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Monday, October 26, 2009

Bangladeshi owned Indian Restaurants in the UK : a brand crying for renaming

I think its high time we stop hiring bigger country labels from the neighbourhood to promote our businesses, which has been built up over the last few decades by our very own sweat, tears and hardwork…all in the shape of the £4 billion curry industry in Britain. Read here to find out how Bangladeshi businessmen brought the British curry industry to where it is today. Also, please read the latest news article here to find out about potential ‘revenue avenues’ we could reap from this industry.
However amidst all this merrymaking, my thoughts lie elsewhere. I ask myself,

1. Would this industry be in its present place if it were without the bold and brazen ‘brand India’ label sitting proudly on the signboards outside those 12000+ restaurants?
2. Now that the contribution of British-Bangladeshis to the UK economy is getting noticed and acknowledged day by day, can we risk stripping off the hired country brand from those signboards? Will this have any negative impact on the brand loyalty, brand perception etc. for those resturants?

Some scattered incidents, trying to relate them somehow.

You will get to see only a few restaurants in the UK which proudly claims in its exterior that it serves ‘Bangladeshi cuisine’, notably Kolapata in Whitechapel is one of the very few and some others in Bricklane. Ofcourse they don’t serve any Indian (North Indian to be more precise) food there and what they serve is much closer to what we actually eat in Bangladesh. Now its also true that we eat a lot of North Indian food too in our day to day occasions, but when it comes to doing food business overseas, are we letting go an opportunity to uphold the country’s brand (Bangladesh that is) or we are rightly giving the due credit to the actual originator of the food (India), even though the lion’s share of the business are held by Bangladeshis? I don’t know. Please also note that the report in successfully and tactfully avoids the term ‘India’ or ‘Indian restaurants’.

My colleague once shared a ‘bitter’ experience he once had during his trip to Delhi a few years ago. In a bustling South Delhi restaurant, he once asked the waiter to bring in a ‘balti cuisine’, much to the confusion and uncertainty of the young Indian waiter who had no freaking clue what the white (nearly pink), fat, grey-haired British man was willing to eat. He explained meticulously that it’s that special type of pot in which he used to get served Chicken Tikka Masala in the Indian restaurant in Finchley Road in North London! He was also rather embarrassed thinking of any potential cultural gaffe he could have committed. The waiter remained indifferent to ‘balti’, thinking of how the shower tool ended up on the bewakoof gorey’s table in London. He could however receive well the Chicken Tikka Masala bit and moved on to serve him that, ofcourse not in any ‘balti’ or ‘bodna’ (no Wikipedia entry for ‘bodna’ yet) but on a simple brass made plate.

Moral of the story is, what they eat in North India is not actually what is served generally in the Bangladeshi owned Indian restaurants. Its somehow a mix of whatever that is, a best effort perhaps. It could be because of the fact that none of the chefs or their ancestors were born in or hail from North India, rather they are from the Golden Bengal, from the coast of the mighty Meghna, Surma, Kushiara..United Kingdom of Sylhet that is. Now whether they claim themselves to be Silotis first and foremost and are different from Bangalees/Bangladeshis would require a different blog post from this end. Its very likely they, like you and me, have been fed and bred on a lot of rice, fish, bhorta, dal, shatkora etc. and not on chapati, roti, and the curry-vaganza every day. Nevertheless, these businessmen have certainly brought about a revolution to the curry industry in the UK with their hardwork. Its good that the British government appreciates this fact, but I am sure that the British-Bangladeshi chefs don’t recceive any formal ‘thank you’ from the Indian High Commission in the UK or the diaspora, as other than ensuring a livelihood for themselves, they have ended up pumping up a different country’s brand muscle in the end of the day. I have come across a few Indian restaurants trying to woo European customers claiming that they ‘are not fake Indian restaurants (restaurants owned by Bangladeshis claiming to be serving Indian food) and they serve true Indian food…the taste of India!’. Now what do you say to that?

Amidst all this mud-throwing…balti-throwing etc. between country brand names, I think we should not spoil the food, or let it go cold and stale. In my opinion, the time is here to call a spade a spade. What would possibly go wrong if 12000+ Bangladeshi owned ‘Indian’ restaurants in the UK would decide to put the name of the red and green on the face of their businesses? Food fanatics can go fasting unto death that that food is not actually ‘Bangladeshi then’, but aren’t we in a good position to override those facts and establish the brand Bangladesh on 12000+ physical establishments in the UK? You call it a brand hijack or whatever, I am still all up for it. If the Bangladeshi businessmen were the first ones to have taught the British how to taste curry (Indian curry that is), then I am sure they can be frontiers to treat the British tastebuds to something more authentic, genuine, unique and truly ours….a dose not of dosa…but that of bhorta, dal, bhaat and the likes. Gelam. Khida lege gese.

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