Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Poll results: fries should be replaced on kids menus

April 19

The bulk of this blog's poll takers — 67 percent — think French fries should be replaced on kids' menus, and a solid plurality — 42 percent — would do the same thing with adults' menus.

That’s not to say fries should be banned, just that they shouldn’t be the default option. Why not live it up with some artichoke or mango from time to time?

Twenty-eight people voted in the poll, which really isn’t terrible, but it’s not great, either, so my next poll is a poll on what sort of polls you’d like to participate in on this blog.

You can view the results of the most recent poll below:

  7 (25%)

Yes, and on adults' menus, too
  12 (42%)

  4 (14%)

I don’t care
  3 (10%)

  2 (7%)

Votes: 28

[April 28 update: never mind — clearly you’d like to leave the poll choices up to me.]

My personal taste
  1 (16%)
Beard Award nominees
  0 (0%)
predicting trends
  3 (50%)
Social or health issues
  2 (33%)
I want to read your blog, not take polls
  0 (0%)

Votes so far: 6
Poll closed 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Biryani and mangoes in Hyderabad

April 14

On the left is a picture of what biryani is supposed to look like, so I'm told. I took it with my cell phone, so it's not of the best quality, but according to the menu at Paradise restaurant in Hyderabad, the grains of rice in a biryani should all be separate — no sticking together.

Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh state, claims to be the birthplace of biryani, and the best place to eat it. And Paradise, by several accounts, is as good a place as any to get it. So while the franchisors on the trade mission were having their late morning speed dates, I hired a driver to help me find mangoes and to take me to Paradise.

When I worked in Thailand, a place with very fine mangoes as far as I and the Thais are concerned, my Indian colleagues would snigger and laugh at the local fruits, declaring them to be inadequate shadows of real Indian mangoes.

My pre-trip research indicated that mangoes were in season now in India, and although the people of Mumbai told me it was a bit early for the prized fruits yet, they agreed that I might have better luck in Hyderabad, farther south.

The Hyderabadis laughed at me — about as politely as you can laugh at someone, but they laughed — and suggested I wait a couple of weeks before trying mangoes.

I pointed out to them that I was in India now and would not be in a couple of weeks, and suggested that perhaps with Indian mangoes being so good, even those that were not at the peak of season might possibly be the best I’d ever tasted, and they agreed that that might be so.

So I had my driver take me to the fruit market. To see what we could find.

There weren’t a lot of mangoes, but there were some, and after wandering around for awhile the driver recommended a stand to me, and I bought a kilo of mangoes for 40 rupees — about a dollar.

They had the great floral aroma of a good mango and the promise of a complex and nuanced flavor that I would expect from an excellent piece of fruit.

Delighted with my purchase, I headed to Paradise for lunch and had mutton biryani.

What can I say? All the Biryani I’d had in the past was basically rice pilaf with meat in it, and so was this. The distinguishing characteristics were very long-grained basmati rice that didn't stick together and a strong but not overpowering cardamom aroma. This being Andhra Pradesh, which claims to be the state with the spiciest food (although I’m told that some people in Tamil Nadu would beg to differ), there was also plenty of chile in the rice.

It was tasty. I suppose it might have been the most delicious biryani I'd ever had. I don't know. It was hardly worth a trip to Hyderabad to eat, but since I was there already I was glad for the experience, and to have a benchmark for what is considered great biryani.

Back at the hotel, I had the staff peel and slice my mangoes for me, which they did with alacrity.

And let me tell you, they were terrible. The flesh had the right orange color, glistening sheen and slippery texture of a good mango, but it was soulless and sour, and I was sorely disappointed.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Speed dating in India

April 11

“Did you see that guy’s watch? That thing’s worth $300,000,” Jeff Sinelli, founder of the Which Wich? sandwich chain told me after a couple of potential franchisees left his table.

I hadn’t seen the watch, but I’d noticed his stylish cufflinks made out of string.

We had both observed his and his partner’s complete lack of a sense of humor.

What do you expect from financiers whose pride and joy seemed to be a distribution network for PVC pipes?

I’m in India, covering a trade mission organized by the United States Commerce Department’s Commercial Service. This particular mission is focused on franchisors, mostly restaurant companies, looking for Indian partners.

The mission is centered around what are essentially speed dates. They’re meetings between the franchisors and potential franchisees to do a combination of pitching themselves and getting acquainted with one another — almost exactly like first dates, really.

I’ve been sitting in on some of the meetings to see what they’re like — the pictures in this blog entry show you what they look like. 

What I’ve seen so far indicates that finding business partners through blind dating — even with dates who have been vetted by the Commercial Service — is about as tough and almost as grueling as finding a love match that way. I’m not sure what the equivalent of a one-night stand would be in this case, but please let me know if you can think of one.

The would-be franchisors, being Americans working in foodservice, would talk about having “passion” for the business. The potential franchisees — real estate agents, retailers, PVC pipe distributors with lots of money of unknown origin — would blink once or twice and stare back blankly.

But you never know. The McDonald’s executive in charge of western and southern India comes from the lubricant business, so maybe Mr. Fancy Watch will be the man behind Which Wich? India.

Personally, I liked the owner of The Devil’s Workshop, a bakery chain with the slogan “Food you hate to love.”

After the speed dates, we all went to the Residence of the American Consul General for a reception, and I learned that India is by far the world’s largest consumer of whisky. So after a glass of perfectly acceptable red wine I switched to nice single malts and chatted with Subway franchisees and politicians, commercial attachés and Assistant Commerce Secretary Nicole Lamb-Hale, who is on the trip with us.

Marketing consultant Jagdeep Kapoor explained to me the challenges of presenting the right message in India. He pointed out that standing in line to order food is insulting to many middle class Indians, because it seems like begging. Besides, they’re accustomed to having servants and like to be waited on.

But then for other middle class Indians, who studied in the United States, American fast food gives them a sense of nostalgia and they want to stand in line for it (“They feel like they’re in New York”) and then get exactly the same food that they would have in the U.S.

Others want food that reminds them of their mother’s home cooking, so it should taste completely Indian.

I asked Kapoor how you could do all of that with one brand while maintaining a single identity.

“Give the people what they want,” he said, which didn’t really answer the question, but it is indeed what a restaurant should do.

He also said that Indians love bossing people around, so that the model at Subway, or any chain where your food is assembled in front of you, appeals to them because they can tell the restaurant worker exactly how they want their food to be made.

Indeed, that seems to appeal to everyone.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Food Writer’s Diary readers don’t like to vote for Beard Award nominees

Okay, okay, I get it. You don’t want to vote for Beard Award nominees.

In the Rising Star category, which is really the only career-maker, a total of six people voted, one for each nominee, except for Momofuku Milk Bar's, Christina Tosi, who got two.

Given the geographical diversity of this category, it is hard to believe that many people are familiar enough with all of the chefs’ work to vote with authority, so let’s try something new:

A number of chain restaurants have been responding to pressure — from customers, government, public health advocates, what have you — to make kids' meals more healthful.

Some, notably IHOP, have swapped out fries as the automatic side dish and instead serve fruit or vegetables, with fries made available on request.

How do you feel about that?

Please vote in the poll, and feel free to comment below if you like.

Thank you.

For the record, the results of the last poll.

Aaron London, Ubuntu
  1 (16%)

Thomas McNaughton, Fire + Water
  1 (16%)

Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon
  1 (16%)

Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk Bar
  2 (33%)

Sue Zemanick, Gautreau’s