Recently, McDonalds announced that 169 of its 430 outlets in India will close down. And independent food vendors are happy to hear the news- they are some of the worst affected by India’s fast food boom.
As they try to keep up with changing tastes, traditional food vendors are trading generations-old recipes for new variations that mimic fast food.
Jasvinder Sehgal took a trip to Gaurav Tower, a popular fast food market in India’s western city of Jaipur, to find out more.
Prabhjas Singh is 15 years old, and he’s a self-professed burger addict.
“I love burgers and I can’t live without them,” he confesses.
Prabhjas gets a large double cheeseburger from McDonald’s at least three days a week, and sometimes even twice a day.
Today he’s come to Gaurav Tower, Jaipur’s famous food market to enjoy Sunday lunch with his mother.
Prabhjas wants to order a burger but his mother, Anu disapproves.
“The burgers are not good for his health but he doesn’t want to understand. You know India is becoming home to obese people where two thirds of the urban population is overweight, and just because of this junk food.”
She continued, “I don’t want to see my son become a guy with fat tummy like his father.”
Nearby, is a popular traditional sweet store, Jodhpur Misthan Bhandaar. 46 year old Rajesh Sharma is the owner, and he says these days they get far fewer young customers than in the past.
“The youngsters especially children don’t like traditional food. They don’t care about snacks or sweets prepared in local styles,” he said. “Their priority is fast food, especially burgers and chow mien.”
The invasion of fast food culture has left a big mark on traditional Indian culinary culture.
Anu Singh says both at home, and in markets, traditional recipes are customized to match the taste of fast food.
“It’s a challenge to satisfy the taste buds of India’s youngsters. I have changed my cooking style by adding various western sauces while cooking green vegetables and Indian curries,” Anu explained.
“These sauces are generally used in making burgers. Indian samosa is filled with noodles instead of potatoes while falafels are stuffed with toppings of Pizzas. Many a times processed and artificial ingredients are used to convert the traditional recipes in to western grab meals.”
Back at the market, 53-year-old Sanjay Sharma is making a pizza omelet. He’s the owner and chef at Sanjay’s omelet stall, and he tells me he’s putting fast food flavours in his old omelet recipe.
“I cook 150 different kinds of omelets, including Pizza omelet, Afghani pizza omelet, and Hong Kong Omelet with Chinese ingredients, cheese butter omelet, Morrocco burger omelet,” Sharma proudly declares. “Besides this stall, I have also opened an omelet restaurant called Egg-dee like Macdee.”
According to the United Nations, the eating habits of Indians have changed massively over the last 50 years.
Indians are eating more sugar, fat, meat and animal based products than ever, and less grains than before.
India’s rapidly growing middle class has more money to spend on fast food, which is relatively expensive in comparison to traditional food.
“People don’t have time and they want immediate food. They like fast food because of its easy access. At least they know what they are eating because of popular international brands,” explains Dr. Sukant Sharma, an economic expert at Government College, Dausa.
“Children like them because of their attractive presentation and brand image. Moreover it is status symbol that you eat western food.”
But these new eating habits are making Indians obese.
Almost 70 million people are now considered overweight in the country, one of the highest rates in the world.
Cosmetic surgeon, Dr Akhilesh Sharma says more and more people are using surgeries like liposuction to shed their weight.
“I do around 1 or 2 liposuctions every week and the patients come from all walks of life. They may be literate, semi-literate, or from a very high class, Sharma says, “but their aim is to get slim.”