Category Archives: Food
I have a confession to make.
For some years I have harbored a far-fetched yet beautiful fantasy about the celebrity chef and writer, Anthony Bourdain.
It was a simple, innocent fantasy: that he would somehow become the US Secretary of State, and set the the table for all of us global citizens to feast on a buffet of global peace, love, understanding, and unrestrained bacchanalia for the next 1,000 years. Who better to lead our nation’s diplomacy, at a time when United States foreign policy is utterly crumbling around us and the world order staggers on, rudderless and broken?
Indeed, who better? Bourdain is thoroughly and uniquely qualified for the job. He doesn’t simply write essays about geopolitical theory in scholarly journals that only 120 nerds read, like many in the halls of power. He was born to be the man in the arena- whether a hot and stuffy kitchen, or deep in the Amazonian rainforest. His work was simple and accessible and could be understood by the common person in any country. Tony has done far more for the American people through his forays into other countries, through teaching and bridge-building, through charity causes and exploration and adventure, than the corrupt two-bit thugs in our government charged with our diplomacy right now. Tony was a better human being and a better diplomat than these douche bags will ever be.
And what an interesting guy. Anthony Bourdain would go anywhere, eat and drink anything, meet anyone, and “risk everything” in his own words to satiate his hunger and thirst for MORE knowledge and human connection through food, history and culture, no matter how unfamiliar, hard, gelatinous, raw, strong, smelly, dangerous, or difficult. He strove to challenge his beliefs about the world, and ours. He encouraged us to eat offal. On the flip side, in Kerala he marveled at how good vegetarian food could be- and that if he lived in India, he could even BE vegetarian, that eater of intestines, tripes, and sweetbreads. Tony destroyed accepted narratives about nations and people, and eviscerated those celebrity chefs and politicians who promoted vanilla and small-minded fear of the other. He floated in and out of friendly and hostile countries alike, the common thread being that he ALWAYS made new friends along the way, eating their food or graciously making them his own.
At achieving the goals of unity and love, Tony was the best among all of us. He bucked the stereotypes. He was the opposite of the “Ugly American” most of us who have been fortunate to travel the world often encounter, eating at a T.G.I. Friday’s and drinking a Budweiser during a trip to India of all places (or a F***ING T.G.I. F***ING F***DAY’S as Tony would have said, with extreme prejudice).
Tony’s work was also personal for me. In 2001, I read his first book Kitchen Confidential, a wonderful spinoff of his seminal 1999 essay about NYC resto secrets in the New Yorker magazine. During this time, much was going on in my life. I had just moved to New York City to begin my full-time local government career, and also worked in a West Village restaurant at night, harboring earnest dreams of running my own restaurant one day soon. I was fresh-faced out of college. 9/11 went down and shook the ground all around me- and became the main topic of conversation at the restaurant bar I tended for the next few months, walking distance from Ground Zero. I served people who lost their best friends and family members, or cops who were finding flattened and bloody dead bodies in the rubble. I poured them badly needed drinks. It was here that I learned what New York was made of and why it would forever endear itself to me. Tony was the quintessential New Yorker and restauranteur. And from Tony’s eloquent words I learned everything I would ever need or want to know about the restaurant business, the most important lesson being that I would never own one after all, a decision reinforced through my real-life view of restaurant hardships and challenges.
On the other hand, it wasn’t just back-breaking work and sweat. I experienced so much of what was positive about restaurants too: busy shifts flying by with a room full of dinner guests enjoying the food, wine, and music. Wild birthday parties late at night with the rest of the staff after closing down a long and hard shift, new friendships with people from around the world, overhearing weird and inappropriate dinnertime conversations (“the best way to stop the terrorists is to bomb the shit out of Mecca in retaliation for the Twin Towers…”), big tips from flirty gay men, gorgeous girls writing down their phone numbers for me on napkins, taking orders from a number of celebrities, and the team’s constant experimentation with new food and drink recipes. The chefs constantly attempted to bribe me with my favorite food in exchange for more whiskey than they were supposed to get for their shift drink. All of the good, the bad, and the ugly about restaurant life was happening right in front of me, and Tony reinforced it all by writing every single thing I experienced, such as the universal “barter system” between chefs and bartenders, better than I ever could. He nailed the life for millions of us who were in and out of it.
Around that time Tony hung up his chef’s hat, renewed his passport, and became America’s premier jet-setting ambassador for the last 17 years of his life. Even casual fans knew there was something dark and painful inside Tony. He went through crippling addictions and bouts of depressions and terror. Despite the laughs and the joys, the darkness was always there just below the surface if you peered closely at the man’s facial expressions, his weather-beaten features, his self-deprecating jokes about death, his near perpetual state of mental and physical hangover, and even his ambling gait. Tony had quite obviously been through the wringer and back a few times. Just like so many other rock stars who shone brightly and flamed out too soon, Tony’s pain and battles with his inner demons, which he openly spoke about to the public, made him the talented firebrand that he was, larger than life but still relatable to anyone from President Obama to a tribal warrior living a lifestyle unchanged since the 17th century.
The best lesson he gave must also go down in history as a foreign policy North Star, if those of us who live on care to listen. Imagine a world where critical political negotiations only started after a few hours of delicious food and drink, accompanied by talk of more food, friends, families, pets, songs, jokes, and holidays. Treaties and peace and love would flow down like a waterfall. The best way to warm up to a people, a tribe, a country, and a culture is through putting stuff, no matter how strange, into our mouths together. Tony was the perfect vessel for this message, completely giving up his ego and his personal safety to deliver it. Tony’s gift to us lives on, because he has painstakingly climbed that mountain in the darkest night and pointed out the North Star for all of us to follow. He is still enough here to be made our Secretary of State after all.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
usindiamonitor true to its name has been monitoring in fascination the wild growth of fast food franchises, many of them American, in Indian cities. When I was a kid visiting or living in India in the 80s and 90s, American fast food was one of the things I missed the most about America. It was so vastly different from what was being served in Indian households and restaurants- of course, that food was healthy and delicious in its own right but something would be missing.
But fast food has gone gangbusters in India since that more isolated, innocent, idyllic time in India. McDonald’s India was perhaps the canary in the coal mine, even though the corporation has of late been mired in massive legal troubles with its local business partners. In the past we wrote a business case study about McDonald’s India on these pages. Now we also have Pizza Hut, Domino’s, KFC, Subway, and many other brands making deep inroads with Indian consumers. And this was to be expected. As we repeat every single day, American corporations MUST have an India strategy to survive. The market is too huge, and the economic growth is on too high a trajectory to be ignored.
One the one hand, it’s great to have access to quick, cheap, and admittedly tasty food for working Indian families. As with fast food in America and around the world, things have taken a decidedly darker turn though. India’s obesity epidemic is crushing the nation’s youth, with much of the responsibility falling on America’s food and soft drinks. And now, we have news that fast food companies are dumping saltier, fattier, and more calorific food on the Indian market as compared to the US market, with at times, MULTIPLES of the sodium and fat content of the exact equivalent food item in America.
This is just not right at all. It’s actually evil, and my bet is that the joints are trying to addict a new market of people with this salty behavior. WE CALL ON ALL US FOOD CORPORATIONS TO STOP OVERLOADING INDIAN CONSUMERS WITH TOO MUCH JUNK IN THE JUNK FOOD. Sure, we all know it’s junk food and we make the choice to eat it freely. But this targeted overload is an outrage and the Indian government and people should not stand for this highly unethical behavior. All that we ask is that you don’t make the Indians eat junk that’s junkier than the Americans do. You don’t have to trust me- just watch this video here. It should make you sick to your stomach.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
There are several things that still separate an Indian-American from an Indian from India even in this globalized world: accents and educational systems come to mind, as do sports or movie preferences. These are real, but also amorphous. However, we can point to something much more tangible in nature. Perhaps no single thing in the world is a more perfect epitome of the separation between Indian-Americans and their cousins from the motherland than a dark black, foamy-headed sweet and effervescent liquid drink called root beer. In my lifetime, I’ve found that Indians categorically hate this drink, while most Americans of all types including Indian-Americans love this drink.
Having grown up in the American Midwest, where we’d call all manner of fizzy soft drinks “pop,” I have loved root beer for as long as I can remember and probably always will. Widely available commerical brands include A&W, Barq’s, or IBC, and I could drink any of these happily. What’s more, one can place a dollop of vanilla or other ice cream into a glass of root beer, and you get a magical dessert/drink hybrid like no other, known to most Americans as a root beer float. And yet, as much as all-American flavors like french fries, ketchup, pizza, and even colas like Coke and Pepsi have exploded in popularity and affordability in India over the last few decades, root beer is hard to come by. Even Indians who have settled in the United States for decades often won’t ever drink it.
Why??? On the face of it, Indians should love root beer. It’s spicier than most other American colas or soft drinks (with a notable exception in Dr Pepper). Root beer’s traditional historic roots are in the delicious extract of the sassafras tree root or sarsaparilla vine root. As a kid at summer camp, I remember tasting a fresh and hot tea made of sassafras root, an original root beer formula- and it was divine. Root beer is aromatic and has a number of spicy and subtle hints, much like Indian food itself which draws on fraternal spices like cardamom, anise, and cinnamon. I have a theory that Indians typically hate root beer for one simple reason: it reminds them too much of medical products, including a soothing balm called Iodex, a common household item in India. Throughout my life whenever I drank or even mentioned root beer, my Indian-born mother would make a disgusted face, hold her nose and say, “I can’t stand it, smells like Iodex!” I’ve heard similar sentiments over and over by people born and raised in India. Which led me to look into this recently.
Indeed there’s a basis for it. Iodex utilizes methyl salicylate, made of oil extracted from a group of plants called wintergreens or their synthetic equivalent. Commercially produced root beers also use extracts of wintergreens, or very similar plants. Interestingly, just like Coca-Cola, the modern form of root beer was invented in the United States in the 1800’s for medicinal purposes. So, we have come full circle here.
It’s too bad that Iodex has ruined root beer for potentially millions of people in India and other parts of the world. Now you know why. So you say, this isn’t a scientific analysis after all? You must be forgetting that this is Trump’s America now.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
McDonald’s is a special phenomenon, and I know this from my own life experience as a lifelong customer and former employee. Every six months or so, I get a fierce craving for a Big Mac and french fries, or an Egg McMuffin with a hash brown, and it must be fulfilled. I’ve been hooked since childhood thanks largely to the Happy Meals, a bit of tasty marketing genius that evokes warm, fuzzy, fond memories both conscious and subconscious for millions of adults long after they have stopped craving cheap plastic toys in a colorfully illustrated box with their lunches. As children, no less. In my opinion, McDonald’s french fries are also far and away the best around; their formula for fries just works, and always has in my mealy memory. The consistency of flavor no matter where you eat McDonald’s is amazing to behold, especially when you consider that there are 34,000-odd restaurants in 120 countries and territories.
In 1996, just as I was toiling at my first paid, post-paper route job (minimum wage, $4.25 an hour) in a McDonald’s near Cleveland, Ohio, the first franchise in India was opened up by the restaurant chain in New Delhi. India is certainly a potentially huge market for fast food. However, the country poses a formidable challenge for McDonald’s, for several reasons. The company’s very vaunted brand is based on cow meat, the specific protein that a majority of Indians will never, ever put in their mouths. McDonald’s would also need to compete against a large variety of high-quality local delicious Indian
food that is generally more healthy, and packed with spices and flavor. Finally, some Indians are so proud of their heritage that they will always see foreign fast food chains as an affront. So, how is McDonald’s doing at beef-free year 19 in India amid the successes and challenges encountered thus far, and where is it headed?
As you can see, some Hindu activists are NOT amused.
Read the rest of this entry
Some Indian-American folks, including the inimitable Rajan Zed of the Indo-American Leadership Confederation, berated the New England Brewing Company in the last few days for its naming of one of its beers as Gandhi-Bot. An illustrated robotic version of Gandhiji is also on the can. While the demands to rename the India Pale Ale beer have so far not been met, the brewery was forced to apologize for hurting anyone’s feelings.
The ridiculousness continues. Some morons in India are trying to sue the company even though the brewery does not even sell the product in India. Perhaps the name of the beer is insensitive, but this is going too far. We’ve seen this movie before, unfortunately a hundred times, such as the recent attacks of Selena Gomez.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
It’s the Sunday afternoon after Christmas and I’m alone today, so I decided to do something dramatically ridiculous and delicious, just for myself, by myself, on this last Sunday of Anno Domini 2014. Figured I may as well be naughty doing it, and I wanted to reward myself for recently losing a lot of weight through disciplined eating habits. And, why not make it Indo-American fusion?
I have never done crack but I have heard that it’s addictive. So, I wanted to make something so nasty tasty that it would get even a crack addict off crack, and addicted to this new dish instead. I wanted the dish I was planning to make to at once be so novel, stupid, unhealthy, and over the top for this special occasion. The type of dish that makes women swoon, and men drool, in an endless but cool loop of swoon and drool, in just the right serving sizes. But above all, it would have to taste so good that it would clearly be seen as an instant classic, a once-a-year type of treat. Ladies and gentlemen, I propose to you, Food Porn Pasta Sauce- creamy variety. Read the rest of this entry
There are a number of things that Indians simply do much better than Americans, or anyone else. Unsurprisingly, the foremost among these relates to food.
Most Indians know the simple and sweet pleasure of eating our meals with only our bare hands. I swear by it myself. When done correctly, the fingers do all the work and your palms do not even touch the food, making for easy washing up afterwards. I feel sorry for the poor saps all around me who sit down to table with silverware three times a day and have no idea how to eat with their hands. Read the rest of this entry