Jag Venugopal's Blog

August 16, 2010

What Bangaloreans like to eat

Filed under: India — Jag @ 9:59 am

I’m halfway through a visit to Bangalore after a hiatus of five years. There’s much to blog about. For today, it’s food.

My children were born and raised in the USA; Indian food is anathema to them. In a bid to please my son, we looked around for pizza, and, lo and behold we found Domino’s in pretty much every Bangalore neighborhood.

Back home in the US, our family considers Domino’s a pizza brand of last resort — the kind of stuff we consume when we’re too hungry, its late, and we cannot quickly access better fare. Bangaloreans think otherwise – a visit to the local Domino’s is considered a special treat.

The large pizza size in India is about the same as a medium in the USA, and costs around Rs. 400 (approximately $8). The cost is not too different from Domino’s in America. Given the differential in salaries between India and America, a couple pizzas and some coke is a huge expense for a middle class Bangalore family, much more expensive than freshly made and freely available Indian fare. Yet, Domino’s seems to be doing excellent business. It couldn’t be the taste — the pizza tastes somewhat worse than it does in the US, and that was bad to begin with.

The craze for American food brands is not restricted to Domino’s. A couple days ago, when we were out shopping, we noticed an ad for the McDonald’s McAlooTikki Burger. This potato-patty burger is the closest a vegetarian Indian can come to enjoying a Big Mac. Wanting to try out the desi version of fast food, and in the hope of delighting my son, we went to the restaurant, only to find all lines six-deep, with all available seating occupied. Again, it can’t be the food, but has to be the brand and its American background.

Taco Bell has made its entry into Bangalore, with one outlet at a local mega-mall. The beans in stateside Taco Bells has been replaced by potato. Advertising for the lone restaurant is splattered all across town, often many miles away. The inescapable conclusion is that Bangaloreans will commute for over an hour to eat fake fake Mexican food (fake Taco Bell, which itself is fake Mexican, ergo the “fake fake”).

In my opinion, the popularity of American fast-food joints is an aspirational thing. Middle-class Bangaloreans are making more money than before, and with Cable TV and the Internet being popular, they are exposed to the American lifestyle, if only virtually. The well-to-do or those in the Information Technology field get to travel to America and live it first-hand. Those who cannot, see eating at Dominos, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and McDonalds in Bangalore as participating in a small sliver of that lifestyle, and one that is accessible to them, albeit very expensively.


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