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Treat your palates the cross-cultural way

WHETHER IT'S the young students or the working lot, Generation X is more into the culture of eating out. And the city shakes its head approvingly, with many new eateries are mushrooming almost everyday. Eating out is less fad and more fact today, and it looks like Indian tongues get tamed to any taste! North Indian and Chinese delicacies have conquered the South Indian hearts much before than the European ones did. This happened perhaps because the Western stuff was quite `bland' for the Indian tongues that needed a lot of salt and spice to get stimulated.

However, this trend is also changing and vouching for this shift is the leading fast food joints and hotels of the city. Taking a cue from the market preferences many new outlets, which offer yummy Yankee dishes and Italian quick bites, have sprouted. "Most of our customers fall into the age group between 15 to 25. Of course, we also have a lot of middle-aged customers too. The pricing is done to suit every pocket," says Rosamma Sebastian, who manages the `Bread World' outlet at Kadvanthara. She notices that the crowd have their fixed timings for their favourite food. In the afternoons pizzas sell most, while it is burgers in the forenoons. The burgers are priced between Rs. 15 to 20 and pizzas range between Rs. 20 to 60, depending on the size and topping, one goes for.

The hotels are proactive as well. They use the nomenclature and interiors of the restaurants to woo the customers. So we have The Oriental, that serves Chinese food, at Hotel White Fort, the Taj Malabar had Jade Pavilion, which used to offer Chinese food before they set up the Thai Pavilion, a couple of years back and now they have the new incarnation or `The Return of Jade Pavilion,' where both Thai and Chinese food is served. All these and many more names are unique and the exotically done up interiors evoke a perfect ambience.

The globalisation and the technological explosion have bridged the cultural gaps across the world. The massive campaigns of the multinational food companies and the custom-made offers to suit the Indian taste buds have certainly helped in swelling the numbers of people who go for Continental food.

"NRIs, foreign tourists and young people constitute the chunk of our customers. Keralites are now slowly getting to know the different tastes," says Pankaj Kumar, stores manager at Domino's Pizza, Kochi. Domino's competency is in door delivery. They deliver the pizzas anywhere in the city within half-an-hour. They have an information system, which stores the complete details of the customers. So all they need is to enter the name of the customer or his phone number and the total info is on the computer screen. The tricks and tactics adopted to lure the Indian customers are several. Customizing the pizza toppings and burger fillings is one among them. "The Kerala crowd has been slow in shifting from the traditional tastes. But definitely it's happening," observes Nitesh Chetri, restaurant manager at Taj Malabar. "The Thai Pavilion we started a year ago is doing very well. The charm is that, rare plants like `basil' and `lemon grass', which are vital ingredients in Thai preparations like Thai Green Curry and Thai Red Curry are grown in our garden, which the customer is welcome to see. Also, our Thai chef is from our Thai restaurant in Mumbai, which was the inspiration for this Kerala version."

When many restaurants boast of their detailed menu, there are people who feel that there are only a few places where they get the authentic taste. "We like Italian food very much. But in Kochi there are no good Italian restaurants," says Ms. Sharma, who hails from Delhi and has now settled down in Kerala. Her second choice is Thai food, for which she says, the Thai Pavilion at Taj Malabar is the best. She and her family visit this joint quite frequently.

Seasonal special offers, brings about an increase in the volume of sales. So every season is a reason for such offers. The `theme food festivals' is another innovative method to draw people. "We are hosting the Chinese Sizzlers Festival since September 20 and the turnout has been impressive," says Jaison Mathew and Lijo Joseph of `The Crossroads.' Sizzlers, is hot Continental food, served in a cindered metallic plate, which together makes the food temptingly steamy. The restaurant is also experimenting the same process with Chinese recipe. Chinese sizzlers is a combo item, which has rice or noodles as per the customer's choice, finger chips, boiled vegetables and the main course, which is vegetarian or non-vegetarian, depending again on the choice. They have also priced it quite reasonably somewhere between Rs. 55 and Rs. 85.

"We offered around fifteen varieties of the traditional `puttu' in our `Puttu Pooram' which turned out to be a smashing hit," revealed Hariharan, Manager (F&B) of The Avenue Center. This success inspired them to go for different exclusive spreads like the chat, dosa and biriyani festival.

When India experiments with exotic tastes from other countries, Indian food, once considered too spicy, for the Western world, is gaining popularity. "Our menu is very popular among the foreign tourists. It's a surprise to hear them ask us for items like `appam' and `stew.' Our traditional cuisine is getting popular abroad," says Hariharan.

The travel and tourism marts, organised by the Government and the hospitality industry, has a major role in propagating our tastes. Websites, containing information, also has a significant role in popularising Indian cuisine.

Undoubtedly, this generation will be hogging more of European and Oriental food, while the West will be trying out more of Indian delicacies. A real trans-national way of filling the tummies, isn't it? By the way, are you ready to join the bandwagon?

BINDU. S. NAIR

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