Last night I went over to Sreenagar to hang out with Paul, Gowri, Ravindra, his wife Chinoo, and their friends, a pair of environmentalist. Actually I went mostly so I could finally meet Ravindra's adorable baby daughter. She was great.
Anyway, after an hour or so we were getting hungry. Paul was craving some chicken - American chicken if we could find it. Understandably he was getting tired of spices and cardamom and chili powder, and everything else in Indian cooking. Don't get me wrong, Indian cooking is more than fantastic, but if I had a nice burger everyday, eventually I would crave some pasta.
So we headed out, and Ravindra told us to head to Jayanagar. He knew this great place to have chicken - American chicken. What else could he be describing but the famous Colonel's Kentucky Fried Chicken! So we went to feast.
And let me say, that was my most expensive meal for the little amount of food I got. Rs. 117 is generally a semi-expensive meal for "fast food". Let's see, for that money I got 75 grams of french fries (apparently thats the "regular" size, but they told it to me numerically), 2 strips of chicken, and one hot & crispy chicken leg.
Considering if I go to a local joint and for less than Rs. 60 I can get a Thali, that's pretty expensive. What is a Thali? Most simply it's a "meal" (like choosing a number one, or two etc), but what constitutes a thali is different for different parts of India. The biggest divide is North Indian vs. South Indian Thalis, but there are also Punjabi Thalis (which are EXCELLENT) etc etc. I'll briefly describe a South Indian thali. One big plate with 6-8 small bowls of various vegetables, sauces, chutneys etc. These are all just different combinations of spices and foods, varying in thickness, spiciness, taste, texture etc. There is a thin crispy type of fried dough, and then a man comes around and piles a nice heaping scoop of rice on your plate. You also receive a small sweet for after the meal. You are supposed to eat the small bowls one at a time, slowly mixing a portion of one into the rice, moving onto the next etc. Anyway, the key feature is, once you are out of one thing, they come by and replace it. Every ten minutes you could have a waiter behind you asking if you want more rice. So for half the price of KFC I can eat as much as I want?
But back to KFC. In America, you see all walks of life in a fast food joint. You could see students, families (however if you are one to regularly bring your family to a fast food place, STOP NOW) middle class folks, people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and even those considered poor.
After all, fast food was designed to be quick, cheap, and available to everyone. And how it IS available to everyone in America.
Here, things are a little different. Going to a fast food place is almost a "cool" thing to do. Although it seems many things that we think are common in America might be taken as a "cool" thing to do here.
So to generalize again, who did I see last night, and who did I see in a McDonalds while in India? Students, a lot of students. And these students aren't wearing lunghies and tattered clothing. They are fashionable, with iPhones and cool new iPods and modern dress. Whether they have money or not isn't important, but they are portraying to others that they are hip, cool and appear as if they have money.
KFC, McDonalds, and "American" fast food here in India is largely targeted towards young kids with money to spend. Comparing to the dollar, the prices are about the same, so it shouldn't be a big deal right? Wrong. Compared to the rest of India, fast food is some of the most expensive food you can eat. And thus why all the commercials and ads are targeted towards youngsters and middle class or upper-middle class families.
Interesting and strange how even though fast food started out as quick food available to all, it has grown into a fashionable thing to eat. A cool place to hang out. A place for the somewhat wealthy.
If someone walked in with a ripped shirt, oil and dirt on their hands from work, I know there would be many to look and question what he/she was doing there....
In America, that's common place though. So what is common place here, that is cool in America? Curry Powder I suppose....