Food at the cultural divide – the burrito and the salad sandwich

There is a very poignant scene in Mira Nair’s cinematic adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake. Having recently arrived in the United States, Ashima Ganguli, finds Rice Krispies in the cupboard and proceeds to eat it as she would the Bengali snack, jhalmuri. Watching the film again, the scene reminded me of a moment of culinary awkwardness I faced years ago when I arrived in the United States for higher studies.

I will never forget my first encounter with the burrito. For those unfamiliar with Mexican cuisine (or American variants), a burrito consists of a flour tortilla wrapped around fillings consisting of rice, beans, and meat and vegetables. To elaborate further, the flour tortilla is the closest relative of the desi roti you will come across easily everywhere in North America. I had no problem eating either the tortilla or the fillings. In fact, I quite relished it. My issue was with the packaging. In India, I had grown up eating rotis alongside rice, but the concept of filling a roti with rice was very alien to me. For the longest time, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the whole idea!

If you’re from India and you’ve never come across rice packaged inside a roti, how would you feel about eating a burrito?

I am sure North American readers will wonder what the big deal is here. Well, let me pose a similar scenario. Would you eat a sandwich that didn’t have a patty, but instead had a salad inside? I am not talking about a tuna salad or a chicken salad, but a house salad. Sure you might be able to get one easily if you wanted to, but if you’re not vegetarian the thought might seem offbeat to you.

Then, it will surprise you that the most American of all establishments, McDonald’s, sells a sandwich in India with primarily lettuce, tomato, onion, and salad dressing. Called the Salad Sandwich, this entree item sellsΒ  where a large chunk of the population is vegetarian and has no problem eating a salad inside a sandwich bun.

How would a culinary creation like the Salad Sandwich do in the land of the Big Mac?

Hmmm… now there’s a thought!

Footnote: Now if you really want to taste a mainstream dish that boggles the senses, I’d recommend fried ice cream.

Burrito image:Β  http://www.flickr.com/photos/sweetonveg/ / CC BY 2.0

Salad Sandwich Image Β© McDonald’s India. Fair-use rationale: not-for-profit commentary of product using a very low-resolution image.

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24 thoughts on “Food at the cultural divide – the burrito and the salad sandwich

    • Good one! These are the same people who don’t drink only bottled water (of course buying Bissleri from a panwala instead of Bisleri).

      I think conceptually another one hard for Indians to accept is sushi. There is something about eating raw fish that makes many of us squirm.

      Are there any Japanese restaurants that serve sushi in Indian metros?

      • Lol… it is a common prank.

        With respect to Japanese food, a very common prank is to tell the newbie to eat the wasabi. If you haven’t had wasabi it is a very pungent condiment made from the wasabi plant. The closest Indian equivalent is very, very strong mustard.

        If you put too much of wasabi in your mouth at once it burns the nostrils. Of course as you cough and gag everyone else at the table has a good time laughing.

      • The wasabi trick is certainly old. Dont know if you watched that prank on Jack Ass where Steve O had to snort wasabi. My Mama used to mix rice with condensed milk and use coca cola as bhaja !!

      • Haven’t seen Jackass, but I heard that members of Metallica convinced former bassist Jason Newsted that wasabi was mint (or green-tea… can’t remember) ice cream.

        Your mama is exceptionally innovative, but I’m not convinced that I’d do it myself. πŸ˜‰

  1. Aaj hi i will try rice inside a roti…waise bhi i am hell bored of routine meal πŸ˜‰ Fried icecream is next on the list…Where would i get it but 😦

    • I have never tried fried ice cream either. I think the trick is to make sure the ice cream is frozen like a brick, then quickly coat it and deep fry it fast.

      I might try it in my kitchen lab, but the question is how do I supercool the ice cream? The mix of a frozen gola and a pot of hot oil seems like an explosion waiting to happen to me.

    • Fried ice-cream is popular in Thai cuisine as well (though not a staple like in Mexican food). Unfortunately, I haven’t tried it yet either.

      Re: burritos took me a while, but now I love them too. They are a complete package. I’d still have to say that I like gyros, kathi rolls and the Bombay Frankies better.

      My happiest moment visiting NYC was discovering the chicken kathi rolls at Biriyani Cart in midtown Manhattan (a couple of blocks from Times Square). Even now it makes my mouth water.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Loved your blog by the way and I’ve started to follow. πŸ™‚

      • hmmm will have to find a Thai restaurant now to curb the craving πŸ™‚

        I am yet to find a good Indian restaurant in UK. I think most will be in London..sigh!!

        Thanks πŸ™‚ for looving my blog…..and following it πŸ™‚

  2. May seem strange, but I first ate a burrito some years back, in Delhi. I don’t exactly remember where, though. Globalization at work, I presume.
    And the thing is, I loved it instantly. I agree the concept is quite alien to us Indians. But the fact that I had been eating rice coupled with rotis since childhood seems to have helped πŸ˜›

    • Thanks for reading Rachit. You know that is the funniest part. We are all used to eating the components, (but for me the packaging was strange). Once I was able to get past that, I had no problem eating and enjoying!

  3. You can get fried ice cream at any localised Chinese restaurant in the dessert section in India. Heat the oil well, pick ice cream bits with toothpick , dip in cornflour and put into the hot oil. Pour maple syrup or honey over it πŸ™‚

  4. Contrary to expectations, the fried ice-cream, in my opinion, is more hype than substance. I had ordered it once in what I would consider a decently flashy restaurant, and I have decided I will never order it again πŸ˜›

    • See now, I have to try it, Gurdit. πŸ˜‰

      An effective (though not sustainable) way to market an item is to create controversy and then tell clients that they have a personal choice.

      No they don’t. We are all suckers. If the Shiv Sena hates a movie, then we have to watch it to see what the big deal is about.

      • Point taken! πŸ˜€

        Haha, cheers.

        PS: Don’t watch Daredevil…it’s the worst superhero movie I’ve ever seen.

        PPS: Of course, now I know you will. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!
        (I am evil)

  5. My wife hates the burrito …purely because she cannot weather the fact that there is a rice inside a maida roti ….how crude..like hathute headache …!! As for me … I will eat anything …even deep fried Oreo !! Good variety in your posts.

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