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Special Guest: Dr. Bharath Josiam


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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,

Actually, the University of Wisconsin-Stout does have some food technology, food and nutrition and packaging courses, and if I am not mistaken has recently done some very work in the area - however, no Indian focus. let me know if you are interested in more info.

Prema

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

Pure speculation - perhaps most of the Indians who come here are fairly well educated professionals, and so prefer to focus on their professions - physicians, engineers, educators, lawyers etc.

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Further to that point, I recall reading that, because of their representation in the professions, Indians are the richest immigrants to the U.S., in terms of average income per country of origin (sorry, no link because I forget what the source was). That's why many of them don't have to go through the stages penniless immigrants to the U.S. from many other places went or are today going through, doing lots of hard, unskilled labor (such as my great grandmother who took in sewing of U.S. Army uniforms during WWI, sewing all night in order to pay for her children's breakfast while she skipped the meal). To bring this back to food, all we need to do is look at the national origin of most dishwashers and other more or less low-ranking kitchen staff. I haven't done a survey, but there seems to be a consensus that people from Mexico and Central American countries - many of them undocumented are disproportionately represented in such jobs in various U.S. cities and metropolitan areas. And we could also look at what many Chinese immigrants go through, in sweatshops and in restaurants where they in many cases get paid peanuts and have their tips stolen by management. I don't think that there are a really large number of Indian immigrants to the U.S. in these kinds of situations, and in New York, my impression is that the closest many of them get is a skilled but taxing profession: Taxi driving. Gosh, I hope I'm not perpetuating stereotypes. Would you agree with my impressions, or am I overgeneralizing to the point of offensiveness, God forbid?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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[ I believe that Trader Joe's, Deep & even Heinz (Ethnic Gourmet brand) are other companies that are into packaging Indian food.

Prema Monteiro

Speaking of Trader Joe's.

They have a Masalla Simmer Sauce which is quite good. Their Vindaloo however is another story. Small dices of chicken with assorted vegetables in a most un-vindalloo like sauce over a bed of rice. Now this in my opinion confuses the consumer as he steps into my little place orders the vindaloo( just an example) and thinks that he did not get the right thing because he has already formed an opinion with the stuff from trader joe's.

What do you think of this Prema and how do we counter it?

Bombay Curry Company

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

Delhi Club

Arlington, Virginia

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Dr. Josiam here. I could not get on yesterday, so I thought I would respond today to some of the questions raised earlier.

Prema has already responded to some of these issues, so consider my replies as supplementary.

Q1 from Mongo - Applicability of findings of study across USA...

Answer:

Mongo - You are right. USA is a huge country with many regional issues. Our study was confined to one place. We too suspect that in California there would be more vegetarians or in SFO or NYC people would be more ready to try fusion. As we professors always say - "More studies are needed!!"

Q2. from Mongo - What is "authenticity," given the divide between home and restaurant cooking?

Answer - A deep question indeed!

I would say that "authenticity" in an Indian restaurant for an Indian is probably what they have earlier experienced in a restaurant in the region in India.

For example, I am a South Indian (Tam Bhram to be precise) who has lived in both Madras and Delhi. When I eat samosas in a restaurant in the USA , I expect it to taste like samosas in Anupam Sweet Shop in Kailash Colony market or Evergreen Sweets in Green Park, New Delhi. Similarly, I expect the Dosai and Sambhar to taste like the ones in Drive-In Woodlands or Dasaprakash in Madras.

I have repeatedly observed and many of my non-foodie friends have told me also that when a "South Indian" restaurant in the USA serves samosas or even Saag Paneer, it simply does not taste "authentic." The same is often true of the Dosais and sambhar served in "North Indian" restaurants.

To put it into current management jargon (espoused by an Indian-origin professor Dr. C.K. Prahalad) it is an issue of "core competency." When people stray outside their core competency, it shows!

Another example - South Indian classical music singers of Carnatic music insist on singing atleast one Meera Bhajan or song in Hindi. This is a tradition started by the venerable M.S. Subbulakshmi. However, in many cases, their hindi is so tinged with a South Indian accent that as a ex-Delhi guy, I find it jarring!

I feel that they should simply stick to Carnatic music - their core competency - and not stray into areas where they lack the depth of expertise.

Dr. Bharath Josiam

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Response to Mogo from Dr. Josiam - continued

Mongo Q3. Ethnicity among Indians in USA

answer: There is no hard data on Malyalees versus Bengalees in the USA. Their ethnic associations do throw around some numbers, but it is next to impossible to authenticate them.

Minneapolis in particular was experiencing a boom in South Indians in the period when the survey was conducted. Minneapolis is a financial services center and lots of IT professionals came in to the area, many of whom were South Indians.

Mongo Q4. Restaurants serving "street food" and non-speciality items....

Answer: Your speculation is on the mark here.

Restauarants are trying to reach a broader audience and also to be differentiated. Furthermore, they are aware that people often come in groups and may have issues with specific foods

(Example - many Indians want to avoid garlic - so Dosa or Idli is probably a better choice than most North Indian curries).

Bharath

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Response to questions from Mongo by Dr. Bharath Josiam

Q5 and 7. Penetration of Indian food in USA/Acceptance by Americans to the level of Mexican or Chinese food....

Answer:

If a small country, culturally similar, like UK can have over 7,000 Indian restaurants, I think it is only a matter of time before USA does.

As the competition intensifies and penetration deepens we are bound to see more diversity of offerings. An obvious route to diversity would be the regional cuisines of India.

It has already started in terms of say "Dakshin (South Indian)" food festival in Bombay Bistro in Fairfax, VA. Chef Vinod was successful in introducing many Keralite items to the Washington foodies in this festival. Some of the items have migrated to the regular menu of Bombay Bistro, and even to their new fusion/trendy venture - Indique.

Another interesting trend is the growing number of "Bombay Chinese" restaurants all over USA. This goes back to my earlier comments about people seeking what they had experienced in India. Apparently, Indians find Chinese restaurants in USA too Americanized, so they want Chinese food as served in India!!!!

What the market demands - entrepreneurs will provide!

Bharath

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Dr. Josiam, you said:

"I have repeatedly observed and many of my non-foodie friends have told me also that when a "South Indian" restaurant in the USA serves samosas or even Saag Paneer, it simply does not taste "authentic." The same is often true of the Dosais and sambhar served in "North Indian" restaurants.

To put it into current management jargon (espoused by an Indian-origin professor Dr. C.K. Prahalad) it is an issue of "core competency." When people stray outside their core competency, it shows."

For those of us who did not grow up with Indian food, cooking Indian food is outside our core competency. How do we go about incorporating it into our core competency?

To date, I go to Indian restaurants, and consider them the standard to which I should be aspiring. How do I know if the restaurant is North Indian, and is not giving justice to South Indian dishes, and vice versa? Can you give any pointers for those of us in the DFW area? Which restaurants do a good job representing South Indian, North Indian, etc?

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Nessa:

Your Questions: Authentic Indian food in DFW...

Answer:

There are many good Indian restaurants in the DFW area. I cannot do justice here to all of them. Having given that disclaimer, let me mention just one or two in each category that I have personally visited more than once and found to be consistently good.

South Indian:

My first choice is definitely "Madras Pavillion" on Coit, North of LBJ. Their lunch buffet is lavish and offers a variety of vegetarian South Indian food at a very good price.

I even hosted there, my orthodox uncle from Madras, who avoids not just garlic but also onions. He certified it as definitely upto Tam Bhram standards.

While they do feature North Indian items like Chole-Bhature - they are simply not up to the standard of their South Indian food.

If you are looking for meat items, I would recommend Chettinad Palace off Hwy 75 in Plano. They are doing a good job of sub-regional South Indian cuisine (Chettinad), that one does not find elsewhere.

North Indian:

I would recommend India Palace just south of LBJ at Preston.

Trendy Indian:

I would recommend Clay Pit in Addison on Beltline.

Bombay Chinese:

I would recommend Masala Wok in Richardson off Coit.

Again, there are many more god ones, but I am naming my personal preferences here.

Q2. Core Competency - knowing it and building it.

Answer:

In the case of restaurants, the first clue is the name. If it says Delhi, Bombay, Mughal etc etc it is North Indian. If it says, Madras, Udipi, Mysore etc it is South Indian. Beyond that, turn to Indians and ask them for referalls.

To build up your personal expertise, learn from the older generation of first generation immigrants from India to USA. For example, my mother learned to make North Indian food from the Punjabi lady, who was our landlady in Delhi.

You can also order cookbooks from India over the internet. There are a number of regional specialised cuisine cookbooks now available. A well established and reputed bookseller from India with an excellent and secure website is Vedamsbooks.com

Hope that is helpful.

I have to sign off now.

Dr. Bharath Josiam

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Dr. Bharath and Ms. Prema

We would like to thank both of you for participating in this thought provoking Q&A. I hope that you will grace us again soon with another equally interesting piece!

I would like to personally request you to stay around after this formal Q&A is over and enrich the forums with your postings

On behalf of the entire eG team and specially the India forum eGers.. THANK YOU

:smile:

This concludes the formal part of this Q&A, you may continue discussions here.. however do realize that Dr. Bharath and Ms Prema may not be here to respond to specific questions.

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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Response to questions from Mongo by Dr. Bharath Josiam

Q5 and 7. Penetration of Indian food in USA/Acceptance by Americans to the level of Mexican or Chinese food....

Answer:

If a small country, culturally similar, like UK can have over 7,000 Indian restaurants, I think it is only a matter of time before USA does.

I think that would have a lot to do with the number and percentage of immigrants to the U.S. from the Indian Subcontinent and 2nd- and 3rd-generation Americans of Indian origin who still have a connection to the foods of the regions of their ancestors. The percentage of people of Indian Subcontinent-origin in the UK is much higher than here, where they constitute a particular grouping of immigrants and their descendants, not the largest (?) one. Also, did the British Raj expose some Brits to Indian foodstuffs they brought home to the Mother Country? If so, that would be another historical difference. In short, I tend to think there are certain historical and demographic differences that may have made it easier for Indian foodstuffs to gain a mass market in the U.K. as opposed to the U.S. But I haven't done any surveys on this and could be wrong.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Mr. Leaderman:

I signed off officially - but had some time today, so I am back.

Your comment - UK has more Indian restaurants for a number of historical reasons.

Response:

I agree 100%. We have acknolwledged as much in the paper - which hopefully you have downloaded and read!

Having said that, our points that still remain valid are:

1) UK is culturally similar to USA - so if the Brits take to Indian food, so would the Americans. It is only a matter of time.

2) UK also had colonies in Africa/Singapore/Malaysia etc and similar long-standing historical ties. The fact is that African food (I use the term very loosely - I am aware that Africa is a vast continent!) has not caught on in UK.

If, for exampe, there were 5,000 Indian restaurants in Holland, we would not try to make a similar link.

Hope that clarifies the issue.

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Response to earlier question from Mr. Laderman by Dr. Bharath Josiam

Q. Many Indian immigrants to USA are professionals - Doctors, engineers etc.

Response:

Again, we had mentioned this in the paper. This is due to immigration policies of the US government. In the 60s, many professional Indians were invited to US by the government and given green cards. To date, Indians have not been permitted under immigration lotteries, so the trend is generally towards professionals. This is a big barrier to the availability of cooks and chefs in particular.

Having said that - one bunch of professionals are "Hotel School" professionals. Way back in the 60's, hotel schools were set up in India, training a steady flow of professionals. Originally there were only 4 such Institutes of Hotel Management (IHMs) in Delhi, Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. Now there are probably over a 100, including many private institutions.

I am an alumni of IHM Delhi, while Prema is of IHM, Bombay. Contributors to egullet forums such as bbhasin and Chef Vinod of Indique are also IHM alums - I think this professional training shows in the quality of their restaurants.

There are many such IHM professionals in your NYC area. Next time you are at a good Indian restaurant, ask the manager - you will often find that the manager, chef or the owner is an IHM alum.

Regards,

Dr. Bharath Josiam

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I don't know what "percentage" means, exactly, in this context.

However, in the past decade, Indian migrantion to the USA has reached the point where it is the single largest concentration of Indians in any country outside the subcontinent. The number doubled in the the 90's (to, officially, 1.7 million) and there is little doubt that the total (including illegals) is currently somewhere in excess of 2 million. This puts the Indian population in the US ahead of the number in the UK and Malaysia (both somewhat less than 2 million).

Anyway, I have to admit that I have not yet read Dr. Josiam's paper (will do so, now), but there is an additional factor in the proliferation of the UK Indian restaurants. There is shared history, some familiarity with the food, greater concentrations of migrants - yes. But there is also the phenomenon of Sylheti migration from Bangladesh, largely unskilled workers who made it into the food trade and own and run the majority of curryhouses across the British Isles.

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Okay, now I've read the paper.

Some comments, hopefully constructive.

1) The small sample size, and very specific locale of the survey, conspire together to make the report not very translateable or representative of either the general American audience for Indian food or the 'issues' which confront the vast majority of Indian restaurants as they seek to broaden their appeal and base. Specifically, I don't think the issue of hygiene (which assumes paramount importance in this report) is a universal problem or singular issue for Indian restaurants stretching across the major metropolitan areas of the USA.

2) I find that the report's specific claims about the two main segments of the Indian restaurant audience are too narrow. It's simply the case that Minnesota is a more homogenous state than most of the rest of the country where Indian restaurants have made inroads. There are also small but significant constituencies for Indian food which are simply unrepresented in Minnesota (and thus, the survey) but should not be glossed over if you want to draw a national picture.

3) The report makes a very brief mention of what should be generally looped under the rubric 'marketing'. This, in my opinion, is what Indian restaurants in the US have failed to manage in a systematic, collaborative, broad-based and intelligent manner.

Here is one example, we Indians have a tremendous range of really interesting and charming holidays, with all kinds of boisterous and specific traditions attached to them. Why is this not used cannily as a marketing theme? If gringos can guzzle Corona and cram down quesadillas on the 5th of May each year, surely we can get them to light a sparkler, quaff Kingfishers and order platefuls of samosas on Divali. So, like Mexican restaurants in the USA collectively celebrate Cinco de Mayo there should be city-wide, region-wide, even national collaborative celebratiions for Indian festivals ( Divali, Holi, etc) to specific traditional days to highlight Parsi food or Gujerati food or Goan food.

4) In another thread, we have discussed the necessity for "regular" chefs to become more and more familiar with Indian ingredients and techniques. This is also marketing, but it has very practical and long-lasting implications. The Indian government is always shopping India as an exotic camel-and-elephant-filled travel destination, as the starry home of the Taj Mahal etc. It should also carefully campaign for India to be seen as a glorious and unique food destination, as the motherland and inspiration for countless food traditions, as the home of peerless ingredients and a mindboggling array of world class cuisines.

In this forum, it's possible the next comment will raise hackles. However, it is my opinion that a good deal of credit for the championing and popularization of Mexican regional traditions should be laid at the feet of Rick Bayless. Yes, there were people before him and there will be many after him. And you have the additional advantage of a huge Mexican migrant population plus geographic proximity. However, the fact remains that Bayless is a big part of why "real" Mexican food is gaining near universal popularity in America.

Someone like Bayless is going to have to emerge if Indian food is trult to start to cross over. There are hopeful signs of this, but a lot of groundwork needs to be done, and 10,000 times better awareness needs to be created of what Indian food has to offer, before our desi-fied equivalent takes the stage. One will not happen without the other, the awareness must seep out into enough of the popular imagination if we expect Indian food to take the kind of leap that Mexican, or Chinese or even Japanese food has.

5) Dr. Josiam's report is interesting, and it is very good to see these issues being tackled in a systematic and scientific manner. As a pioneering effort, it is certain to be valuable and is already (no pun intended) excellent food for thought.

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One final comment:

UK is culturally similar to USA - so if the Brits take to Indian food, so would the Americans.

That's far too facile and hasty a conclusion, besides the UK is really not that culturally similar to the US.

The main factors that have led to the proliferation and popularity of Indian restaurants in the UK are not at all identical in the US. Prominent among these is "pub culture". Indian restaurants became the "pub night" meal providers of choice because (a) they were cheap, (b) they stayed open after last call, © they located themselves on British high streets where other eating options are not terribly plentiful or varied and (d) the "pub night" itself is a central part of UK life in a manner that there is no direct equivalent of in most of the USA.

And then you also have the historical factors, and then also the high concentration of immigrants in a much smaller national territory and smaller general population.

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pan - i'd have to disagree with the Indian taxi-driver statment. Lots of busboys, waiters and line cooks too. (at least in the NY restos i worked in.)

Edited by tryska (log)
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I was under the impression that they are mostly from Sylhet, Bangladesh. Is that mostly true only on 6th St.?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Well I'm thinking of almsot 10 years ago, in Queens. Some were from Bangladesh, some were from various parts of India. Actually to be honest - the Bangladeshis were more likely to be busboys.

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