India in pictures

Food Deliveries

8:33 AM

take out menus in Mumbai

Today, the picture of India is again not a landscape. It is something we see every Sunday in our newspaper here in Mumbai : take away restaurant menus. We get between 3 and 5 any given Sunday, and they usually aren't the ones from the regular franchises everyone know. In fact, thinking about it, I don't see the Pizza Giants bothering to send their menus around via paper regularly anymore. and I know for a fact they are all having a presence in my neighbourhood...every single one of them.
The menus I get are for smaller establishment that seem to be mushrooming in my area, every weeks I get new. Ends from different places. But, they might all be different joints, they are ALL serving the exact same fare, give or take a few items.

These are serving a hodgepodge of dishes from continental cuisine ( basically pasta, sandwich and pizza), to basic North Indian fare (Butter chicken, dal fry...) and Chinese (something Manchurian, something sechuan and Hakka noodles). The food is basic, chicken dishes come in two gravies with many variants "red gravy" and "white gravy", which means that basically almost every single meat dish is made with a butter chicken gravy to which they added more or less onions, and garnish. DH and I refer to it as a "Whatever Chicken" because it truly doesn't matter, the Butter Chicken taste the exact same as the Chicken 65 or Chicken Kadai or Chicken Do Piaza. These outlets are not doing in the gourmet cuisine. they cater to the hunger pang of stressed out Mumbaikars in need of a quick and reasonably priced meal.

And to be fair, none of the dishes we ordered from one place or another even really tasted bad at all, it is just that if you are into discovering the subtelties of Indian cuisine, these are definitely not the place to turn to. They totally do the trick when you are having a totally informal gathering of friends at home though. Any of these dishes usually feed 3-4 for people, especially since we end up ordering at least two different items ( not counting the naans we anyway will order). DH and I usually do one chicken dish, and one mutton dish, because as stated before, these places have a one size fit all gravy base, and if you want to have a different taste from one dish to the other, it is the type of meat that goes into it that need to change.

These menus are also something I haven't seen. I have outside Mumbai. In Navi Mumbai we used to get none, in Bangalore we only really got Pizza Hut and Dominos Pizza. Not that people don't order that kind of food at all, but the advertising used to go by word of mouth more than it went in prints.


  1. I've noticed that they use the same 'gravy base' or mix of spices in all the dishes in Delhi restaurants too.
    Even the expensive & 'fancy' restaurants that we've been to in Delhi do it - so we don't waste our $ or time going out to eat Indian food any more.
    If we do eat Indian food out we usually go to some drab, cheap place frequented by a lot of working class folks - usually the food is better there.
    A good example of a 'generic gravy' dish is Rogan Josh - originally a simple vivid red Kashmiri mutton dish with the primary flavors being fennel, dry ginger/galangal, Kashmiri mirch, & sour curd.
    The Rogan Josh served in most Indian restaurants is just mutton with whatever red gravy goes over everything else on the menu.
    I've even had Rogan Josh with a coconut milk gravy & bits iof pineapple in it at an Indian restaurant- (coconuts & pineapple in Kashmir?)

    1. I had that generic red gravy rogan josh :-) not the one with pineapples or coconut milk though, but yup it is pretty much the same gravy they put on everything else that requires a red gravy in these places. A few places do a Murg Reshmi, or a Murg afghani which comes in creamy yellow gravy with more subtle spices, we often opt for that one in the chicken dish, knowing that whatever mutton dish we will order will have the red sauce on it :-)

  2. Anonymous2:45 PM

    I think and I may be wrong, eating out in India still means eating something which you get at home but which is slightly spicy. The comfort level has to be there. People have started trying different cuisines which basically means pizzas, burgers etc. unless you are slightly well traveled and aware of world cuisine. Meals still means eating Indian food. I feel that Indian food has a distinct flvaour be it spicy of sweet which is its identity. Imagine a chole bature which is not spicy or gajar ka halwa which is not sweet. This is very difficult to change otherwise the dish changes completely. This is why very little innovation is seen in Indian cuisine. I have seen food being served at Five Star hotels to foreign guests which is not any better than what we get at weddings made by local halwais. This is then served as exotic cuisine. Pulao and malai kofta, I mean how exotic can you get.

    Foreigner brands have also started fusion cuisine by tweaking their products. I ate Birizza at Pizza Hut which is birayni/pulao with a pizza base on top. Tastes good more like eating bread with spicy rice.

    Another is KFC biryani bucket with chicken nuggets. The global brands found Indians to be stubborn eaters so they tried to improvise their food.


    1. Apple,
      At the risk of inciting one of your tantrums & it really doesn't seem like you comprehend what you read so this is probably pointless - BUT I'm going to take a stab at this anyway SO HERE GOES-
      "Eating out'
      In the US we have an enormous amount of restaurant choices ranging from CHEAP fast food to EXPENSIVE fine dining.
      Pizza Hut, McDonald's, KFC, Krispy Kreme are examples of CHEAP FAST FOOD & the fare they serve generally gets most of their flavor from copious use of grease, salt & empty carbohydrates (the CHEAPEST way to make something taste good). There will always be a market for the cheapest product no matter what the category be it food, clothes, cars, etc. CHEAP FAST FOOD is NOT exemplary of what most Americans eat at home ( a good example would be 'french fries' - very few Americans have the deep fryer at home that would necessary to make 'french fries', that is something you would buy at CHEAP restaurants) Typical cost per meal would usually be $8 or under, table service would not be offered.
      Chili's, TGIF's, are example of ' FAST CASUAL restaurants' A FAST CASUAL restaurant is a type of restaurant that does not necessarily offer full table service, but promises a higher quality of food with fewer frozen or processed ingredients than a 'fast food' restaurant. It is a relatively new and growing concept. The typical cost per meal is in the $8–$15 range.
      Fine dining in the US - EXPENSIVE, 'Michelin starred' restaurants where you would expect EXPERTLY & CREATIVELY prepared food made from EXTEREMELY HIGH QUALITY ingredients & served in ELEGANT surroundings (this is what makes the restaurant EXPENSIVE). The food would not be anything you'd regularly cook at home given the specialized techniques & methods of the chef, the high quality/type of ingredients you could purchase (there are different grades of food products available in the US, some are only available to restauranteurs) & most American's homes are not furnished as posh or stylish as a 'fine dining restaurant'.My favorite examples in the US would be the restaurant 'French Laundry' & 'The Restaurant at Meadowood'. Often I've tasted things I'd never even heard of nor would I try at home. An example would be the first time I ate a black truffle & the first time I ate caviar. Fine dining would not include 'chain restaurants' nor 'fast food. Typical cost per meal would be $100 & up.
      Hope that helps!
      My mom had a fast 'casual' restaurant when I was growing up & my dad used to professionally design restaurant dining areas, furniture, bars, kitchens etc.
      I think 'eating out' as a form of entertainment in India (rather than something you do if you are in a situation where you don't want cook or can't cook) is just now catching on. I notice Indians really like the novelty of eating a different cuisine in a restaurant. I'm sure some dishes & dining practices will be 'Indianized to suit their tastes (Pizza is the most popular restaurant food in the US - mind you, what we Americans have done to Italian pizza makes it barely recognizable to Italians).

    2. @ Apple,
      I found that the food in 5 star restaurant in India is often substandard and overpriced. People pay for the hotel name more than anything in these places. But I have been to a few good Indian restaurants that would fall into the fine dinning category.
      I think these small outlets of the type that send their menu out in newspaper are just convenience restaurant. In Mumbai they don't even really have any sitting space for dinners, one or two chairs at the most, because this is the kind of places people will just order food from on these days they just can't be bothered to cook, or have last minute guests. They often open in tiny shop arcade in commercial districts and just can't be bothered to have more than 2-3 base gravy for both veg and non veg dishes. I would say these are pretty much the Indian equivalent of fast food.
      In Switzerland people only really go to Mc D if they are in a hurry, on the go, or are teenagers, or parents with small children who indulge them once a month. Like Bibi said, not everybody have a deep fries to make French fries at home, so that wasn't something we would eat often. My mom had one, but back in the days frozen fries from the supermarket didn't exist, so to make them she had to peel the potatoes, put them in the press cutter, then blanch them in hot water, then only then deep fry them...twice, because to really get the crisp, you need to plung them in hot oil twice. Too time consuming, and it usually meant the whole kitchen would end up stinking up of fries.

    3. @Bibi
      I will take a real Italian pizza over the American pizza anytime :-) with a huge percentage of italian immigrants in Switzerland, authentic Italian restaurants are everywhere, Pizza Hut and Dominos are barely surviving in this market. I never saw Pizza Hut being full, and it is no surprise their pizzas are twice the cost of an authentic Italian one in a privately owned establishment, plus Swiss aren't big on take out food either. There is that idea that is you are too tired to cook, you might as well just go to the restaurant and spare yourself having to do the dishes as well :-)

    4. Cyn-
      Domino's & Pizza Hut (or Pizza Butt as we used to call it) are the absolute cheapest, worst pizza franchises in the US. Their ingredients are usually all processed & frozen (even the cheese is pre grated crap.)
      The chain restaurant 'California Pizza Kitchen' is much better quality & was started by Austrian chef Wolfgang Puck. They do have wood burning ovens, make fresh dough & the usual California style fresh toppings you'd expect. Still it isn't all that great in my opinion.
      There is also an upscale casual restaurant chain in the US that makes an authentic Italian pizza called 'Il Fornaio'. They have the wood burning ovens (as you'd expect from the name) & classic Italian pizzas like 'Pizza Margherita'. I prefer the traditional Italian style pizzas as they are lighter & fresher tasting than the American pizzas which are so huge, heavy on the cheese & sauce & toppings with a thick soggy crust.
      Locallly owned restaurants are becoming a rarity in the US as Americans are making more choices based on 'brands' as sign of quality.

    5. Pizza Butt, I love it :-)
      In Switzerland privately owned restaurant still rule big time, the casual establishments are cafes, they do the morning coffee service then offer a basic menu for lunch with a special of the day most people order, and by the evening they become a resto-bar. Every county will have at least one family owned cafe, which in the old days were pretty much the social networking sites of their time, and still are to a wide extent. The morning coffe break is mandated by the labour union in Switzerland. All industries have it, and going to the corner cafe is still a big institution. This is something I am planning to blog about in the near future too. Because this is something that has impressed my husband big time about Switzerland. We may not eat out much, or order take away food, but comes 10am and you are sure to find everybody flocking to their favourite cafe, even in their senior years, not unusual to see elderly ladies come together for a cup of coffee right after their morning grocery shopping. And people don't go for the quality of what is I their cup as much as they go for the warmth of human contact and being among people they know.

    6. Anonymous2:41 PM

      I think Kolkata has a coffee house tradition where intellectuals- singers, writers, film makers, sat for a cup of coffee and discuss everything under the sun from politics to literature. Bengalis love to argue and many revolutionary ideas were the products of this culture. In Bengali it is called "Adda" (hangout). It is more of less a tradition in Bengal whereby friends gather at some coffee shop or home to have a fun time over a cup of tea and samosas. Somebody recites poems, someone sings. All in all, an intellectually stimulating evening.

      I think the Mumbai equivalent would be Irani Tea Shops of the Parisis which is an institution in itself. I have heard that the "Bun Maska" of Irani shop is very famous.


    7. Yes the Iranian and Parsi coffe houses and eateries are famous in South Mumbai, but one has to live down there to get the full experience, the rest of Mumbai and suburbs have to make do with Franchise coffees :-)
      I have heard of Koklata's coffee houses and tradition, something I am yet to experience in person though.

  3. Anonymous7:37 PM

    I've been to plenty of curry houses but I never found the masaka mix to be the same in India. The curry houses in U.S are just bland full of tasteless masala mix and cream.Yes paneer butter masala and butter chicken will be the same but not chicken 65 and chicken tikka masala. They are truly different. My favourite curry house in Mumbai is Delhi durbar. Their butter chicken is simply amazing. I love biryani too but none of these restaurant style biryani does justice to the mutton biryani cooked by Muslim women/cooks of Hyderabad. Even mentioning it is an insult to the dish.

    1. There is no question, birryani made by Hyderabadi Muslim women is the best...EVER. I am still longing for the one our landlord's wife was making each Eid...that thing was simply divine, no words to describe it.

      Most restaurants that do that kind of take out deliveries all make one basic gravy to what they add stuff to make the different dish, so the core flavour is the exact same across every single tomato gravy dish on their menu, sure the murgh do Piaza will have a sharper onion flavour, but there is no depth in the spice palette at all. They don't catter to the gourmet crowd, just the hungry and too tired to cook at home lot. My husband usually say "Let's order a chicken whatever tonight" when we are in for just a chicken dish that we don't want to be bothered to cook at all.


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