Professor says Indian eateries are experiencing a U.S. boom

Monday, October 13, 2003

DENTON (UNT), Texas — Typically in America, when we think of Asian food it’s Chinese or, more recently, Thai food or Japanese sushi. But Indian food doesn’t even register on our palates.That’s about to change, according to University of North Texas Assistant Professor of Hospitality Management Bharath Josiam.In places like England, Indian cuisine dominates with as many as 10,000 Indian restaurants in operation, from small mom and pop restaurants to trendy themed places. This type of cuisine has also taken hold around the world from Tokyo to Sydney. Some Indian restaurants in the United Kingdom have recently received recognition in the Michelin Guide, a listing of exceptionally good European restaurants.While the connections between the U.K. and India go back over two centuries, only since the late sixties has the Asian-Indian community been immigrating in large numbers to the U.S. And this is part of the reason the popularity of Indian food in the U.S hasn’t come as quickly, Josiam says.According to Josiam’s study part of the problem is that the American palate isn’t as open to the high levels of spiciness in Indian food. There is also a perception, not necessarily a reality, of lower health standards in the mom and pop Indian restaurants. But it’s changing as the restaurant owners change.“Typically the people opening these restaurants aren’t hospitality industry professionals, but entrepreneurial Indians,” he says. “But that’s starting to change also. Both the food and the businesspeople are evolving to the next level and hopefully changing these perceptions.”Josiam points out in his study that the general American public is looking for ambiance in a new cultural experience and have very high health and hygiene standards. They are less concerned about price.But the Indian customers that these mom-and-pop-restaurants have catered to in the past seek authenticity, spiciness and low prices. These Indians serve as gatekeepers to other South Asian customers and the broader American public, however their wants also contrast those of non-Asian consumers in the U.S.This has also been part of the slow growth of these restaurants initially, Josiam says.But the trend is changing.“As public awareness of Indian cuisine increases and the sophistication of the American palate grows even regional cuisine from India is finding a home in the D/FW area,” he says. “Examples include Madras Pavillion and Chettinad (both of Dallas) specializing in south Indian cuisine while others like the Clay Pit provide a trendy atmosphere with a fusion of Westernized Indian food — it’s trendy. They even have signature drinks with just an Indian touch.” For more information contact Josiam at (940) 565-2429.

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