Monday, August 30, 2010

Changing Food Landscape of India

I like to try out new things to eat every weekend. And I observed yesterday that everything I have experimented with over one month or so is within the space of European cuisine. There are mainly two reasons why I have grown to like European cuisine: the pleasant post-eating experience – where you feel light yet full - and their varied nature: pasta is very different from, say, a club sandwich. Chinese cuisine also has the same qualities but everything on the Chinese menu has been tried and tested many times over.

European cuisine is comparatively new for the average Indian. It was always available but only at select places and exquisite prices. Now there are countless outlets offering European food at affordable prices. As a result of which, it's gradually grabbing the place that Chinese food used to occupy until few year ago. Now European food stands for what Chinese food stood for once: delicacy and affordability rolled into one. Today a European restaurant is where you want to date.

Mughlai, on the other hand, has retained its position. You may have switched your loyalty from Chinese to continental but you still look forward to Biriyianis and Kababs. Mughlai is very rich and so the occasion has to warrant it. People still prefer Muhglai at weddings. But culinary space in anything that’s a little cosmopolitan – like a birthday bash – was a toss up between pizza and Chinese until few years ago but with Chinese on its way out and European still not having established itself as a favorite of all (European is still something you want to eat with your close friends whose taste you know), there remains a vacuum.

There are few more challenges Euro cuisine faces in India. One of them is lack of awareness. People often mix it up with American food. For the average eater, there is not much difference between pizza (which is basically an American food) and pasta. Both are foreign, both contain lots of cheese, and therefore both are same.

The names of continental dishes are difficult to remember and different outlets have different things on offer, so what is authentic and what is a localized version of its continental counterpart is difficult to work out. That’s why I have remained restricted to a few items despite my penchant for food adventurism. Perhaps the joints and brands offering European fare can educate people about Euro cuisine through the media.

But to become a household favorite, European food has to be more widely available through restaurants in all Indian cities and Indianize itself to convert the people who find it bland. There is space for both authentic and localized varieties. Some Chinese dishes are more Indian than Chinese.

Some of the places I frequent are Casapicola, Friends, Sweet Chariot etc. I also visit Subway outlets, to gorge on sub-sandwiches. There are many more. I have tried out many items by now but my favorites are club sandwiches, penne, pasta (not always since it’s very cheesy). I don’t remember more names.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Home as Office

Many years ago, when I had heard that the son of my father’s close friend, who stayed in Japan and worked for a multinational company, had made his home his office, I was surprised. Today working from home is a very common practice among IT workers. The laptop and the internet have turned the old concept of office as workplace on its head.

A sizable part of IT population either work from home frequently or have become home-based workers. Until few years ago, this privilege was available mainly to managers, but now it is quite common for a normal worker to operate away from office.

But despite the ubiquity of the practice, the concept has received a varied response in different parts of the world. In the US, working from home is hardly frowned upon. And I guess even in other parts of the West, it is considered quite normal (although the non-IT sector, even in the West, has remained cold to such new-age work practices).

Not so in India. The practice isn't more than five to six years old in India, but it’s catching up well with companies arming a larger body of their work force with laptops, a luxury which was limited to only IT managers until some years back.

But in India, the practice doesn’t enjoy the acceptability it has in the West. I sympathize with the Indian stand to an extent. There are certain problems. The concept is new to India and will take sometime to find acceptance (and it is getting some acceptance slowly). While there are people who work seriously regardless of where they work from, there is no dearth of work shirkers. You need a good setup at home to ensure that you are as effective while working at home as you would be if you were at office (power cuts don’t help). It doesn't help team bonding. And then, there are certain roles, even in IT, that can be better performed with your presence in office.

But, on the other hand, working from home has some advantages, too. It helps companies save infrastructure cost. The companies that allow their employees the luxury are seen as better employers than those that don't. It helps working women immensely. It also helps workers avoid unnecessary office socializing and thus promotes productivity.

If you look at the positives and negatives of the practice, the points in its favor will far outweigh the points against it. And, while the advantages are actual business and employee benefits, the disadvantages (like lack of proper setup, powercuts, work shirking etc) are problems whose solutions aren't difficult to worked out.
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