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Hot and spicy
Fast food, Indian style: Hell, hell, hell

Indian Fast Food
Indian Fast Food | © Ulrike Putz

McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut: International fast food chains are taking over the Indian market. However, people traveling to India who think they may get something familiar, rather than more curry and chicken tikka, should beware: The menus at fast food restaurants in India are … dangerous.

By Ulrike Putz

If you want to see seasoned Indian men crying, you should head to the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Connaught Place in New Delhi. Outside, the big-city traffic is raging around the giant roundabout, which the British colonial rulers left behind for the Indians. Inside, Vicky, a driver, is fighting back tears. Vicky is a burly man, 34-years-old, a proud Sikh from Punjab, a family father and a body building fan. His hands are about as big as the trey in front of him, which already has two of his teardrops on it.

What happened? Vicky just bit into a “Flaming Crunch” drumstick. This instrument of torture is administered at the counter in pairs for 155 rupees  (2.50 euros). “Made with the world’s spiciest chili” is written in flaming red letters on the menu above the register.

“Very spicy, very good”

You could recognize this as a warning, but Indians like Vicky seem to be downright enticed by the promise of terribly agony. According to representatives from KFC India, “Flaming Crunch” is one of the chain’s bestselling dishes. Accordingly, the sale of fried chicken wings tripled after “Flaming Crunch” was introduced. Even Vicky finishes eating his drumstick dusted with poisonous, orange chili powder. “Very spicy, very good,” he praises; his eyes are slightly puffy from the tears.

The fact that Indians like spicy food, is well-known. But it was still painstaking for Western fast food chains, which are crowding India’s 1.2 billion person market, to find out how spicy they like to eat. in 1996, the first McDonalds, Dominos, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut chains opened in India – to no great success. The Indians weren’t getting anything out of the grub, even if they were curious about the international menu.

vegetables instead of meat

What also made things difficult, is the fact that consuming beef is strictly forbidden in the land of the holy cow. This obviously makes life hard primarily for burger joints. At best, you can find a burger in India with buffalo meat that can be somewhat tough. The next problem: More than half of Indians are vegetarians. Burger joints and fried chicken places need to expand their meat-heavy menus to include lots and lots of vegetables to be able to reach this clientele.

“Obviously we’ve kept the core items on our menu,” the head of quality control told me at the McDonalds on Connaught Place. French fried and chicken nuggets are offered in every McDonalds around the globe. Foreigners appreciate that. “We always have a lot of tourists here that go for the stuff they know from home like they’re starving,” the manager says, who doesn’t want to give his name, since he isn’t an authorized spokesperson.

sick of all the spices

The McDonalds guy says, that when he talks to foreigners, many say that after traveling for weeks on an exclusively Indian diet, they’re sick of all the spices. “Many of them also have stomach issues.” The fact that his establishment has a squeaky clean bathroom, for Indian standards, is also a magnet for foreign patrons. Westerners are also happy to be able to sit down and eat their fast food: On India’s streets, people usually eat standing up.

Even McDonalds, a hamburger restaurant, makes 70% of it’s revenue in India from meatless products. The McSpicy with “100% paneer passion” is a big hit. Paneer is firm, fresh cheese that Indians love. Stuck between two halves of a bun and fried with extremely spicy breading, it a unites South Asian taste with Western food conventions.

extreme potential for growth

The strange iterations in international fast food chains may be worth it. The fast food industry in India is considered to be an industry with extreme potential for growth. The Indian consulting firm, Technopak, estimates that the current market volume of about a billion euros annually could grow to up to 3.5 billion over the next five years.

The attempt at fitting into local habits can also produce strange results. Pizza Hut in India has been offering “Birizza” for a year, which is a fusion of the common rice stew, Biryani and pizza. A bowl of the rice stew is covered with a top made of pizza dough and then it gets baked. The guest pokes into the edible top and then spoons out its contents, which are obviously insanely spicy. The drinks at Pizza Hut are also somewhat experimental. Lemonade is seasoned with masala, an indian mixture of spices. And what’s swimming in the mango juice? A chili pepper of course.