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Indian Food Becomes Westernized

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Is India becoming an inflation nation? Well, Yogita Limaye reports on India's growing taste for "exotic" vegetables such as broccoli, leeks and cabbage and the price of these vegetables is rising.

On a small farm, north-east of Mumbai a farmer named Murlidhar Gunjal plucks cherry tomatoes off vines, while some of his workers pick rosemary and thyme from an herb garden. In addition, there are many patches where broccoli and pak choi have been sown and a field of red cabbage looks ready to be harvested. But these type of crops are a fairly recent phenomenon. None are traditionally Indian. In fact here they are considered "exotic and unique".

"I used to grow regular vegetables like onions, tomatoes and bitter squash earlier, but I earn four times more profit from these foreign ones," Gunjal says. "There are also no surprises when it comes to the rates I get for them. The prices that I can sell normal vegetables at fluctuate very widely.". More farmers like him are following his precedent. Exotic vegetables are highly perishable, particularly in hot and humid weather though and they have to be careful with growing conditions with these vegetables. Asparagus is the most common grown vegetable these days. These grow in cooler climates so production has expanded particularly in northern Indian states such as Himachal, Pradesh, Punjab and Kashmir. In some of these areas, farmers are being trained by the government to cultivate exotic crops, because they could help earn more revenue for the state.

Where did the ideas for such new vegetables come from? Three times a week, dinner is international fare for most of India. "Most of the time, when we eat out we are introduced to all kinds of food," Gunjal says. "I have a son who is nine years old, so when we come home, the children always demand that we make dishes similar to the ones we eat in restaurants". Now we can do that a little more easily.

"Exotic vegetables are highly perishable, particularly in hot and humid weather," says Kishen Gupta, who runs a vegetable stall in western Mumbai. "So we have to make sure we sell them quickly, otherwise we could suffer losses. But more and more customers are asking for them, so it isn't a big worry." This change in taste is limited to the middle and upper classes because exotic vegetables are more expensive than regular ones.

With inflation soaring over the past few months, many in the country have not been able to afford even the most basic vegetables. However, despite the economic slowdown, India's middle class has expanded rapidly and so many believe the exotic vegetable market is one that will keep on growing.

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