Monday, 30 July 2007

Food of the Gods


I first came to live in London via Norbury, and so in a whimsical way even though I've lived all over the capital, including Belsize Park, Bloomsbury, Shepherds Bush, Camden, Clapham and more, there's a piece of me which always be a Sarf London boy. Recently its the massive South Indian community in this part of London that is pricking up my planning barometer trend antenna.

On my last business trip to Chennai (formerly Madras) in India I wandered around the back streets trying to observe and breath in a bit of the culture in a way that might contribute meaningfully to a market entry strategy report that I would later be writing for a multinational client. I've found that luxury hotels are the same all around the world, good for networking but awful for grasping how a country ticks and so on this particular sortie I found myself hungry for food but completely at a loss to even describe what may possibly have been a Tamil script menu in a clean but simple, open-front shop house. I plumped for the tried and trusted method of food adventurers around the globe and pointed vaguely at a bunch of ordinary Indians, indicating I'll have a bit of what they're having; and that's when my first dosa was brought to me.

Really good food should be simple and delicious. That's not actually as easy as it sounds and so ever since my first dosa I've been a proselytizing this simple but astonishingly tasty South Indian Fare. Its the "food of the Gods" as Mohammad Iqbal of Bangalore and I like to say. On my latest return to London I was really pleased to discover that a 'fast food format' of dosa food was available in my locale. When I say fast food, I'm sure the owners of this briskly expanding chain of restaurants would be a little annoyed at the term but what I'm getting at is an unfussy way of ordering and eating. The Chennai Dosa is a no nonsense, food-from-heaven kind of joint that I probably like to dive into and out of quicker than most of its patrons. The south Indian community in particular are some of the best and most welcome immigrants this country has ever had - and their cuisine is practically worth body-popping over, as its a little different from the Punjabi cuisine that most people associate with Indian food. Although this is a little like saying that European food is pretty much represented by Italian pasta and pizzas.

Southern Indians I find are hard working, family focused, low key and modest people. There's nothing I like more than dining at my local Chennai Dosa and studying this ethnic group of people who for me bring nothing but welcome diversity to this country. I've since worked my way through the Chennai Dosa menu and buffets over many visits and I think they've accepted me as a fan boy. Their food is inexpensive, tasty, healthy and all importantly; freshly made. Pretty much everything that Western (fast) food has moved away from and I pity the blinkered folk around these parts for whom the height of eating pleasure is either a Subway (sub way. I always think thats ironic) or other junk food fare, when world class eats are dotted all over the map in this neighborhood.

By complete coincidence, shortly after my discovery I thought I'd do a twitter search of my area and came across someone plugging the exact same Chennai Dosa I'm fanatical about, called Rory Sutherland. I thought I knew the name from somewhere and while adding him to my Twitter discovered that not only did he blog but that we were also in the same game - I've since discovered that he's a really top thinker in our business but more frequently Rory writes commercially dispruptive pieces for Brand Republic now, than the crafted and more literary posts I first came to enjoy . We've since had some twitter banter along with Giles about great Indian food spots as we're all Indian food fans but interestingly, Rory believes as do I, that the dosa food could quite possibly be on the cusp of something larger.

So I'm unashamedly plugging and suggesting bigger things for The Chennai Dosa Group. You heard it here first (think McDosa) and I believe their next outlet is opening in Tooting. Try also their Idli or the Idiyapam) and more importantly for UK planners I'll be wrapping this up later into a broader post about third millennial cultural observations and trends that I've found both provocative and inspiring this time round in these parts of London.