Monday, May 29, 2006

Globalise Maddur vada

(The piece dated Dec.2002 was inspired by a protest in vain by swadeshi activists against the opening of a KFC outlet in Bangalore. Did some imaginative thinking on their behalf to suggest causes that could promote their agenda. But then no swadeshi outfit, nor a Maddur culinary tycoon, appears to have taken me seriously.)

Grand Sweets of Adyar has a brand image among NRMs (non-resident Madrasis). MTR of Bangalore has globalised its rava-idli mix. And Krishna Sweets is the Mysore pak market leader in Coimbatore. I believe we have some food for thought here. Why not promote a brand image for idli-dosa in the global food courts? How about globalising gulab jamun mix? Why can't we float a chole-kulche company with market presence in WTO member countries?

I am not talking about the mushrooming of Indian eateries run by NRIs the world over. You can find websites listing desi khana outlets in places such as Miami and Michigan. What I dream about is a maddur vada joint in Manhattan as part of a sambar-vada multinational chain on the McDonalds pattern.

It was in 1948 Richard and Maurice McDonald opened the first fast-burger joint. Within the next four decades McDonald's came to be represented in 103 countries. Its hamburger has been hailed by The Economist as a "symbol of the reassuring predictability, pre-packaged straight forwardness, the sheer lack of pretension of American life." For all this, it wasn't even American in origin. Hamburger, they say, came to the US with immigrants from Hamburg, who had themselves acquired the habit of eating ground beef with onion juice from the nomadic Tartar tribes. As it evolved in the twentieth century a hamburger came with ingredients other than beef, to cater to non-beef eaters and even vegetarians. Around 1920 the burger came to be sheathed in bun.

Maddur vada is known well beyond the geographical confines of Maddur in Karnataka's Cauvery belt. Those who have travelled on the Bangalore-Mysore train could not have failed to taste it. Like Mac-burger, vada lacks any trace of snobbery and is classless insofar as it is consumed with relish by peasants and company presidents. Vada, with all its variants such as sambar-vada, thayir-vada, sada-vada and masal-vada, is a candidate for brand-building on a global scale.When you think of it, vada is just one of the scores of items conducive to standardization, branding and marketing in our globalization efforts of the culinary kind.

If pizza can make it around the world, why can't masala-dosa do the same? It is not as if people in Berlin, Boston and Bristol are not familiar with our tandoori dishes. Some desi stores in Fremont, Sun Valley and Orange County selling condiments and pirated CDs of Indian films have also opened pani-poori counters. I know of a Karnataka gentleman who makes a comfortable living flogging home-made idli-dosa at a desi store in Phoenix during weekends and at NRI social and cultural get-togethers in Arizona.

South Indian thaali meal used to be a speciality at India Club on London's Strand. That was when they had a cook whose rasam was drunk with particular relish by V K Krishna Menon. It is said Menon, our first high commissioner in London, had brought the cook from native Tanjore. Krishna Menon survived on tea. He had a kettle on the burner all the time. The only other liquid he relished was the rasam made by the Tanjore cook.

In London during the sixties we could live on Indian food, if one could afford it. For Indian food cost more than burgers at Wimpy's or fish and chips. There were more of our kind of eating houses in the suburbs than in central London. My personal favourite was Agra Restaurant at Golders Green. Oddly enough one found quite a few other restaurants by the same name in many other parts of London. If there were more than one such eating place in the same locality, the other one was most likely to be named Taj restaurant. The other odd thing was that many of these places were not run by Indians. They were owned by Pakistanis, mostly from Sylhat district (now in Bangladesh). The place was known for its cooks, like Udipi in Karnataka.

Perhaps, the most serious snag with Indian food joints abroad is their varied taste and quality of items. The eats in all Udipi places in the US are not uniformly good and don't taste the same. Besides, some Indian restaurants do not adhere to the high standards of hygiene prescribed by local authorities.Uniformly good quality and taste, and value for money are the key features of the US burger and pizza multinationals.

To make maddur vada or masal dosa truly global, its promoters should address issues of HACCP (hazard analysis critical control point) and ISO 9002 quality certification. They should standardize the process system to control hygiene with bacteria-free environment at production facility and sales outlets.

I recall that Swadesh Jan Manch or some such outfit launched a stir against the opening of a KFC outlet in Bangalore some time back. It is, perhaps, time they switched strategy and took their battle to KFC's home ground, instead of fighting their presence in India. 'Be Indian; Buy Indian' has become old hat. Our new slogan ought to be, 'Be Indian; Go global'. Maddur vada in Manhattan should be on the swadeshi agenda. Vajpayee, Advani and Gurumurthy of Swadesh Manch could work on this. Togadia could help, if he stays off it. For no swadeshi cause can be truly lost till it has his support.

And then there is a foreign policy implication. We have the opinion of New York Times columnist Tom Friedman who declared some five years back that countries with McDonalds did not go to war against each other. As Tom put it, "with the hamburger comes an established middle-class which makes a country too sensible to cause trouble." Yashwant or Jaswant or whoever holds the external affairs portfolio when we get to set up a transnational food company would do well to ensure that maddur vada joints are opened in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.


Anonymous said...

really a thought provoking post... even buff of masala dosas and maddur vada

Bhavesh Chhatbar said...

What a great idea indeed.

Bedse Caves

Onlymohan said...

Very Yummy idea....
Food for thaatu.....