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Brits fall for Indian takeaway food

india Updated: Jun 29, 2007 12:38 IST
Uma Nair
Whole Foods

Matar paneer, tandoori roti, lachha paratha... Everyone seems to be talking about Indian takeaway food at London's first Whole Foods store.

The store - part of Whole Foods, the US food-retail phenomenon - opened this month at Kensington High and offers a superabundance of choice and eco-idealism. From chickens that are given organic feed to charismatic cheeses, there are no trans fats, no e-numbers - only what is green and eco-friendly.

But what has pleasantly surprised London's substantial Indian population, and indeed many others, is the Indian inclusion at its "take out tables" - so called because it offers a range of dishes that a customer can pick up and then pay for at a different counter.

The Indian menu boasts roasted lentils, matar paneer, spinach and carrots, potato curry and tandoori rotis as well as naans and lachha parathas that can all be micro-waved and served hot and homey.

"Perfect for the young banker who needs a hot curry for supper," says Ashwin Pai, who works at Citibank and who would rather head for Whole Foods after a long day.

The Indian dishes come for 1.69 pounds for 100 gm.

The London store is huge, comprising 80,000 sq ft and spread out over three floors offering 10,000 grocery items. These include 1,000 different wines, 425 cheeses and 40 types of sausage. There are 55 in-store chefs, a sushi bar, a champagne-and-oysters bar and a DJ-booth to play music for late night shoppers.

The range of options can be overwhelming - a greengrocer section boasting 30 different varieties of tomato, or a dozen different shelves stocked with teas.

"It's attractive, the variety, and the food is fresh," says Kanika Dhawan, a London School of Economics scholar, eating a Lebanese tabouleh salad in the upstairs food court and also digging deep into a bowl of Indian black dal.

Whole Foods started in 1980 as a small, vegetarian co-op in Austin, Texas, tapping into growing anxiety about what one eats and how it's grown. Through a series of aggressive takeovers, it morphed into one of America's fastest growing mass retailers - and is today a Fortune 500 Company.

For Indians in London, Indian food at its standard best is certainly at Whole Foods, going by the snaking queues there every day.

"A revolution with fresh ingredients... nothing artificial whatsoever," says Rajesh Suri, the owner of Tamarind restaurant and a food expert who abides by quality.