As India continues to modernize, it seems adverse health effects from its changing food landscape won’t be going away any time soon, especially with the fast food corporations having an increasingly powerful influence on the youth of the nation. I mentioned recently in a special food and culture series on the topic that the country today faces some serious health issues like alarmingly high rates of diabetes and rising levels of obesity.
And as described to me by the author of Food, Drink and Identity, Peter Scholliers, recently, there’s a ‘Macdonaldization’ going on in food consumption around the world that may be at least partly to blame. ‘We live in a so-called global world, which means that increasingly, people in the North, South, East and West tend to shop, cook and eat in a similar way,’ he told me. So I was interested with this in mind to find an article published in the food section of Hindustan Times over the weekend, which poses the question: Will noodles become an Indian staple food item?
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Journalist Vir Sanghvi, claims that while he once wouldn’t have believed it possible, he now sees it as a possibility due to the prevalence of instant noodles in India’s homes and streets.
Certainly, while the notoriously tasty but unhealthy convenience food has been popular for decades in countries like China, Japan and South Korea, they’ve never really permeated Indian home cooking, according to Sanghvi—until now. ‘There is no doubt that instant noodles (whether loaded with trans fats or not) have had a significant influence on the quick home-cooked Indian meal,’ he writes.
He asserts one factor behind the rising phenomenon is that nowadays, when Indians want to have quick and cheap snack or light meal at home with ‘a minimum of effort,’ they’ll often use the packaged noodles, ‘cooked vaguely Indian-style with garlic, onions, masala etc.’
He therefore also sees it to be ‘entirely possible’ that when Indian children grow up, ‘they will associate noodles with home cooking and not see them as a foreign food in the way that we do.’ It’s too bad that instant noodles are so nutritionally lacking, especially if this is set to be a big ‘ethnic’ food import.
Meanwhile Sanghvi also points out that the food item is also taking over the streets of India, especially in office areas of Mumbai and Calcutta where more and more urban workers are opting for the instant noodles, served up at ‘roadside stalls, small restaurants and canteens.’
He points out that despite ‘the caricature of the devoted wife who wakes up early to cook her husband’s lunch before he goes to office, the reality is that fewer and fewer people are getting lunch from home.’
It’s hard to say how quickly or widely the quick noodle culture will take off across India, but for Sanghvi at least, the idea of it becoming a national staple doesn’t seem so far-fetched now.