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Special Guest: Dr. Bharath Josiam


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Interesting, Bharathan, so this is what you have been doing with your time.

Thank you for the suggestions for Indian restaurants, all very true.

Q. Did you quiz the owners/employees of the restaurants you used for your data collection about their perception of the two major patron groups. If you did, I would be interested in your findings.

Q. You are right, in spite of its popularity. Indian cuisine does not make the top ten most popular ethenic cuisines in the US. What, besides your recomendations for Indian restaurants, do Indian Restaurants need to focus on to get to that level.

Q. On this bussiness of Nouville/Fusion Indian cuisine. In your opinion does it help the cuisine by making it more popular( give the customer what he wants) or does it erode its authenticity.

Q. 'that Indian restaurant is very good because I see so many Indians there' is a statement I hear from American (as described in your study) patrons many times.

I personally am not in agreement with concluding this based on just this one factor.

What do you think.

Ethnic Differences in customer perceptions and influences in your paper left me kind of confused. I will have to read that part a few times to digest it but would be very interested in the views of the regular members of this forum.

bhasin

Bombay Curry Company

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

Delhi Club

Arlington, Virginia

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Dr. Josiam - Thank you for being a guest on our forum. We are very appreciative that you will take the time.

Based on some research I conducted I found that the reason for the sudden proliferation of Thai restaurants is that the Thai government is helping these owners with costs.. do you know if this is in fact the case and would a scenario like this help Indian restaurants? My understanding is that one of the biggest challenges facing the restaurant owners in the US is the sheer dearth of cooks (line cooks and others) -- having help from the Indian government would certainly not hurt!

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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having help from the Indian government would certainly not hurt!

Monica,

It is wishful thinking but I would think that the goverment should concentrate on bringing potable water, good roads, electricity and other infrastructure to millions of villages that still dont have it rather than helping private NRI restaurant owners to find cooks

Finally, after so much struggle, the living standards of Indian population in India has begun to go up and government's time effort and money is better spent there.

Just my thought!!

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I agree with you deliad.. however this is not a large scale investment issue for the government...helping cooks get jobs brings in money to people without work, it helps the Indian owners here and makes for better business.. . (Just so you know some of the people I deal with often send money back to charities at home and help out.. 2% of profits is what I have seen).

If you would like to talk more -lets talk privately if you wish. I would like to reserve this thread for questions for now.

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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dr. josiam,

an interesting article. unfortunately i will likely not have much internet access during your visit to egullet but i'm listing some inter-connected questions here that you will hopefully have time to answer:

1. how applicable do you think your data is to the u.s as a whole when you consider that the research was conducted entirely in minneapolis? i suspect, for example, that anglo customers in indian restaurants in california might rate the importance of vegetarian cuisine much more highly. also, might spice/heat tolerances in the upper-midwest be different than, say, in the south-west or the west?

2. i was amused to read that the question of "authenticity" was so important to the south-asians polled--do you have any thoughts on how this population codes "authenticity" given the divide between indian home and restaurant cooking? "authentic" here can't mean "like it is made at home".

3. following on from the above: do you have a sense of what the ethnic breakdown of the south-asian population itself in your survey was? i'm wondering to what extent a north-indian menu might be only somewhat less exotic to south-indians than to north-indians. (also, does minneapolis have a significant south-indian population?)

4. what do you make of the growing trend in indian restaurants in some major cities towards serving south-indian and street-food items? do you think this is being driven by the desires of an indian clientele or by restaurateur trying to present new dishes to signal "authenticity" or 'exotica" now that knowledgeable american diners have learned to scoff at chicken tikka masala etc.?

5. what do you think it will take for indian food in the u.s to become indigenized the way that mexican and chinese food have? will it have to stop worrying about 'authenticity' to make that move? or code it differently?

6. how widespread is the penetration of indian food in the u.s right now? do you know if there are any states that don't have any indian restaurants at all?

7. do you think regional indian cuisines will ever be anything other than a rarity in the u.s? udupi restaurants in areas (like artesia outside los angeles) that have high tam-brahm populations and so on--the occasional "regional" dish on the regular north-indian menu. if we look at the average chinese restaurant menu (outside of places like the san gabriel valley in greater los angeles--which, despite what deluded new yorkers think, is ground zero for chinese cuisines in the u.s) we see that it is largely cantonese with some sichuan and hunan recipes thrown in for good measure, but with not too much emphasis on regionality per se.

most of these are topics we have discussed on egullet, but it will be interesting to get your thoughts as well. i look forward to reading your responses when i get back online in a few weeks (and maybe i'll be able to go online occasionally during the q&a as well). in any case, i hope you'll stick around and become a regular!

regards,

mongo

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Monica:

Bharath Josiam here! Thanks for hosting the forum. I am glad to see that it has generated some very interesting and thought provoking questions. I will try to give my insights to the best of my ability.

On a forum like e-gullet however, there are probably people with greater expertise. I hope they will forgive my professorial specualtions if they are way off-base!

Bharath

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Let me start with the questions from Bhasin.

Q. Quizzing employees...

Answer: No - we did not quiz employees. In academic research, we try to stay focussed on one narrow topic at a time and build up topic-by-topic over time.

I think it is a great idea to quiz employees. In academic "Service Management" literature, this is known as "Gap Analysis." In such an analysis we try to see where the gaps are between perceptions of owners, managers, operational employees, and guests. The findings can enable us to "close the gaps" by addressing issues of communication, expectations, knowledge, and operations to deliver better service.

Maybe, that can be the next thesis! That is why, most research papers end with a section - Implications for Researchers - where these issues are addressed.

Bharath

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Reply to next question from Bhasin

Q. Indian food does not make it to top 10 - what can be done...

Answer from Dr. Bharath Josiam

There is no magic bullet here. A number of things can and should be done over a period of time.

1) More education and PR on forums such as e.gullet.

Here the risk is that we might simply be preaching to the already converted. However, the benefit of addressing an audience educated in and interested in food is that they are the "gatekeepers" to the wider public. By reaching to this audience first, we pave the way for others to follow.

2) Maybe forming a professional association of Indian restauranteurs in USA.

Such an association could be a place not only to "professionalize" service in Indian restaurants but also to serve as a point of contact for information - inbound and outbound.

3) Bringing together many interested parties such as food marketers, distributors, restauranteurs, etc. and pooling resources to mount a major educational/marketing campaign on the lines of "Drink Milk."

Just some ideas - maybe others can add to this list.

Dr. Bharath Josiam

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Reply to next question from Bhasin:

Q. Fusion versus authentic cuisine...

Answer from Dr. Josiam:

My response would be "we need both."

Here the issue is market segmentation across restaurants and depth of offerings within a given restaurant. Let me address both below:

Market Segmentation - The American public gets bored quickly and simply moves on to new offerings. Some restaurants can go for the market niche of fusion/trendy cuisine with accompanying sophisticated and targeted marketing. Others can stay with the well-known.

The problem arises where the trendy restaurant does not send a clear signal about its offerings and this results in confusion in the marketplace. The solution is very clear comunication about the positioning of the restaurant within the market. Certainly major metros such as DC, NYC, LA, SF, Atlanta, Houston, DFW can support a few fusion/trendy Indian restaurants and most of these markets now have operators testing the waters.

Depth of Offerings within Menu: Even a trendy restaurant needs to offer a few of the "old favourites" or it risks turning people off. Again these people may not be the core targeted customers, but people tend to eat in groups and there will always be some in that group seeking to eat within their comfort zone.

The market for fusion is likely to be person seeking the overall experience, rather than authenticity. Similarly, they may also be already sophisticated in terms of having tried the traditional many times and are now ready to graduate to more adventurous terrain.

In summary, I do not see it as either/or - I see it as a market segmentation issue.

Dr. Bharath Josiam

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Welcome to the forum Doctor, and thank you for taking the time to answer questions.

I just have one small question - do you think that Delivery service would broaden Indian food's "customer base" as it were?

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Response to last question from Bhasin:

Q. Do Indians in an Indian restaurant signal "authenticity/good Indian restaurant?"

Answer: Again, there are many interlinked issues here.

You - Bhasin - are a sophisticated foodie. You are (think you are!) capable of making a judgement about any restaurant be it Indian, Mexican, French or Bavarian, based on your knowledge of food production and service.

However, the "average" American in an ethnic restaurant may not have that level of confidence in their ability to judge an ethnic cuisine - they seek cues and clues - the sight of other Indians in the restaurant reassures them (rightly or wrongly!) that this is a good/authentic restaurant.

Marketing theory (undergirded by lots of good research) tells us two things:

a) Most people do not have the time/ability/inclination to gather and carefully process information - they just look for a few signals/cues/clues - process those-and come to conclusions.

b) Perception is reality for most people - As earlier - we do not dig deep for the "truth." What we see, we take for the truth.

Operators and marketers need to take these two things to heart -

Identify perceptions of customers and non-customers - address them

Do not overwhelm people with information - provide them with the cues and clues they want.

In summary, this also goes back to my earlier comments about alienating Indians (or others) who may be seeking the old favourites. Indians do act as "gatekeepers," even if they are not frequent customers - it is not wise to alienate them, even if your target market is the larger USA publics.

Dr. Bharath Josiam

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Tryska:

I will happily answer your short question with a long reply!

Q. Delivery will enahnce the customer base...

Answer:

The trend all over USA is towards take-out and delivery. I am personally aware of many Indian restaurants that are seeing an increasing part of their business in the take-out mode at least.

This suggests that more attention should be paid to expediting the take out experience in terms of time, order accuracy, hot food-hot/cold food-cold, quality of packaging materials etc. My personal experience suggests that this needs a lot more attention than it is presently getting. A major market expansion opportunity is being missed or under-utilized.

Unlike the ubiquitous brochuring and mailbox stuffing done by Chinese restaurants, Indian restaunteurs seem to be under-selling the delivery market. More needs to be done in this regard.

Yet another underserved market segment is the catering to parties, private dinners etc. While many restaurants do this routinely, the overwhelming majority of their customers are of Indian ethnic origin. There has been very little penetration of the larger USA market here.

The good news here is that as there is an increase in the number of restaurants and the sophistication of the operators we are indeed seeing more of this. Market pressures will drive an increase in the take-out, carry-out, delivery, and catering segments. Look for innovative approaches here!

Dr. Bharath Josiam

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Monica and Deliad,

Q. Role of Indian government in promoting Indian cuisine world-wide and economic and social implications of that.

Monica: Yes - I did read a rather long and interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about the Thai government wanting to sponsor Thai restaurants. I am not sure if that was just a proposal or if that has been actually implemented - I look forwarded to insights from knowledgeable e.gullet folks on the specifics.

Anyway, the logic of using government resources was:

It seeds the market, it increases the customer base, that then increases the demand for Thai products and people, helping Thailand. I guess the same could be said for Indian food too.

However, the longer I live in USA, the more inclined I am to free-market solutions rather than governement intervention. As much as the social concerns of Deliad, I think the issues are more of fraud, political interference, mis-placed priorities etc etc.

As I mentioned earlier in response to a question from Bbhasin - perhaps the Indian government could be part of a public-private consortium to do market expansion.

In fact, the Indian government has been doing just that over the years. For example, as far back as 1985, a big culinary delegation came from India to take part in the "Festival of India" organized by the Smithsonian. Chefs and managers came from India and sold Indian food to visitors to the Festival of India.

Chef K.N. Vinod (of Bombay Bistro and Indique fame) was among those chefs then. He has also participated in similar food festivals in Malaysia. Perhaps he would care to comment on this issue.

Dr. Bharath Josiam

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TRYSKA:

I just have one small question - do you think that Delivery service would broaden Indian food's "customer base" as it were?

Tryska,

Very interesting question; although Dr Josiam has replied at length, another trend pointing to wider acceptance & even greater demand of ethnic/Indian food choices is the frozen dinner section in your grocery store. There are several companies now that market albeit a small selection of Indian entrée choices. Some brands are more “authentic” than others (using authentic reminds me of mongo_jones’ posting). I believe that ease of availability in THIS form will definitely broaden Indian food's "customer base." So too the relatively easy availability of instant curry pastes, powders, and prepared mixes.

Ms Prema A Monteiro

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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mongo_jones

how applicable do you think your data is to the u.s as a whole when you consider that the research was conducted entirely in minneapolis? i suspect, for example, that anglo customers in indian restaurants in california might rate the importance of vegetarian cuisine much more highly. also, might spice/heat tolerances in the upper-midwest be different than, say, in the south-west or the west?

Hello, this is Prema Monteiro responding to some of the postings. I’d like to reply to some of “mongo_jones” questions:

From my dining experiences at Indian restaurants in New York, Chicago, & L.A., I believe the data collected from this survey would not be applicable to the U.S. as a whole. In the 3 cities mentioned above, the make-up of the diners was overwhelming South Asian, whereas in the Twin Cities, as you probably noted from the article, the surveyed population was overwhelmingly White American.

This of course will impact issues that you have rightly pointed out, such as tolerance for the use of spices, heat/chillies.

Actually, I was rather surprised at the number of non-Asian patrons of Indian restaurants in the Twin Cities (of Minneapolis/St Paul) who were interested in vegetarian offerings. On the flip side, and I remember discussing this with Dr Josiam, perhaps there were that many (“vegetarian” patrons), since Indian cuisine is known for its wide selection of vegetarian offerings.

Very interesting questions ‘Mr. Jones’. I am signing off now, 4:30 pm CST, but will resume tomorrow morning - Prema

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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Monica Bhide

Dr. Josiam - Thank you for being a guest on our forum. We are very appreciative that you will take the time.

Based on some research I conducted I found that the reason for the sudden proliferation of Thai restaurants is that the Thai government is helping these owners with costs.. do you know if this is in fact the case and would a scenario like this help Indian restaurants? My understanding is that one of the biggest challenges facing the restaurant owners in the US is the sheer dearth of cooks (line cooks and others) -- having help from the Indian government would certainly not hurt!

Monica,

I agree with you. Some of the restaurant owners expressed this concern i.e. the sheer dearth of cooks (line cooks and others) especially in the year 2000, before the full impact of the economic recession had begun to be felt. At that time it was also an acute problem for Indian restaurants in Britain.

Perhaps a happy compromise would be if U.S. representatives of the tourist authority of India, together with various Indian community associations (and we know most cities in the U.S. have these) and Indian restaurateurs, were to organize Indian food fests in various U.S. cities with a drawing for a couple of roundtrip tickets to India, or similar promos. I attended one August 15th (Indian Independence Day) celebration in L.A. –it was huge, but mainly confined to the Indian community. Again promotion to the wider American population of these events would boost the visibility of Indian products & culture.

Prema A Monteiro

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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An interesting study Dr. Josiam/Prema Monteiro, I just wish that a wider sampling would have been done. Hopefully someone will sit up and recognize your pioneering efforts which in turn may lead to futher detailed studies.

As an outsider who has never stepped into the US, I perhaps look at this scenario with a certain sense of objectivity, but I may be wrong.

In one of my earlier posts I had mentioned on the Fusion v/s Authentic subject :

"I realise there are many serious cuisine enthusiasts who can brave authentic cuisine but for every one there are hundreds possibly thousands who feel intimidated. It is this segment that has to be targeted.

Tweaked is a very subjective word that I have used and many people will fall prey to terming it fusion. Perhaps Nouvelle Indienne? This will then pave the way for real Indian cuisine.This required leap is much more complex than just reducing spice and heat levels and that's why it( Indian cuisine) hasnt 'arrived' yet.

It is certain that this will happen, my concern is how to make it happen faster. "

I also feel that Indian cuisine needs the equivalent of chefs such as themango gang

Dr. Bharath Josiam ]3) Bringing together many interested parties such as food marketers, distributors, restauranteurs, etc. and pooling resources to mount a major educational/marketing campaign on the lines of "Drink Milk."

This is a very good idea and in addition to this I would strongly recommend roping in RTE food ( ready to eat/ pouch ) manufacturers. The idea being that a first timer can have an experience with Indian cuisine in the comfort of his/her own home. GOT CURRY?

I eagerly await your opinion on my 'long distance' views.

Edited by Episure (log)

I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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This suggests that more attention should be paid to expediting the take out experience in terms of time, order accuracy, hot food-hot/cold food-cold, quality of packaging materials etc. My personal experience suggests that this needs a lot more attention than it is presently getting. A major market expansion opportunity is being missed or under-utilized.

Unlike the ubiquitous brochuring and mailbox stuffing done by Chinese restaurants, Indian restaunteurs seem to be under-selling the delivery market. More needs to be done in this regard.

Yet another underserved market segment is the catering to parties, private dinners etc. While many restaurants do this routinely, the overwhelming majority of their customers are of Indian ethnic origin. There has been very little penetration of the larger USA market here.

Excellent points Dr. Josiam,

I fully agree that a major opportunity is being under-utilized for the "Indian Food to Go" segment. It is relatively much easier to do it here in USA, where the focus is mostly on "productizing" and "standardizing" the offerring. (McDonalds, Burger King etc).. so it is easy to get skills, products and processes to execute these ideas.

In UK, there are a few examples that can lead the way. There was a thread a few months ago in eGullet about tiffinbites.com in UK, which has started this concept of Indian takout food and I believe is doing good there.

Do you know of any F&B /Catering schools who offer courses on food product development/packaging etc. If they do, then they need to include Indian flavors also. Thoughts??

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Good Morning All,

Prema Monteiro here.

Monica, thank you for postings my responses for me, when I was unable to do so directly yesterday.

Episure wrote: " just wish that a wider sampling would have been done. Hopefully someone will sit up and recognize your pioneering efforts which in turn may lead to futher detailed studies."

Ideally, both Dr Josiam & I would really like to be able to survey several population bases, which would enable us to identify/compare differences as well as similarities. Unfortunately, it comes down to availability of resources or lack of. Thank you though for recognizing our pioneering efforts.

For my part, having travelled to some European countries such as the UK, France, Amsterdam, Italy & Germany to name a few, their capital cities, & a few small towns; Australia and New Zealand; Canada and several small and large cities in the US, I definitely see the obvious similarities and differences in the issues - all of which would make the studies all the more interesting.

E.g. in London, as in New York, one has a wide choice of low-high priced restaurants, restaurants specializing one particular regional cuisine, as alluded to in other posts, as well as 'Indian-based' nouvelle, or fusion types of offerings, and so on.

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I fully agree that a major opportunity is being under-utilized for the "Indian Food to Go" segment. It is relatively much easier to do it here in USA, where the focus is mostly on "productizing" and "standardizing" the offerring. (McDonalds, Burger King etc).. so it is easy to get skills, products and processes to execute these ideas.

In UK, there are a few examples that can lead the way. There was a thread a few months ago in eGullet about tiffinbites.com in UK, which has started this concept of Indian takout food and I believe is doing good there.

Do you know of any F&B /Catering schools who offer courses on food product development/packaging etc. If they do, then they need to include Indian flavors also. Thoughts??

Deliad,

I realize that I am not directly answering your question, but there seems to be a trend here in the US too, especially on the coasts towards innovative packaging. I was also pleasantly surprised to find a Pathak's cooked Basmati rice pouch at a Walmart a couple of weeks ago, here in the Midwest!!! One could basically tear open the pouch, & microwave it directly for about 2 minutes & voila, perfectly cooked & seasoned Basmati rice. I believe that Trader Joe's, Deep & even Heinz (Ethnic Gourmet brand) are other companies that are into packaging Indian food.

I must check out tiffinbites.com, it sure sounds delightful!

Prema Monteiro

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Prema - Thanks for your points on freezer foods too. Seriously I have been thinking about the delivery concept for a while now, just out of my own needs, but what these needs boild down to is convenience factor. Especially in the US everyone is so busy - that it's much easier to go the fast food route than it is the sit-down dinner one.

I agree with both you and the good doctor in that these avenues are being under-utilized. I'm puzzled as to why, tho.

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      2 tsp corriander powder
      2 green chilis, sliced thinly
      1/2 c chopped cilantro
      salt, to taste

      Fry the spices in the oil until they smoke a little. Add the broccoli and chilis and fry for a couple minutes to get the flavors mixed. Add salt to taste and stir in the cilantro before serving with chapati.
      Bonus recipe: just before adding the cilantro, crack 2-4 eggs into the pan and stir them around.
      Keywords: Main Dish, Side, Easy, Vegan, Vegetables, Indian
      ( RG2107 )
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