Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Burger Raja

While growing up my mom would do ravivar, which translates into Sunday in Gujarati. This was a tradition passed down to her from her mother, and basically every Sunday my mom would only eat once during the day. When I was a kid, it sucked for Sunday lunch because it meant eating a full-on Gujarati feast, when all I really want to eat was a grilled cheese and some bugles. Things looked up for dinner though, when my sister and I were allowed to choose our poisons. This often led to a visit to Burger King for a Veggie Whopper and onion rings. The Veggie Whopper, for those of you that haven’t had the pleasure of having it is different than the BK Veggie which was only recently added to the menu, and is essentially Burger King’s signature Whopper without the meat patty. As ridiculous as it may sound, it was one of my favorite foods order. I know that for most vegetarians, a fast food burger joint doesn’t quite fit the bill as an ideal place to grab a bite, but my sister and I loved Burger King. And that Burger King presented some semblance of a vegetarian option set it apart from its competition. While I was always on the fence about allying myself strictly to Burger King or McDonalds - you never know when you will crave a McFlurry - when the news came out a few year’s back that McDonalds had been deceiving its vegetarian customers by incorporating that unnecessary beef tallow ingredient into its french fries, I moved completely into the Burger King camp.

So I was glad when I saw the news that fast food eaters in India would soon be getting a choice in where they can hang out and munch on American style burgers and fries. From this story in the Economic Times, it seems Burger King will soon be joining the burger wars in India as it begins to scout out locations and business partners with which to start its joint burger venture in India. And with its opening,

Burger King is likely to shake McDonald’s monopoly in India by launching its own brand of burger restaurants. The company, best known for its price war with Big Mac in the US, has mandated Kotak Mahindra to scout for a partner in what is a growth market for global fast food companies. Industry sources feel that even though McDonald’s is firmly established in metros like Delhi and Mumbai, Burger King’s entry is likely to start a burger war of sorts. Innovation in product offerings and location of outlets would play a crucial role in drawing customers in the long run. In the short term, McDonald’s would lose some customers to Burger King out of the sheer curiosity factor. However, this would happen only if both are located in the same catchment area,” said an industry source.

Now while I refuse to eat at McDonalds in the States, one of my favorite ways to check out local color when I travel is to visit McDonalds and similar style fast food joints to see what they sell often unique to each individual country. I actually like the food items at the McDonalds in India since they offer vegetarian items are usually pretty good. When I was in Delhi in September, I became somewhat addicted to the Veg McCurry Pan, which at that time consisted of a pretty tasty shahi paneer dish on a pan-pizza like crust, which apparently has been replaced by a broccoli and mushroom dish (you can see the McDonalds India menu here). I am really curious to see what Burger King will come up with in India to comptete with that. In addition to a chili version of the Veggie Whopper (maybe with a splash of Haldi?), I would love to see a six pack of paneer tikka nuggets with various chutney dipping sauces on the menu.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Like many desis, I love me some deals. I know I am playing into stereotypes here, especially because I am Gujarati, but come on EVERYONE likes good deals. The enjoyment for me isn’t just finding a good deal, but the whole process: it is the hunt, the chase, and the glory in opening the mail and finding that rebate check that you thought might not ever come. Suffice it to say, I spend a good percentage of my time on the internets perusing some favorite deal sites.

But while I like finding good deals, one of my pet peeves is really poor customer service and the feeling that I have been taken advantage of. So when I was visiting one of my new favorite deal/consumer rights blogs, The Consumerist, (part of the Gawker family of blogs) I was a bit dismayed to hear the tale of our desi brethren, Manesh, who reported on his parent’s really poor experience on United Airlines.

Manesh's parents flew from Omaha, Nebraska to Colombo,Sri Lanka, but at LAX, United Airlines (UAL) refused to honor their tickets, saying that they had not "been approved, authorized and authenticated." The family ended having to pay $2860 extra to complete their journey. Apparently, Sri Lankan Air Lines, a United code-share partner, could not find the reservation Manesh's parents made. Manesh wrote three letters of complaint to UAL and so far his parents have only received two $300 coupons in return. When Manesh scoffed at the sum, United wrote, "our policy does not permit us to respond with the generosity you had anticipated. (link)

It seems that instead of writing letters, which I am a big fan of, now when desis are wronged, we blog. So as a good South Asian, Manesh has started his own blog detailing his battle with United Airlines’ Customer service at evilunitedairlines.blogspot.com. His story is really messed up and I hope the airlines eventually do the right thing and refund the extra three grand his recently operated-on parents had to hand over to get home.

Big Brother Watches Bollywood

If anyone in Bollywood needs a big brother to watch over her, one of my first guesses would be item-number girl extraordinaire, Shilpa Shetty. And lucky for her (and for us too), Big Brother will be watching her, and by Big Brother, I am referring to the UK television show's ongoing celebrity version (thanks Jai).

The BBC reports yesterday that Ms. Shetty (31) was the sixth of eleven stars to enter the Big Brother house, wearing a pink sari. Because Shetty, who has appeared in over 30 Bollywood films, is an unmarried Indian female, attractive, and over the age of 30, it appears that they are going to focus on her love-life (you know, being single, desi, and over 30, the horror, the horror).

The film icon will reportedly have a dinner date with another housemate, in which she will be encouraged to flirt and reports say Ms Shetty - often the subject of marriage speculation - will dine at a later stage in the show with the housemate she finds the most attractive. Inevitably, Indian coverage of the show will focus on romance in Shilpa Shetty's life."

But it isn’t likely that any shaadi will result from the show. When responding to a love-life related query from one newspaper in the run-up to the show, Shetty kept it fashionably coy saying, "I shall marry but after three years. There is no-one in my life as of today. And, I am very happy living single, at present." (link)

Correspondents, like always, are saying that Shetty’s appearance on Big Brother is bound to be hugely controversial in India where many would question its standards of morality. Maybe so, but these correspondents must then have missed some of her more risque-scantily clad-and-in-the-rain dance numbers that Shilpa has participated. Morality, Shmorality, it is Big Brother, and by the look of things already, this season sounds like it is going to be interesting. I know I will be watching, and with Shilpa on, I bet many of the two million plus British Asians will be too. You can see videos of the show here, Shilpa's page here, and Shilpa big brother news here.