Über Desi

Keeping it real, desi ishtyle

Gupta v. “exotic” Indian restaurant

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An Indian family in NJ (where else?) is suing an “exotic” Indian restaurant for serving them samosas with meat, even though they were vegetarians. [NJ Ledger via HuffPo]

For an India Day celebration in Edison on Aug. 10, 2009, the group placed an order for vegetarian samosas. The restaurant assured them it didn’t make the pastries with meat. Indeed, there was no meat-filled samosa on the restaurant’s appetizer menu, and the court’s decision said the tray of pastries given to the group was labeled vegetarian.
But soon after eating a few samosas, some in the group grew concerned the pastries might contain meat. According to the decision, the restaurant eventually acknowledged it had confused the order with one for meat-filled samosas and gave the group the non-vegetarian pastries.

The family proceeded to sue the restaurant “alleging negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, consumer fraud, products liability and breach of express warranty”. This part also caught my eye. [link]

In their complaint, the plaintiffs outlined their injuries and damages in the following manner: “‘Hindu vegetarians believe that if they eat meat, they become involved in the sinful cycle of inflicting pain, injury and death on God’s creatures, and that it affects the karma and dharma, or purity of the soul. Hindu scriptures teach that the souls of those who eat meat can never go to God after death, which is the ultimate goal for Hindus. The Hindu religion does not excuse accidental consumption of meat products. One who commits the religious violation of eating meat, knowingly or unknowingly, is required to participate in a religious ceremony at a site located along the Ganges River in Haridwar, Uttranchal, India, to purify himself. The damages sought by plaintiffs included compensation for the emotional distress they suffered, as well as economic damages they would incur by virtue of having to participate in the required religious cleansing ceremony in India.’”

This story has me torn. Being raised in a Hindu vegetarian family myself, I’m can envision members of my family, particularly the elderly reacting in a similar manner (but we TamBrams are too pacifist to get involved in court cases). I’ve not read the doctrine for consuming meat and don’t know what the diktats for “Accidental Consumption of Meat” are. On one hand, I feel this family’s reaction (suing for money) is disproportionate to the incident.

On the other hand, longtime readers of this blog know my disdain for “exotic” Indian restaurants particularly their marketing, food and above all, service. This one fits in the last two. The restaurant certainly was wrong on the following counts:
- Serving food not on the menu
- Getting the food order wrong
- Serving food specifically the client demanded they did not want
- Not cross checking the order with the kitchen, despite repeated questions from the clients

And this kind of service is unfortunately not uncommon in “exotic” Indian restaurants. It’s disappointing to see the NJ Ledger, Huffington Post and other news outlets play up the “he he dumb Hindoos won’t eat meat” angle. Customers often ask for customized orders at restaurant, not just for religious reasons, but also for health reasons – food allergies, digestive issues. It is the duty of the restaurant to get it right, failing which they open up themselves to the consequences. Although, none of the customers were affected health-wise, I’m with them on suing, at least on principle.

What do you think?

American chain restaurants taking India by storm

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Warning: If talk of non-traditional Indian foods, offends you, please take your outrage to Twitter

Desi SubwayNothing says Main Street America like strip malls and chain restaurants (see: Applebees, Chilis, Subway, Burger King, McDonalds and so on. During my pre-FOB days (mid to late 90s), McDonalds was the new “in thing” in India. Heck, one of my farewell parties was at the Mickey D’s on Linking Road in Bandra, Mumbai.My next brush with American chain restaurants in Mumbai was in ‘06, a Subway and a *bleeping* Ruby Tuesday in Mumbai. Apparently, this was just the beginning of a trend. [WaPo]

The picture (left top) was taken during my October 2010 trip to India, and if you click on it, it opens up in a larger image that shows the menu pricing in Indian Rupees. Have fun converting.

NEW DELHI – A group of hungry college students crowded around the newest food stall in an upscale market here: the American Hotdog Factory. Its sign proudly announced, “real American hotdogs for the first time in India.” But these “hawdawgs” – the Indian pronunciation – aren’t exactly what they would find on the streets of New York or at ballpark concession stands across America. Where’s the beef? The only concession here is to Indian tastes. Cows are considered holy by many Hindus, India’s majority religion. So the top-selling item at this stand is the “American Desi,” a mushy, green log of spicy potatoes, soy beans, peas, garlic, chillies and onions held together by a fat hot-dog bun and topped with raw onions and thick mayo chutney.

My first reaction is to drool, masala bhaji in a hoy dog bun with mayo chutney, brilliant! Like I mentioned earlier, if non-traditional desi food is not your thing, outrage on Twitter.

So, what other American chain restaurants have crossed over to the good side and what else is on their menu?

Subway’s six-inch Veg Shammi, a kebab made of lentils, garlic and onion.
Cinnabon, offers an eggless Indian sticky bun,
Starbucks said its offerings would include many local and American treats, such as samosas next to muffins and spicy chai alongside skinny cappuccino.

But not all restaurants have switched their menus to exclusive Indian versions, TGI Friday’s, for instance.

“They have to buy into the culture before they will buy the food,” Rohan Jetley, vice president for marketing for TGI Friday’s, said from a plush booth at his flagship restaurant. The room was filled with decorative Americana: a bust of Elvis, a “Charlie’s Angels” movie poster, a surfboard, a disco ball and a statue of a U.S. astronaut.
Jetley’s insistence on keeping the food authentically American has made him a maverick in India. He even flies in official tasters from the TGI Friday’s Dallas headquarters to make sure its signature Jack Daniel’s barbecue sauce tastes the same in Bangalore as it does in Baltimore.

So next time you’re in India and, for some weird reason, have the yearning for American food, try TGI Friday’s.

The baingan conundrum

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A genetically modified version of the baingan a.k.a brinjal a.k.a eggplant is at the center of a fascinating debate in India. [Time]

The brinjal in question is no ordinary vegetable: it’s full name is Bt brinjal, whose DNA scientists have fortified with a gene that kills a range of common pests. Its creators say the genetically modified vegetable will increase farm yields and bring a less pesticide-laden vegetable to Indian dining tables, where the fiery brinjal-laden baingan bharta enjoys cult status.

However, project baingan ran into a familiar buzzkill – politicians and babudom.

On Feb. 9, though, India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh nixed the introduction of the Bt brinjal. Ramesh, who has come under huge public pressure to ban the genetically modified vegetable, said the scientific community was not agreed on the brinjal’s safety, that public opinion was against cultivation of the vegetable, and that there was “no overriding urgency or food security argument” for its introduction. He said further tests were required on the new variety, and said India needed to ramp up its genetic engineering regulatory mechanism.

While farmer’s lobbies and special interest groups seem to dictate the pace of scientific advances in agriculture in India, China has no such barriers where the government still dictates such measures. However, in doing so India is actually taking into consideration numerous factors such as long term environmental effects of such genetically modified crops. Will longer testing periods and a more controlled introduction prove more beneficial to India in the longer run? While we ponder on that, I’ll have another serving of baingan bharta please.

Indian Fried Rice

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The holiday season is here in the US and A and with that commences the seemingly never ending list of potluck parties, not that I’m complaining. At one such potluck in an official setting, some of us volunteered to bring food towards the potluck lunch.

I took the easy way out, I brought salad and dressing to the lunch. A co-worker of mine, desi obviously, has his contribution listed as “Indian fried rice”, which brings up an all-important question: WTF is Indian Fried Rice?

I probably missed the memo but what is classified as Indian Fried Rice used to have a name: biryani, pulao or even, Indian Chinese fried rice. But Indian Fried Rice? What’s wrong with calling an ethnic dish by name and edumacating people? Do you call it hummus or “cooked, mashed chickpeas, blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic”. I’m guessing most people use the former. So why not use the proper name for Indian fried rice?

By the way, I just finished eating some great pulao at my office potluck ….. burrrrppp.

Mera Chicken Tikka

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India’s top chefs have warned Scottish MPs to keep their hands off the rights to chicken tikka masala.


So here’s the story, Scottish MPs made an attempt to ‘patent’ the name Chicken Tikka Masala, claiming the dish was made in Glasgow, in 1970’s. They got a spicy reply back from Indian food historians who trashed the claim and suggested that the dish has been around for decades (some others claim centuries).

Wikipedia suggests, this (without a reference, though)

The literal meaning of tikka in Panjabi is “bits, pieces” (fron Sanskrit ṭikka, m., “Cake.” and is related to Panjabi ṭikkī f. “cutlet.” . The Punjabi version of the dish, however, is barbecued on red-hot coal and does not always contain boneless pieces.

I personally think the Scottish MP’s claim is ludicrous, and the original motive maybe different (15 min of chicken tikka fame?) But this reminds me of the moves to patent, Basmati by RiceTec Inc, with a purely commerical interest banking on the popularity of the name, Link.

What do readers think? What could be the motive for such a claim, anyone find it remotely plausible that we have been chomping up on Scottish food? Or maybe the Scots did make Chicken Tikka first, and we should try to patent scotch as a trademarked Indian item that no one else can lay claim to?

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