Delhi's cosmopolitan tastes: Influence of economics and demography on food tastes

written by Karan Puri | March 19, 2019

If one were to look at culinary tastes in the national capital, they have been influenced by demographic shifts, political changes as well as economic changes. While in the immediate aftermath of partition, the influx of Punjabi migrants from West Punjab saw the setting up of restaurants like Kwality’s and the preference was largely for Punjabi cuisine.

India’s current food scene dates its origins not to the Raj or to Partition but to the globalisation and liberalisation that began in 1991.

Most Indians today do not remember what life was like under a socialistic regime – half the country was not even born by then! Some of them are disillusioned with the semi-capitalistic society we live in today … a world where we have more economic freedom, where consumers have a choice (do you remember the Bajaj scooter, HMT watch, Ambassador and Fiat cars, Indian Airlines and the waiting period to get a telephone or gas connection?). Where entrepreneurs and employees have legally made wealth way beyond their dreams, where most of the poor are better off and where India is globally treated as a superpower. Instead, the media focuses on inequality and corruption, and we forget how far we have travelled since 1991.

From that point on, more Indians began travelling abroad (it is worth noting that we send more tourists to other countries than the number of foreign tourists we welcome to our shores) and trying exotic cuisines. When they came back, they refuse to eat a Punjabi rehash of the real thing. Moreover, a liberalised regime made it easier for foreign chains to set up shop here and serve the fast foods that they sold all over the world. Domino’s, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, KFC, and Dunkin’ Donuts have all arrived in the post-liberalisation era and contributed to the change in the way we eat.

Post liberalisation, the city witnessed the rise of Oriental and Italian restaurants in a number of five stars.

It would be pertinent to point out, that these stand-alone restaurants are now spread out – Hauz Khas Village, Garden of five senses and the iconic Connaught Place, too, has witnessed a revival of sorts with a number of initiatives of young entrepreneurs coming up.

What New Delhi needs is not just expansion of these initiatives, but infrastructure should also improve especially approach to these restaurants, parking facilities and facilities for the old and disabled. These restaurants should themselves strive to promote good civic habits and seek to promote environmental friendliness.

An offshoot of the increasing globalization is the entrenchment of the food culture within the Indian consumer food services market.

The Indian food services market’s offerings are predominantly “North Indian” in origin, with every third restaurant offering a menu loaded with items from that cuisine. The sophisticated yet subtle use of spices and herbs in this cuisine has made it popular among all consumers.

There are various options in Connaught place like Farzi Café, Monkey Bar, Junkyard Café, TGIF, Hard rock café, Lord of the drinks etc and the old tried and tested famous ones like United coffee house, Rodeo’s, Moti Mahal etc.

 

The main reason for this rise has been not just the increasing consumption power, but the fact that a number of promoters have studied abroad and have sought to bring those ideas. Apart from that, the increasing number of expats especially in Gurgaon & Delhi has also raised demand. There’s a vast pool of working population in India, which includes women. There’s an upwardly mobile middle class, which is liberal and progressive. In addition to that, there’s a rapid increase in nuclear families and all of these factors contribute to the growth of the restaurant industry

One of the prominent emerging cuisines is Japanese (Pan Asian cuisine), largely due to the emphasis on healthy cooking and ingredients. However, the cuisine is largely offered by star hotels or standalone premium brands such as Fuji, Zen Guppy and Fujiya in Delhi.

Medical tourism is also creating a need for different cuisines restaurants from middle eastern countries opening shop here. The metropolitan cities in India now have customers from all income levels and geographies thus making it a global village in terms of its food.

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