A Passage to India
Poised to become the next big ethnic trend in North America, the flavors of India are about to make the big leap from restaurants to your supermarket shelves.
A Regional Approach
Immigrants from India are becoming one of the largest minorities in the U.S., and a new generation of chefs is catering to the affluent. But these new citizens come from many diverse regions.
There are as many flavor styles in India as there are regions â vindaloo from Goa, sambar from Tamil Nadu, molee from Kerala, kadhi from Maharashtra, and korma from Kashmir. There are also the more narrowly defined regionals, such as Bengali, Moghlai, South Indian, Gujarati, Hyderabadi, Jewish-Cochini, Chettinad, Punjabi, Madras, Parsi or Balti. The spices and sauces of each are specific, subtle and often surprising.
Contrary to how Indian meals are portrayed in the Western world with meat or chicken as the main entrÃ©e, Indian meals are traditionally centered around grains. The south features rice as the centerpiece while wheat based foods are pivotal in the north. Meats and fish are relatively less in proportion and served along with vegetables to flavor the central grain offering, while condiments complement with flavors and provide essential vitamins and minerals. Practically every meal is complemented with plain or seasoned yogurt or buttermilk.
|Patak's offers lines of marinades (above), sauces, chutneys, pappadums and canned entrees.|
Indian cuisine, confined to ethnic neighborhoods for years, is thus emerging with its exotic flavors and aromas to transform the mainstream American palate in an unprecedented way. The mainstreaming of Indian culinary fare is spurred by demands of increasingly sophisticated diners hungry for new and authentic tastes. Consumers today desire authenticity in cultural cuisines and are increasingly sophisticated about what’s real and what’s not.The Prepared Foods Arena
Indian cuisine is entering the prepared foods market in a big way. Many of the instant prepared food mixes and ready-to-prepare processed foods on the U.S. retail scene are imported from well established brand leaders, including Ambika (www.ambikaappalamdepot.com
) of Chennai, India, and Patak’s (www.worldfood.com
) of London. These brands continue to hold major market shares in the Western world emphasizing the value of growing loyalty among consumers.
Ambika evolved from a tiny, nondescript shop in the 1980s to a bustling enterprise with distributors all over the world, and mostly by making appalams. Appalams are similar to papads, fried wafers popular in North India and served as an appetizer in Indian restaurants all over the U.S. A new entry into the marketplace is Naturally India (www.naturallyindia.com
), Neshanic Station, N.J. Harshad Parekh, president, launched simmer-sauce packages of prepared spices and herbs to combine the essential first steps of a number of popular recipes. Parekh, a seasoned veteran of the food processing industry, recognized the value in providing culinary aids to consumers so they can enjoy wholesome, restaurant-quality meals at home for a fraction of the cost.Selling Coals To Newcastle
Patak’s, started in Britain in the 1950s by an Indian immigrant from Kenya. This successful brand favored by consumers and professional chefs across the U.K. and North America is now doing the unimaginable. Meena Pathak, chef and chief marketing officer, is successfully exporting Patak’s ready mixes and pickles to India, capitalizing on the growing need for taste, quality and convenience in a culture where leisurely home-cooked meals were the norm.
Pathak is paving the way for others. Despite rather sophisticated advertising and promotion programs in local Indian newspapers and magazines, Indian food processors tend to shy away from advertising and marketing in mainstream U.S. markets. She developed a series of cookbooks for the North American chef, and astutely partnered with Hormel’s (www.hormelfoods.com
), to take advantage of the Austin, Minn., firm’s efficient specialty food distribution network. Together they are poised to take Indian food where it has never gone before: to rural markets and local grocery stores.
Annie Whitney, co-founder and corporate conscience at Annie’s Homegrown Foods (www.annies.com
), Wakefield, Mass., understands the importance of the mainstream market for Indian flavors. Annie’s started Tamarind Tree Vegetarian Indian Entrees to combine American convenience with practiced food preparation to serve the evolving demand for restaurant-quality packaged Indian specialties.
Tamarind Tree frozen entrees are made with authentic blends of savory spices, and each microwavable entrÃ©e comes with its own basmati rice pouch to create a complete meal rivaling those made from scratch. Annie’s is opening the door for Indian flavors to reach more consumers and to teach them there’s a lot more to the cuisine than palate-burning curry or tandoori chicken.
Without a doubt, Indian cuisine is coming of age in the U.S. It has migrated from home-cooked to commercially produced frozen meals and fancy fare in mainstream restaurants and foodservice. And this is creating new opportunities for service providers and new product developers. This trend is bound to gain momentum as more American chefs adopt Indian spices and food preparation techniques. With conscientious players like Naturally India, Patak’s and Ambika, consumers stand to benefit from health as well as taste and convenience.