Cultural differences

Snack and junk food not to be taken for granted

11:28 AM

This morning I just stumbled upon this article about popular American Snack food and how they are tweaked to suit local flavours around the globe.

And that got me thinking about India and how American giants just had to adapt their classics to suit the palate and diet of the people in the subcontinent.
Now being Swiss, I actually NEVER heard of lays potato chips before moving to India, that might be shocking to some of you but they aren’t sold in Switzerland as far as I know, though of course I haven’t been there since 2008 and a lot could have changed, but Swiss don’t really like their chips “ribbed” the way the Lays one are, we like thinly sliced potatoes as you would find in local Indian fried food stores, only with about half the oil content, as Swiss don’t like oily fried stuff that much, in fact even the popular Swiss brand “Zweifel” has less oil in them than the Lays one.
But back to Lays and India shall we? Sure they have the classics like Salted and Cream and Onion, they are their best seller there, and they have been around for as long as I lived here, but over the years several spicier versions have come and gone, There was some with a South Indian taste twist, there was “Lays Chaat Street” that was big in 2005 but seemed to have died (they weren’t tasting good), there has been several version of “masala something” the only one that joined the rank of bestseller is “Indian Magic Masala”. During the Cricket world cup they came up with fancy ones with names to go with some of the big cricket nations…most were fun but nothing so unforgettable that I miss them now a year later. But one thing I am willing to bet is that half of these flavours aren’t sold anywhere else, they were designed by PepsiCo to suit the palate of strong market, Indian love their namkeens, and potato chips seasoned the right way are bound to be a hit. The latest in their range are the Lays baked, and I find them atrociously sickly sweet, not worth the just 100 calories per 100g, but baked is the new IT mantra in an India plagued with sedentary urban dwellers suffering from obesity and lifestyle diseases. The problem I see with these new generation snacks is that they are fooling people into thinking they are healthier, whcih they aren’t, but because it is baked, people might actually eating more of these than they would sticking to the traditional namkeens, but then hey that’s not what the marketing people want to bother with, they are bothered only with one thing: MONEY, how to make more, how to boost the sales, and as a result deliver what will work for the people in a certain area.

Diet needs are another factor, all big fast food chains that made it to India understood that from the start. You will find Mc Donald’s here, but there will be no beef, and there will be more than one option in chicken burger and veggie burgers. The breakfast menu has somewhat started in some of their outlet but isn’t as popular as my US friends tell me it is back in their home country. In Switzerland Mc D was strictly Lunch and Dinner, and offered no breakfast food at all, and I think is still the same. The Desi Mc D doesn’t do salads, yet these are widely popular in Switzerland, and the US. You probably won’t find paneer on the menu outside India either. Another thing the Swiss don’t do: floats, no ice cream scoop swimming in your soft drink there. And in India you won’t find their apple pop tart. In fact until 3-4 years ago Chicken Mc Nuggets didn’t even exist in India.
A friend of mine told me that in US KFC’s bucket of fried chicken comes with gravy and mashed potatoes and even Southern style biscuit in some areas, in India so far it’s tomato Ketchup or nothing, you can get a cole slaw on the side with certain meal combo.
The pizza giants in the name of Pizza Hut and Dominos Pizza have understood that pizzas needed a desi twist to appeal to the people here, and you will find paneer, mutton keema, chicken kebab, and chicken tikka on their pies.
Back in Switzerland both these giants had only one vegetarian pizza: the margarita, and then you could build it up to make a fancier pie, that would set your bill soaring, Swiss aren’t much of vegetarians, culturally meat eating was a survival thing with the long icy winters we have in the mountains, but India has a wide majority of vegetarians and to succeed they had to top up their pizzas with stuff that would appeal to the masses, plain and simple.

it’s just one of these interesting titbits of info all expats should be prepared to know when moving to India : your favourite junk food brand might be there, but they will not taste the same.
But then that would apply to home cooked healthy food too, the taste of vegetables are different here too, but you can’t say it’s because the big food group marketers made some research to sell cucumbers to the locals, the soil and water and the fact not all varieties of a vegetable grow everywhere are responsible for your Greek salad not tasting like back home.


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