Tag: Food

An Ode to the Humble Udupi cafe

Udupi standing restaurant
A typical ‘Sagar’ restaurant

Though Bangalore is where I have spent the most of my adult life (across two stints), I have made no secret of the fact that I am yet to warm to the city in the same way as my home city of Mumbai. And one of the key factors in that is food.

I do not think anyone will argue that, between Bangalore and Mumbai, when it comes to food, Mumbai is streets ahead. And when it comes to street food, it is almost unfair to make any comparison – Mumbai’s exceptional street food at very reasonable prices is one of the best in the world, in my humble opinion. As one travel guide put it, Mumbai’s street food culture is more varied than many entire European / Western cuisines!

However, if there is one area where Bangalore manages to beat Mumbai, it’s to do with South Indian snacks. And specifically, the culture of ‘standing joints‘ which go by the generic names of ‘Darshinis’ or ‘Sagars’. Also called ‘Udupi‘ cafes, these typically serve hot  vegetarian South Indian snacks usually cooked in full view of the customer and served with a range of delicious chutneys and sambar at pocket friendly rates – it is the closest that Bangalore gets to Mumbai street food. Add on the exceptional South Indian filter coffee which typically costs only Rs. 10, and you have a clear winner!

South Indian filter coffee
South Indian filter coffee

And like Mumbai street food, everyone, rich or poor, businessman or working class, can be seen standing and eating next to each other. The open nature of these cafe / restaurants with no glass frontage or door also makes for a very welcoming and comfortable space for segments of people who might otherwise think twice of eating out alone.

Almost every locality in Bangalore will have one of these. For a long time, it felt like the only exception was the area where I live. We had all the varied shops and restaurants you would expect in a typical middle / upper-middle income locality, except for one major gap – an Udupi restaurant. Thankfully, the gap was filled a few months. Maybe catering to the locality, this specific outlet does not have any ‘standing only’ tables. But in almost all other aspects, it sticks to the standard template. And, as was to be expected, the place has been buzzing almost from the first day.


A South Indian Wedding Feast

Wedding Sadya
Looked and tasted delicious!

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the wedding of a distant relative recently. Though it involved waking up early on a Sunday to make the trek right across town, it was worth it as we got to meet some family whom we have not met in a few years and, of course, to meet the couple and pass on our best wishes.

One of the highlights of any Indian wedding is definitely the wedding feast. And it was no different in this wedding either. The wedding was a Tamilian affair. But, as the bride’s family were from the state of Karnataka, the lunch turned out to be more of the Kannadiga style than the standard Tamilian sadya. So, while it did involve eating out of a banana leaf and lots of rice, there were quite a few other items on the menu that I did not recognise.

But that is not to say that it was not delicious. It most definitely was! In fact, as typically happens during a wedding lunch, I ended up eating so much that I was almost in a stupor afterwards! It was not helped by the fact that there were not less than three sweet items on the menu! The image above captures only a small portion of the food that was finally served (and consumed with relish :-)).

So a big thanks to my family members for kindly inviting us to the wedding!


Healthy Cooking

Vegetables on a table

I can distinctly remember when my attitude to food underwent a radical overhaul. It was at a team dinner at Bern, Switzerland when I had a dish of pineapple rice. Nothing fancy, just rice served with a pineapple sauce, but the overall experience – flavour, plating – completely blew my mind. That was the day when I shifted away from being the person who solely ‘ate to live‘ to being a person who ‘enjoys a good culinary experience‘.

The second major shift happened when I went to live abroad. While I had learned to cook basic stuff while in India, it was the necessity of having to cook to survive that led me to the realisation that I actually like cooking!

And this love of cooking has continued since, even though, these days, I do not cook as often as I would like. However, circumstances last week dictated that I had to don the role of home cook again. And I relished (pun intended) the experience.

It was a little over a year ago that I learnt about ‘Whole Food Plant Based‘ diet. The core philosophy of this diet is that the lesser the amount of processing in the food you eat, the better for you. The fundamental belief is that “You are what you eat” and, therefore, the cause of illnesses is primarily poor diet. I have been applying some of these principles in my diet over the past 18 months and do believe that it works.

Anyway, so when I went back into the kitchen last week, I decided to apply, as far as possible, these principles in my cooking. I ended up making a few traditional Indian dishes – Rajma masala, Chana masala, Aloo Baingan sabzi, etc. All without using any oil and judicious use of salt and spices. I found the results tasty, not to mention, healthy! But I will have to test it with guests to get some unbiased opinions!



Impact of Food Delivery Apps on Eating Habits

Couple cooking in their kitchen

This is the third part of my series on the impact of Food Delivery Apps on the culture of dining. In the first part, I explored the different segments of the ‘Eating Out‘ population while in the second I looked at which of these segments might switch over to food delivery and ‘eating in’.

In this post, I wish to explore some of the changes / consequences if the culture of ‘ordering in’ becomes prevalent.

As I mentioned in my previous post, there are segments (and instances) when people are anyway in the mindset of eating out. For such use cases, food delivery apps are a substitute for eating at a restaurant. One can argue that, in such cases, there are no real winners and losers as it’s a matter of substitution. I haven’t looked at the economics, but I would assume that restaurants wouldn’t care too much if they are serving the customer within their premises or outside. There are other issues that restaurants might have with this arrangement, but we will come to that later.

I also mentioned in the same post that the ecosystem of Food Delivery Apps is leading to the rise of the ‘Occasional Indulgers’ segment. These are users who would ordinarily not have considered eating out, but do so occasionally due to the convenience (and discounts) now being provided by such businesses. This is clearly incremental sales to the restaurant and / or food delivery app.

Another ‘incremental revenue stream’ comes from all the rest of the segments who would indulge in ‘dining in’ occasionally.

So what are my concerns with this model?

I will start with the health and sustainability angles. I guess no one will argue that cooking and eating in is significantly healthier than eating out. My concern is that if the culture of ‘ordering in’ becomes ubiquitous, then people would stop cooking and eating healthy. From my personal experience, I first learnt to cook while living with friends in the early phase of my professional career. But I only really cooking regularly after marriage and discovered that I quite like it. It would be a shame if less and less people discover the joys of cooking and rely on food deliveries most of the times.

The second issue is with sustainability. Again, there can be no dispute that ordering in is leading to a significant increase in the use of plastics, including single-use plastic.

The third concern is the potential impact on restaurants, especially now that more of the food delivery companies are building their own ‘cloud kitchens’. If more and more consumers are indifferent to which restaurant they are ordering their food from, then it’s a fair possibility that businesses of restaurants would be impacted, leading to potential closures as well. Which would be a shame for other restaurant goers, for whom eating out is as much about the whole experience as it is about the food.

This phenomenon is still fairly recent. It will be very interesting to see how eating habits are changing due to this industry. Only time will tell!

Eating Out in the time of Food Delivery Apps

Man delivering food on a bicycle

Food Delivery Apps have gained significantly in popularity over the last few years. On the back of significant investments by Venture Capitalists, many of these companies are burning large sums of money in acquiring customers.

So who are the users most likely to be using Food Delivery Apps?

In my previous post, I mentioned that there are possibly 9 types of people who ‘eat out‘. Let’s look at each of these and understand if their motivations for eating out lend to them being regular users of Food Delivery Apps.

  1. Necessity – These are people who have no other choice than to eat out. This group includes students, working professionals, traders and others who simply do not know how to cook, or don’t have the wherewithal to do so. This set of eaters would typically go for the most convenient and reasonable priced option. I would argue that these would constitute the prime segment for home delivery of food.
  2. Eating out while at work – Similar to the first segment above, but would also include professionals who prefer to eat out while at work, rather than carry food from home. This is another segment that might switch to Food Delivery Apps for their office lunches, at least occasionally.
  3. Socialising with business teams – Eating out is a very widely accepted form of social gathering. Many working professionals would eat out as part of team outings, business meetings, etc. This segment would, typically, prefer fine-dining restaurants. Highly unlikely to switch to ordering on Apps, unless it’s for a working lunch.
  4. Traveling on work – Slightly different from the first segment in that these users would typically be on expense accounts. They might not always spend on fine-dining restaurants, but would not mind spending a bit more for good food with a nice atmosphere. They might also be open to trying different cuisines. My guess is that only a small percentage of such users would order on Apps. Factors influencing the decision would include if they already have the app installed, have facilities to eat comfortable at their place of stay, if there are no easily accessible restaurants nearby, etc.
  5. Hanging out with friends – Eating out is a good way to connect with people. Friends can typically be expected to catch up at good quality restaurants, not necessarily fine dining, where they can enjoy a leisurely meal. Many groups in this segment might prefer hanging out at pubs, bars, cafes, but might still end up at a restaurant for a proper meal. There would be certain sub-segments in this group that would prefer the convenience of ordering and eating in while meeting up with friends.
  6. Eating out with family – Very similar to the above segment, but likely to involve kids. So the preference would be for family-friendly restaurants. Highly unlikely to be replaced by ordering in as a large part of the fun (at least for the kids) is in the experience of visiting a restaurant.
  7. Special occasions – As the name suggests, these would usually end up in fine-dining restaurants or rare / different cuisines. Quite possibly the least likely of all the segments to order in.
  8. A treat for the kids – Specific to families with young kids, this would involve a visit to a fast-food restaurant with kid-special meals as well as ice-cream parlours. Another segment where a significant sub-segment might prefer the convenience of eating in, especially if it’s an impulse decision.
  9. Gourmands – People who live to eat. Highly likely to frequent new openings, unique cuisines, etc. I would guess that
  10. Occasional Indulgers – This is a new segment that, I believe, is expanding due to the prevalence and convenience of ordering via Food Delivery Apps. These are users who would not have ventured out into a restaurant for eating (preferring to eat in) but end up ordering in occasionally either for a change, felt lazy to cook, had no food at home, etc.

So here’s my ordered list of the above segments based on the percentage of users within each that I believe would switch to a Food Delivery App (in descending order):

  1. Necessity – have no choice, and find the options available on a App superior to their usual haunts
  2. Eating out while at work – saves time, if not money, alleviates boredom from having to eat from a limited set of options.
  3. Occasional Indulgers – this is the big question mark. How much adoption can Food Delivery Apps make in this segment might play a deciding role in securing the long term viability of the business.
  4. Treat for the kids
  5. Hanging out with friends / family
  6. Gourmands
  7. Traveling on work
  8. Eating out with family
  9. Socialising with business teams
  10. Special Occasions

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the above ordering? Please let me know!