Friday, February 17, 2012

Can Indian Food Go Mainstream?

Breakfast in India
I first became enamored with Indian food almost a decade ago when I was doing a lot of work in central London, where Indian restaurants are no more esoteric than Italian pasta joints.  A trip to India this past summer sealed the deal.

It has long seemed a little puzzling to me that, in an era when Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, and even Thai food have merged their way into the American fast-casual and even fast food markets, Indian food has stubbornly resisted going mainstream--being relegated to one or two steam table buffet joints in any mid-sized American city, places that attract only a small sub-population of Indian expats and adventurous Western culinary souls.

But maybe not anymore.  As John T. Edge reports in a really nicely done piece for the New York Times,  a few ambitious Indian entrepreneurs are starting to take their native fare to the mass American market, and, in the process, taking their game head to head with the likes of Qdoba, Chipotle, and Panera Bread.

In this game marketability trumps authenticity. And is that a good thing? Perhaps the most troubling quote from the whole piece is this one from the owner of a nascent chain of fast-casual Indian restaurants: "We have to break down traditional dishes into gravy and protein components so that our guests can gain control of their experience, and build their own meal."

Who the what? Perhaps the absolute best thing about Indian cuisine is how everything is slow cooked together into a rich concoction that you serve alongside rice. Why on earth would you want to separate the "protein" from the "gravy"? I hear echoes of the Home Economics School of cooking whispering at us from the musty corridors of a century ago . . .

But, I do love Indian food, and I sincerely hope it continues to gain new admirers here in the U.S.  Would it still be worth it if the cuisine gets dumbed down into paint by numbers proteins and sauces?

Ask me in two years.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Jack in the Truck

Though the phrase "jump the shark" jumped the shark about five years ago, I still can't helping being fascinated when a trend starts creaking toward its deathbed.  With a hat tip to Robb Walsh, I think it's safe to say that food trucks are officially done.

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