Food has evolved to become a major topic of controversy in the US. Meals have evolved to incorporate more processed foods, increased portion sizes, as well as increased sugar consumption (“Current Eating Patterns in the United States”). At the same time, cooking homemade meals has become a rarity as more families opt to eat out at restaurants (Smith et. al.). I set out to explore if this shift in food consumption had any effect on the food prepared and served at international restaurants as they serve food with greater heritage and tradition. After reading the third chapter from Food in Time and Place, written by Jayanta Sengupta about commercialized Indian food, I decided to eat at an Indian restaurant in order to prove that it alters its traditional dishes in accordance to the overall shift towards processed foods, increased portion sizes, and high sugar usage.
The restaurant I chose was Raagini Indian Bistro in Andover, MA. It is a very popular restaurant at the center of an affluent town, attracting customers from many surrounding towns as well. I decided to order the most popular dish for each of the three courses. The appetizer I ordered was called samosa. The dish hails from the state of Punjab in India. Punjabi food is the foundation of many dishes served in Indian restaurants as it incorporates many simple foods which do not contain relatively high levels of spice and rather place a slightly higher emphasis on texture of the food (Sengupta). As such, these foods are essentially already catered to please a wide range of customers, perfect for restaurants in the western world.
The samosas highlighted the increase in processed food consumption due to the high level of oil used in its preparation. Homemade samosas, as well as those made in restaurants in India, are not particularly soft or oily on the inside. Samosas are known for their crunchy feel as well as their slightly dry interior; the latter allows the masala within to provide the prominent taste. However, the samosas served to me were served with excess potato stuffing along with an overabundance of oil. Admittedly, these factors did make the samosas more savory yet at the same time less wholesome and more processed. This perfectly demonstrated the shift away from the traditional samosa recipe as it essentially increased the processed component of the dish.
The samosas were also immense in size. Traditional samosas are fairly small, almost bitesize, in order to truly serve as an appetizer. However, each samosa I was served was absolutely stuffed with potatoes and masala. In comparison to a traditional Indian samosa dish, this dish could have served as a main course due to its vast size. This increase in portion size mirrors the overall increase in serving size in the western world, particularly in the US.
This increased portion size was further accentuated in the main dish, the masala dosa. It essentially consists of a crepe stuffed with potatoes and masala. As with the samosas, the dosa served was absolutely teeming with stuffing and as a result was unnecessarily large. However, I was astonished by the fact that the dish came with not one, but two masala dosas. This caught me quite off guard as I had never been served two dosas as part of one dish. I wondered to myself how anyone could ever consume this much food in one sitting as it could easily be enough to spread out over two, if not more, meals.
Finally, the dessert I ordered was the gulab jamun. Traditionally, this dessert is prepared with oil as well as a small amount of sugar, just enough to provide a hint of sweetness. I specifically chose this dish in order to investigate the amount of sugar the cooks at Raagini would use to prepare it. As I suspected, the dessert turned out far too sweet, meaning that the cooks used far too much sugar in its preparation.
Each course of my meal at Raagini perfectly showcased the overall shift in American diets. This included the heightened use of processed foods, large portion sizes, and an overabundant use of sugar. Customers at Raagini are, unsurprisingly, almost always pleased with their meals. They love that they can come in to an Indian restaurant and eat what they think is authentic Indian cuisine. Unbeknownst to them, however, they are simply being served food that has been essentially westernized in order to cater to their tastes and preferences.
This proves that the traditional recipes are no longer being adhered to, which in turn tarnishes the culture and history behind the food, particularly for those who are from India or other international countries. These are foods that I have tried and enjoyed from a young age, with my mother and grandmother using traditional recipes and cooking styles to make the experience as authentic as can be. As such, it is unfortunate to note that the modern food landscape favoring processed foods, large portions, and high sugar consumption has indeed affected international restaurants like Raagini Indian Bistro.
“Current Eating Patterns in the United States.” Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020, Health.gov, health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-2/current-eating-patterns-in-the-united-states/.
Jayanta Sengupta, “India”, Food in Time and Place: The American Historical Association Companion to Food History, 80
Smith, Lindsey P et al. “Trends in US home food preparation and consumption: analysis of national nutrition surveys and time use studies from 1965-1966 to 2007-2008” Nutrition journal vol. 12 45. 11 Apr. 2013, doi:10.1186/1475-2891-12-45