Whole Foods and Wegmans in DC are carrying an array of Indian foods and spices. .. is this an indicator.. is this true in other major cities like NYC and LA?

I guess I am asking what the signs are?

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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My question still stands. So is Indian going to become popular if it gets more "homogenized" like a PF Changs or a Olive Garden or if we start to see regional variations? or both?

What about the availablity of Indian spices in regular grocery stores -- Gaint, Safeway, Whole Foods and Wegmans in DC are carrying an array of Indian foods and spices. .. is this an indicator.. is this true in other major cities like NYC and LA?

I guess I am asking what the signs are?

I think it is definitely an indicator. As you pointed out, regular US grocery stores have started to carry not only spices and other dry shelf ingredients but also ready to eat dishes. Wegmans in Sterling, VA is a good example. Their restaurant section is selling tandoori chicken, which I think is a first for a grocery store deli section.

Just like the Korean / Chinese community has been able to support and sustain a big box grocery store like Super H Mart or similar ones in metro areas like NYc, Phily, DC, I think time is not far when some Indian entrepreneur opens up a big Indian/South Asian grocery store with a restaurant/deli and a plethora of regional street foods, regular indian items like Aloo Gobi and regional stuff like rava idli. It is these kinds of places that really pulls people of all different ethnic backgrounds.

Just my .02 worth,

cheers,

Edited for spelling..

Edited by deliad (log)
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I actually thought Indian food was Hot during the mid-to-late 90s tech boom/dot com era. Indian food and sushi. It's what all the devlopers ate. I think maybe there was so much exposure because so many Indian developers were here sharing the cuisine with their american coworkers.

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Monica - Judging from the cover of last weeks Time Out - and the recent coverage of Indian culture in the press and the growing number of Indian restaurants in NY it seems like it is definelty happening...

I know that at a recent Restaurant/Hotel Trend Panel - Indian food was cited by Michael Whiteman and Rozanne Gold as one of the top 10 trends for this year.

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Monica- I have heard since late nineties that Indian food is going to be the next hot cuisine. I agree that it is going to take a much longer time for Indian food to become a mass phenomenon. First of all there is no one “Indian cuisine”. How I wish Jason Perlow’s prediction - once people realize that India has so much more variety to offer, there will be a watershed of interest - will come true.

Yes, today there are more Indian restaurants that feature regional cuisines of India and major grocery chains are carrying Indian spices and frozen dinners in NYC. I think (I hope I am wrong) it will take more time for the varied cuisines of India to get full recognition.

The Italians were here long before we Indian arrived. Still, in several parts of the US Italian food means – Italian American food. At best may be northern or southern Italian. But Sicilian, Umbrian, Tuscan, Puglian, Venitian or Calabrian all still remain unknown to many.

p.s. Many thanks from this Malayali to Mango_Jones for identifying the cuisine of Kerala as Malayali. Keralite is certainly acceptable. Doesn’t that how long will it take for Malayali cuisine to hit the culinary radar screen?

Ammini Ramachandran

www.Peppertrail.com

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p.s. Many thanks from this Malayali to Mango_Jones for identifying the cuisine of Kerala as Malayali. Keralite is certainly acceptable. Doesn’t that how long will it take for Malayali cuisine to hit the culinary radar screen?

you should thank vikram who corrected me some time ago when i used keralite. keralite is acceptable, as you say, but it seems clear that malayalis themselves prefer malayali. indians within india have so little idea of the variety of indian cuisines (we are usually so wedded to our local foods) that it seems strange to ponder this variety becoming known, let alone available, in the u.s.

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Well, my cooking classes become so full that people have to be turned away. I have seen a steady increase in the amount of students over the last 4 years. The students are also coming to the classes with much more prior knowledge of Indian food than in the past.

Edward

Edward Hamann

Cooking Teacher

Indian Cooking

edhamann@hotmail.com

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edit to add: p.s. no such word as "keralese"--you can say keralite, but the more accurate term would be "malayali".

Mongo adroitly heading off imminent explosion from me! But Pan's reply is interesting and points to how, just as people outside India are little aware of the differences withing Indian cooking, Indians are not aware of the differences within the Indian diaspora. That's why Madhur Jaffrey's recent book on the diasporic Indian cooking was so important and why more on this is needed.

For no reason other than perhaps its lunchtime here in Bombay, I'm thinking of a wonderful Indian sauce I had in Cape Town. It came readymade and was described as a coriander something sauce and you got the coriander, but it was also dark and tangy. I looked for it in the supermarkets, but I'd had it at the house of a friend who had bought it from an Indian shop, and I had no time to track it down. Wish I could remember what it was.

Vikram

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Thanks Vikram. Mongo_Jones tells me that you are the one to thank for letting others know that there is no such word as "keralese"--you can say keralite, but the more accurate term would be "malayali". And Monica, thanks for making me feel so welcome. I enjoy reading and am learning a lot from egullet posts.

Ammini Ramachandran

www.Peppertrail.com

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i think it isn't till we see an indian style abomination on the order of the olive garden or p.f chang that it will truly arrive

I tend to agree with Mongo.

That is, we have yet to see a bagel moment or a fortune cookie moment, where Indian food enters the cultural lexicon. My instinct is to be skeptical that it can ever happen, the taste/look/smell of Indian food is so very alien to the residents of Yankistan.

But then, it has happened in the UK. Granted, there are specific factors which paved the way, and the Indian migrants to the UK are concentrated in a much smaller territory so their tastes/aromas were far more directly thrust under Brit noses.

So, I suppose it can happen here but it will take some a-ha product and some cultural moment that ties into it. Like if Shyamalan makes a remake of his hero's ET, maybe the alien can eat chicken tikka or something.

Anyway, the guys who have this restaurant (and its sister concept) seem to have something with potential crossover legs.

Now if only they can get some product placement in the next version of Friends.

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What's wrong with calling a kathi roll simply (zimbly?) an "Indian hot dog", one wonders.

However, I've yet to recover from seeing vadai described on a menu as "savory donuts", so perhaps I shouldn't wish for things I can't handle.

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What's wrong with calling a kathi roll simply (zimbly?) an "Indian hot dog", one wonders.

However, I've yet to recover from seeing vadai described on a menu as "savory donuts", so perhaps I shouldn't wish for things I can't handle.

or a dosa an "indian crepe". personally i refer to crepes as "french dosas"

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I was at a meeting recently with a very influential book editor recently. "Indian food is really heating up," I tell her and swear up and down about it. I quoted six trends, seven hot new restaurants, celebrity chefs, emails from The Food Channel Trendwire saying that its here. The editor looked at me and said -- well you may be right but I have heard this same story in 1998. Is it really happening this time

So is it??

Chew on the following and draw your own conclusion.

I came to the US in 86 and there were a handful of Indian restaurants serving mediocre Indian cuisine doing mediocre volume.

Today the number of Indian restaurants has more than tripled and they are doing a fairly good volume.

The number of diners has definetly increased.

The knowlege of the diner has also increased as has his search for ' beyond the regular stuff'. To cater to that demand restaurants are offering South indian, Indo Chinese, and numerous other twists, fusion etc.

In 86 a curry cook or tandooria was paid an average of 800-1200 bucks per month. Today you are looking at 2200-4000 per month for a decent kitchen employee.

Olive Garden & PF Chang's kitchens are run by cheaper ( and easily available ) hispanic immigrants. That's not the case in the Indian kitchen which still appears very intimidating to most non Indians( or Bangladeshis or Pakistanis) though recently because of acute shortage we are beggening to see Hispanic Tandoorias.

We do see non Indian waitstaff which is a good sign.

Tougher immigration laws make it difficult for Indian restaurants to get good chefs in and the current pool is too little for all the Indian restaurants to draw from. Someone had recently posted a link to an article about the acute shortage of Indian cooks in the UK. The situation is the same here in the US.

Indian cuisine is definitly ' hotter' than before but nowhere near the levels in the UK. England has had a close association with India, and things Indian, for a long time but it was only recently( my understanding) that the cuisine became popular. When a lot of Indians, from Africa were allowed into England. There were no jobs for them and they went into curry ventures popularising the cusine.

Perhaps something like that has to happen here in the US to give Indian food a big boost.

Bombay Curry Company

3110 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22305. 703. 836-6363

Delhi Club

Arlington, Virginia

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