Monday, August 4, 2008

Malls and Food don't mix well

A pav bhaji that has 2 burger breads for pav and a mixed veg sabji for bhaji is not pav bhaji (despite what the menu says). And charging 80 bucks for it is not going to make me believe it either. As I was having this dish (I still don’t know its real name) at a Gurgaon mall last week, I thought about the umpteen times I was disappointed at a food court.

Till about a couple of months back, I was in Mumbai on a project. There was this new mall bang opposite our office with a large space for food court with every regular brand tempting the office goers for lunch. Was there a multicuisine place anywhere? NO. They had the setup perfectly done. Each one of them was under the guise of a specialist. But then there was diversification of a different kind. The Dosa Plaza had Chinese dosas, Italian Dosas (complete with cheese) and Mexican Dosas (Mexican = refried beans apparently). If the dosas were bad, the sambar was extraordinarily unpalatable. They had these maddu looking chaps inside the kitchen – horrifying to think such sambar could have been made by maddus. To top if off, they had this “madras filter coffee” too. Sighhhh!

I reserve a special hatred for the parathas in the Mumbai food courts. The owners of these Only Parathas, Just Parathas and what nots seem to be spending money on good photographers rather than decent cooks. Sumptuous looking parathas are plastered all over the walls. The anticipation of the parathas after you order them the first time is tremendous, with your taste buds secreting all kinds of juices. I remember I went to the counter every 3 mins – Ho gaya kya, ho gaya kya?. For people who have not had it, these parathas are like 2 inches thick with whatever stuffing you asked for oozing out and they taste like nothing (really, Nothing!). They are just hot, that’s all. So that you get to taste something, they give you dark chhole and a darker dal makhani to go with it. You take a piece, dunk it in any one (they taste the same, btw) and chew. It is amazing how tasteless they can make it.

Last time I was in Delhi, I just loved the Chhole Bhature at Haldirams. Since then I have always wanted to have another go at it. Sadly in Chennai, you don’t get good ones – they taste like Sambar powder has been liberally sprinkled in the Chhole. So when I got to Mumbai, these guys had these HUGE photos (again, the same trick) of Chhole Bhature – one guy called it his signature dish too. Is making reasonably good Chhole thaaat difficult?

Back to present. So then I was thinking, why do I keep repeating my mistake over and over again? I also thought about their strategy. I am sure they all sneak away from time to time to eat the dabba they ordered from outside. So how do they have the guts to feed the customers such rotten stuff?

I can think of three main kinds of customers eating food at the food courts:

1) Office goers get tired of office food and want to eat something different for a change
2) Office goers want to get out of office for a while and visiting the mall for lunch makes a great excuse
3"I don’t care about the food – I came there for shopping anyway. So I will have anything and move on".

I think predominantly malls see the third kind of crowd – and these lousy joints survive because of the third kind. I think any food court dependent on regular office goers will see these lousy joints wilting away.

Theories apart, I still think these guys can make a little effort in improving their food – it can’t be that difficult now, can it? Till then, I need to avoid them like plague. Like I said - Malls and Food dont mix well (Is that why the food courts float on top? hehe..)


Dhananjay said...

Maddy next time you are in Mumbai and around Inorbit Goregaon, try the Thali at Rajdhani. I am sure you it won't be a case of picture better then reality. In Delhi you can have the same at a couple of places in Delhi and in Gurgaon as well

Vidya Venkat said...

My theory about food places:

1. Any place that purports to serve all kinds of cuisines is good at none of them.

2. Any place with a large footfall is more than likely to serve bad food. In Coimbatore, Annaporna used to be the largest chain of hotels. They have a restaurant right next to the bus stand, and one about a 100 metres away. The one next to the bus stand always served worse food than the other. The reason may be that they can get away with it (inelastic demand).

Perhaps proof that people will always choose an easier option if they know they can get away with it.

Monsieur K said...

yeah, i have been to the rajdhani in one of the malls in gurgaon (cant r'mmbr which one) - and its pretty decent!
haldirams' is a good option too. had been to the food court in the mall that has Landmark - my frnd here told me tht its not too frequented - i tried the pad thai there - and it turned out decent!

guess, its the same reason tht vidya says - lesser footfalls! :)