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Broccoli goes Indian, but where is my street salad?

While broccoli, once available only in upscale Delhi localities, makes way to modest neighbourhood pushcarts, yearning for cheaply available french fries increases, reports Narayanan Madhavan.

india Updated: Dec 28, 2006 17:11 IST

When I see a vegetable vendor displaying broccoli on a pushcart stall in a middle-class Delhi suburb, I see a point of inflexion, to borrow that memorable phrase from former Intel chairman Andy Grove.

"Dus rupaye paav," the Bihari-accented vendor told me last week as the green vegetable, one of my favourites, gleamed in his stall.

When a European/Western vegetable considered exotic in India is sold at Rs10 for a quarter-kilo on the streets, I know that globalisation has taken a key step forward.

About two decades ago, on my first visit to Europe, I relished broccoli and wished I could have it in Delhi too — at an affordable price. Those were the days when this vegetable was only found in niche shops in places like Golf Links, Chankayapuri or Vasant Vihar, the upscale localities inhabited heavily by expatriates and foreign diplomats.

It came later to stores like the Mother Dairy. I am now happy to see it on a wooden pushcart in a modest neighbourhood.

And I ask myself: Where are my street French Fries?

McDonald's, Wimpy and Nirula's remain the bastions of serving the popular potato item. Street vendors sell aloo-chaat, loaded with local spices and burnt a bit too much. Surely, there must be an opportunity to sell French fries at competitive rates in good-clean street stalls or even shops? I do not think there is a demand issue here. Kids and youth love it. It is simply a matter of how cultural barriers stand in the way of big business opportunities waiting to be exploited.

The hardworking migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who sell their street food on Indian streets may have graduated to sandwiches, as they have done in Mumbai, or even Gobi Manchurian as in Bangalore, where it is locally twisted as "Manchoori". Pungent Chinese food stalls peddle noodles loaded with salts in many parts of India. I cannot say Indian streets are not globalised in their culinary adventures.

But, in my quest for street-made French fries that would give Big Mac a run for its money, I realise the need for some entrepreneurs or enterprising folks who could propagate ideas that can quietly nurture a mix of social work and business opportunity. French fries can be made in machines with low-fat cooking oil and sold on the streets. If only someone could teach these vendors that there is a demand for this, teach them a trick or two in making the fries, and lend a helping hand in building suitable vending stalls, Indian cities will never be the same again.

I could also do with some nice, green salads. The ubiquitous fruit-chaat will not do. Why do I have to go to a remote Pizza Hut or a five-star hotel to get some salads, just plain old vegetables or pulses with minor dressings, and pay an exorbitant amount for it? I can easily imagine green peas, broccoli, boiled carrots and boiled corn sitting on a plate in some modest Delhi shop — if only some entrepreneur would do it. With Indians becoming used to western foods from their travels, seeking fewer calories, and looking for variety, I am sure there is a market for street salads.

I would much prefer a pushcart with a simple fibre-glassdome over clean steel vessels selling me my favourite mix of salads and brown bread in a clean streetside location, offering me at Rs 30 what a Subway outlet sells for two or three times that money in smaller portions. I am willing to sacrifice the engaging smell of oregano,if I only getvalue for my money.

This is not rocket science. I hope some NGOs working for street vendors or youthful entrepreneurs are listening.

Email Narayanan Madhavan:

First Published: Dec 28, 2006 17:11 IST