Pizza Pizza

We subscribe to two ‘general interest’ magazines in my house — one is The New Yorker (my choice), and the other is Fortune (my wife’s choice). For awhile I used to boycott Fortune and stick to 10,000 word articles by Louis Menand, Adam Gopnik, and co. But over time I’ve started to flirt more with the other side — especially when I only have a few minutes to read. Over cereal this morning, I came across an article in the ‘other’ magazine about American Pizza chains competing in India, which contained the following paragraphs:

It’s not all that surprising that pizza is big business in India. The product itself is similar to India’s native cuisine. Unlike Chinese and Japanese, Indians eat leavened bread (naan), and a popular traditional version slathers it in butter and garlic – not unlike garlic bread, the most often ordered side dish at both Domino’s and Pizza Hut franchises in India.

Cheese (paneer) is ubiquitous in India’s northern cuisine. Tomatoes and all kinds of sauces are prevalent everywhere. Combine these ingredients into one gooey, oily, tasty dish that you can eat with your hands – as Indians traditionally do – and you have a hit.

It’s estimated that 80% of Indians are vegetarians, so pizza suits that Indian cultural aspect too. Both chains are scrupulous about keeping “veg” from “non-veg” in their kitchens and invite people in to see the separate prep areas. There are even pizza options for India’s 5.2 million Jains, followers of a religion that prohibits eating onions or garlic. And stores in heavily Muslim areas don’t offer pepperoni. (link)

First of all, I don’t think 80% of Indians are vegetarians in the absolute sense (i.e., no fish), probably not even close. (I remember seeing someone pose 50-60% and falling in a comment thread some time ago).

Secondly, mozzarella cheese is like paneer? And: “A gooey, oily, tasty dish” that Indians like, because they eat with their hands? The author is on thin ice with some of this stuff. Instead of coming up with these questionable sociological stereotypes, she could just as easily speculate that pizza is popular in India because it’s new, and different from what people are used to/bored with.

(Anyone hungry for pizza now? I am. I think I might get a slice, and eat it while reading The New Yorker.)

55 thoughts on “Pizza Pizza

  1. Combine these ingredients into one gooey, oily, tasty dish that you can eat with your hands – as Indians traditionally do – and you have a hit.

    First of all, I don’t like my pizza gooey, I like it crispy with a thin crust.

    Secondly, who doesn’t like pizza? When my grandparents used to visit us here in the US they loved pizza! There love affair with pizza started in the 70′s.

    The author seems to not realize that people in India have been eating pizza for a very long time, it’s just in the past few years that American chains are getting in on the action. Poor research on her part.

    I think I’ll be having pizza for lunch, mmm pizza!

  2. wide-eyed foreigner thinks everything outside America is a backward country… hence she makes it seem like the oh so glorious pizza is a new “fad” (kinda redudant hmmm.. and what’s with the quotation marks?? not that much coffee this morning I guess) sigh.. anyway, I have some left over pizza from last night :) goody!!

  3. We South East Asian folks have been eating “Pizza” like food for ever. ‘Utthappam” in Southern part of India, Kulchas and stuffed naans in north. I am sure there are variants in East and west too. Pizza is cheap, easy and convenient.

  4. We were in India for two months this summer. In America, Pizza Hut is the last place anyone of us would go for a meal out. In India, however, we were always on the lookout for one in the various cities we visited. These restaurants were spotlessly clean (unlike the ones here)and the pizza, pasta, breadsticks, etc. tasted great. The service was uniformily good. The atmosphere was very hip and trendy. The appeal to Indians, as you say, is the novelty of western food. My kids were very amused when they saw diners eating breadsticks with a fork and knife. Even the McDonalds in India are great (and always crowded).

    As for vegetarians, I believe the figure is somewhere around 30%.

  5. Interestingly enough there is an article in October’s Washingtonian about the Pizza wars. As pizza evolves as it has started to in the past ten years, it will become more and more inline with Indians diets. High quality fresh toppings with strong favors that are aromatic.

    Also, if you’re in the NYC area, highly recommend making the pilgrimage to Difara’s on Avenue J in Brooklyn.

  6. But have you heard about the new desi pizzas?? In the Bay Area, you can now find pizzas with paav bhaji, paneer, and other fun Indian ingredients! It tastes SOOO good! Makes for an interesting change from the usual pizza fare.

  7. The appeal to Indians, as you say, is the novelty of western food

    Pizza was available long before the MNCs entered India.In the 70s in Bombay MAFCO outlets sold Pizza as did Waikiki and other favorite Bombay haunts.But that was Bombay

    My speculation: Pizza is one of the first western foods available with widespread,standardized home delivery in both A and B cities in India – i.e. Domino’s which made in roads a little before Pizza hut.Therefore the convenience+ the fact that kids are the ones making the buying decision on takeout its no wonder that Pizza consumption is on the rise.

  8. But have you heard about the new desi pizzas?? In the Bay Area, you can now find pizzas with paav bhaji, paneer, and other fun Indian ingredients! It tastes SOOO good! Makes for an interesting change from the usual pizza fare.

    That sounds delicious! We have a place in Philly (Rustica in Northern Liberties) that does a great Mexican-style dark molé pizza. Mmm, now I’m hungry…

  9. indian pizza huts are my favorite places to eat in india! With the different sauces & such- heavenly

  10. Pizza was available long before the MNCs entered India.In the 70s in Bombay MAFCO outlets sold Pizza as did Waikiki and other favorite Bombay haunts.But that was Bombay

    Delhi always had Nirulas.

    Even small towns too.

    An example, Cheetal, a resort/ eating place for buses and highway travellers near Meerut has been selling pizza (indian version) for more than 30 years.

  11. 80% of Indians may not be vegetarian, but I think 80% of Indians will be satisfied with a vegetarian meal. People who call themselves non-vegetarian in India don;t need meat with every meal. So, unlike in the US, an establishment that sells only vegetarian food can count non-vegeterians as it’s customer

  12. Amardeep, Funny you compare reading with Fortune with reading the NYer. I am developing a similar liking within the NYT. I find the NYT times Business Section consistently interesting. This is not the case with other sections of the paper.

  13. Maybe we need a term for indians who are “mostly vegetarians” – as vast majority of indians do eat some fish or chicken but in very small quantities – how about quasi-vegetarian or indo-vegetarian?

  14. As for vegetarians, I believe the figure is somewhere around 30%.

    and

    It’s estimated that 80% of Indians are vegetarians, so pizza suits that Indian cultural aspect too.

    are probably both “right” in their own ways. A very small percentage in India eats a meat-centric diet—most non vegetarians in India would still typically eat meat only abt a couple of times a week (typically much less than once a day). By American standards, that is still “vegetarian”—I have had many people claim they are vegetarian in such a situation here.

  15. “An example, Cheetal, a resort/ eating place for buses and highway travellers near Meerut has been selling pizza (indian version) for more than 30 years”.

    really? kush where did you get that info from, do u know more about it? Interesting cos my bapu is from Cheetal.

  16. Thanks for the tip, Sarah. I eat at Rustica’s in NoLibs every couple of weeks, but I haven’t yet tried the Mexican-style dark molé pizza. Sounds good.

  17. in addition to mafco, waikiki, etc. you could get jain pizza at the “new yorker” restaurant at chowpatty (so, amardeep, the circle is now complete and you can go back to reading the ny’er). also, at my punjabi friend’s place, i got punju pizza, at gujju houses, you got gujju pizza, etc. etc. these days, i even believe that you get jain chicken, but i digress…

  18. really? kush where did you get that info from, do u know more about it? Interesting cos my bapu is from Cheetal.

    Because, I/ we stop there whenever, I/ we are traveling from Delhi to Roorkee.

    Cheetal (or Chital), near Meerut had a small resort opened owned by brothers in early 70s on the highway – for taxis, buses, and cars – it 10-20X now. They are known for quick service, and lot of entrees (parathas, vegetable burgers and all). Somebody, even blogged about their food too.

    I saw Juhi Chawla there in 2004.

  19. From Smugbug

    1. Alu Paratha, at Cheetal somewhere en route to Meerut from Delhi on NH something Traveling all alone from Delhi to Muzaffararnagar isn’t too much fun. Especially when you are being driven around by a man who thinks that this ought to be your last trip to anywhere! However some research that I had done prior to the trip told me that two places to stop for en route would be for the Shikanji at Modinagar and the breakfast at Cheetal near Meerut. Skipped the Shikanji, as it was way too cold but went to Cheetal with some suspicion. An animal sounding restaurant name for breakfast, I thought? However, the place was fabulous on many accounts. For one, it had the cleanest and swankiest loos, which is very important. Also the place was huge and with the widest range of food that one can possibly find in the middle of nowhere. The Alu Parathas there came very heavily recommended and sure enough the huge, fat, soft inside – crisp on the outside was divine. And like its famous cousin from the not too far away Parathewallhi Gali, this was also deep fried. God, this living in sin!
  20. Cheetal (or Chital), near Meerut had a small resort opened owned by brothers in early 70s on the highway – for taxis, buses, and cars – it 10-20X now. They are known for quick service, and lot of entrees (parathas, vegetable burgers and all). Somebody, even blogged about their food too.

    I have heard that they have now opened a new one there. The old one was leased to them by the Government. Now they apparently have their own establishment. The owners are Muslims.

  21. Now they apparently have their own establishment. The owners are Muslims.

    Yes. There is a new, next to the old onee.

    I know (or my father knows) the owners relatively well. They pay him a lot of attention (as he travels on the road often), and sometimes, do not even charge.

  22. Either someone is vegetarian or they are not. Even a little meat consumption once in a while would be considered non vegetarian by me. Then again, that is just my opinion. (Just like pregnancy, you can’t be a bit pregnant.) Of course, I am not the judgmental kind of vegetarian. Ever see those people who are holier than thou for being vegan or vegetarian?

    Now I better get a pizza loaded with veggies because your article is making me hungry.

  23. The new one is called Cheetal Grand, in addition to all the nice Pizza places in Bombay Runa mentioned, Smokin Joes is great as well, and I think all of them do better than the foreign chains.

  24. http://ushome.rediff.com/news/2006/oct/17food.htm

    Re: Indians and vegetarianism. What is the retail price of goat meat/chicken in India? Most people cant afford it anyway. For those who can afford it, I know Muslim families in North India tend to eat it everyday, usually twice a day. But most Muslims cant afford to eat meat everyday in India. As I understand, for Hindu families even those who can afford it wont eat meat everday. Also the quantity of meat consumed is very different. A typical American family for a typical meal probably consumes 3x or 4x the amount of meat consumed by a family of same size in India.

  25. Obsolete-type pizzas, Domino’s and Pizza Hut– typical. Why not send local NYC Pintaile’s yummy crispy thin ones to Desh– not gooey enough, mebbe?

    This bit was interesting:

    “‘It’s rocking,’” says 23-year-old software engineer Nishant Gupta, squirting ketchup onto his pizza before dipping it in a mound of mustard and taking a bite.”

    I was wondering where Pizza Hut’s pukey the ‘Dippin’ Strips’ concept came from…

  26. Supposedly, there really is something called the paneer uthapam. Uthapams are generally roasted, not baked, but visually a paneer uthapam does come quite close to a pizza. Aloo parathaas are great, but they’re not the desi pizza. On the other hand, aloo paratha plus bhurji done just right, can have the same visual (but far superior) culinary appeal. However, I’d say the uthapam is still the desi equivalent of the pizza.

  27. that makes me want to die.

    If you can have puliyogare in the USA, surely you can have Paneer Uthapams in India. Are we turning into culinary purists (and being parochial too, while we’re at it)?

  28. If you can have puliyogare in the USA, surely you can have Paneer Uthapams in India. Are we turning into culinary purists (and being parochial too, while we’re at it)?

    im not saying you cant have it. im just saying that the whole paneer on dosas and stuff tastes bad. an expression of opinion.

  29. Maybe we need flavored paneers.

    As a Korean-American who likes to make Indian cheese with German ingredients for use in Italian dishes, I’m one step shy of hosting a United Nations conference in my own kitchen. Curiosity piqued?

    Link

    Perhaps we could add olives to the uthapam toppings too….

  30. Perhaps we could add olives to the uthapam toppings too….

    Uh no. Olives only belong in Bloody Marys ;) CHEERS! It’s Friday!

  31. “First of all, I don’t think 80% of Indians are vegetarians”

    Don’t you know that 72% of all statistics are made up? C’mon, 95% of people know that.

  32. Best Favorite Pizza toppings:

    (1) Pineapple and banana peppers (2) Pineapple and Pepperoni Pineapple on a pizza should be haram.

  33. Pineapple on a pizza should be haram.

    I agree! Though ACFD was probably just joking with that one – he fools us that way.

  34. Pineapple on a pizza should be haram

    Oh no :-) My favorite pizza topping is pineapple and jalapenos

    AFCD – you are not alone !

  35. these questionable sociological stereotypes

    Yes Amardeep, but if you put these stereotypes in a 28pt. font and stick it in a Powerpoint, it’ll be a hit and you’ll make VP of Marketing in record time.

  36. why this uthappam and dosa tarnishing agenda?

    There is no agenda! Or at least, I see no smiley anywhere in your comment. I was actually quite taken aback by the idea of the paneer uthapam myself. But it’s out there, and it’s for real, as are the flavored paneers. Pepperoni wouldn’t work with aloo mutter, though it might work with some other Indian dishes. Can’t think of any right now :)

  37. There is no agenda! Or at least, I see no smiley anywhere in your comment.

    i was joking.

    sort of :)

    But it’s out there, and it’s for real, as are the flavored paneers.

    That’s no reason to like it, is it? Uthappams and dosas, do not go gently into that good night. Onward ho, blue cheese and salami stuffed parathas!

  38. The best pizza I’ve ever had was at some Indian pizza chain in Bangalore–I can’t remember the name. They had desi-ized it—sauce had some indian spices–which was yummy, plus the crust was better than Two Amys or Pizza Paradiso. okay, i’m getting very hungry…

  39. Re: Similarity of mozzarella and paneer, they actually are in terms of preparation. You make paneer, add a couple extra steps involving boiling water, and then kneading and stretching the cheese and BAM you have mozzarella.

    Ok these specific recipes are different – they use different things to create the curd in the milk – but you get the picture…