Indian cuisine in the USA

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Popularity of Indian food

The Times of India, Apr 24 2016

Why are New Yorkers more willing to spend twice as much on French food than Indian?

Turns out, their attitudes are not so much swayed by spice, but by popular perceptions of a cuisine's ethnicity and associated class, suggests Krishnendu Ray, the chair of the department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University, in his new book The Ethnic Restaurateur. He tells JoeannaRebello why we're at the near bottom of New York's food chain

In your comparative price rankings (of 14 popular cuisines reviewed in the Zagat New York restaurant guides in 1986 and 2014), Indian food has fallen from 8 to 9. What does this demotion tell you?

I make the argument that culinary prestige has a lot to do with class, race, and nation.

Most Indian restaurants in the US, and in New York City, are run by Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and some Indians who are neither very rich, nor fluently Anglo phone, nor highly credentialed, which creates the contamination effect for main stream, middle-class, Americans. Like Mexican or Chinese food, most Americans refuse to pay more than a pittance for Indian food, which cannot buy the skilled labour, the good ingredients or the decor to create an upscale place. Of say the 350 or so Indian restaurants in NYC, only a dozen are upscale. That was the fate of Italian and Greek food too until immigration from the Mediterranean dried to a trickle and there was upward mobility of third-generation Italians and Greeks. Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Soul... are all stuck at the bottom. That will change when the source of immigration of poor people to America changes. I see that happening to new-style Chinese food such as at Jonathan Wu's Fung Tu.Similarly , better credentialed Indian chefs and entrepreneurs like Floyd Cardoz, Hemant Mathur, SurbhiSahani, Suvir Saran, Sanjeev Kapoor, Jehangir Mehta, among others, are straining to upscale American notions of Indian food. There is an opening there because more than half of Indian immigrants to the US are entering engineering, management, medicine and the academy .So clever interpretations like the restaurant Babu Ji (in NYC) are playing to those possibilities.

Can you give us examples of how the improved social status of a country has made its food more coveted? Americans were full of disdain for Japanese culture, especially food, almost into the 1980s when the rise of Japan and contact with Japanese managers completely transformed American posture towards sushi that American elites had both disdained and were unable to appreciate.

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