Food

The New Generation of Indian Convenience Foods

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In our meanderings through Indian grocery stores, we’ve noticed a relatively recent proliferation of convenience foods–and not just frozen samosas and tikka masala. Check out the freezer in a well-stocked Patel Brothers, and you’ll find scores of regional specialties, like Gujarati khadavi (spiced chickpea noodles) and dhokla, Southern Indian uthappam and idly, Indian-Chinese dishes, dozens of different parathas and rotis, and other popular snack foods. You can even get your bhel puri in a boxed kit now, saving you from spooning out different chutneys.

Interestingly, the majority of these convenience foods are made in India, marketed to Indians. The box of daal puri above was made in Bangalore.

Just a generation ago, Western-style fast food and convenience food was very rare in India. (Aside from traditional street food vendors, who have always been popular.) A woman who moved from Mumbai to the United States in the ’70s told us a story of being absolutely transfixed by KFC: You could buy chicken already cut up and cooked for you? Now Mumbai has several KFC outlets of its own.

Fast and convenience foods are on the rise in India in part because of a growing urban middle class that works long hours and doesn’t have time to go to the market everyday. And although many Indians still live with their parents before (and sometimes after) marriage, the practice is not as universal as it once was, especially in cities. Some ads for packaged foods even show inept bachelors alone in the kitchen relying on heat-and-eat meals to impress their visiting girlfriends, a scenario that wouldn’t have been plausible in the past.

Many of these Indian-made frozen and packaged foods are surprisingly good, better than their American equivalents, at least, although no one would say they even approach the real thing.

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We recently tried Ching’s Secret paneer 65, an oily, chile-sauce brew with cubes of paneer and a handful of whole long green chiles. It was pretty tasty for a frozen meal. Ching’s makes all manner of Indian-Chinese dishes, including these “Schezwan Noodles.” You can find it, and all the products pictured here, at the Jackson Heights Patel Brothers.

And it turns out that Ching’s Secret brings out the celebs–a recent event for the brand featured the Indian food minister and Aditi Govitrikar, former Miss World, actress, model, and doctor.

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