When we think about fast food, we often think about global fast food chains and ‘junk food’ such as burgers, pizzas and fried chicken. India once had a reputation for not wanting these international chains to do business in its country, but in recent years, western fast food outlets have been growing in popularity.
India’s fast food revolution started in 1996 with the opening of its first McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway. Since then, it is estimated that international chain restaurants now account for 5% of the total Indian food services industry.
Of course, India has long had a relationship with fast food, but of the freshly-cooked street food variety rather than the heavily processed fast foods eaten in the West. In cities throughout the country, street hawkers and wallahs create a range of delicious options – from vadapav (‘the poor man’s burger’) to samosas and panipuri (a crispy fried shell stuffed with a spiced chickpea, potato and onion mixture). While the people of India still love these morsels, street food vendors now have to compete with the big chains for their attention.
As with many parts of the world, Indian lifestyles are changing. With one of the youngest populations in the world – almost 65% of the population is aged under 35 – the younger generations are adopting increasingly mobile and global attitudes. This is having an impact on their tastebuds and social habits, such as dining out more regularly than their parents would have. Another factor contributing to this shift is an increase in middle-class disposable income, particularly among women who are entering the workforce in large numbers.
The global fast food chains have adapted their offerings to fit with the culture and beliefs of India – for example, McDonald’s don’t serve beef or pork on their menus, out of respect for the country’s millions of Hindus and Muslims. This means that instead of a Big Mac, you’ll find the Chicken Maharaja Mac, with spicy chicken replacing the standard beef burger. Other options include the McSpicy Paneer Burger, McSpicy Chicken Burger or the McAlooTikki Burger! It has even opened its first dedicated vegetarian branch next to the Golden Temple in the holy city of Amristar.
Although the younger generations of India have developed a taste for Western fast food, and the Indian chain restaurant market is expected to grow from £1.5 billion in 2013 to almost £4 billion by 2020, their love for traditional Indian fast food remains – where else in the world can you find such a treasure trove of delicacies on the city streets?
But if you wish to experience the vibrant and exciting flavours of traditional Indian street food here in the UK, you don’t need to travel to the streets of India; at London’s popular Indian brasseries, regional chefs prepare authentic food inspired by foods they grew up with, all with a distinctly modern flare. You won’t find a Big Mac on their menus, but you will find street food dishes, thalis, curries, cocktails and more.