To begin with:
Thirst and hunger are the two important things that no living creature can bear for long, without which survival is impossible. Ever since God created the earth and the first two human beings, Adam and Eve, the apple came to quench their hunger and that story in the Bible goes in a different direction.
The early men started getting their food by hunting animals and all sorts of things from the thick forests. Then came the discovery of fire and the cooked food items.
Then man would have thought of walking from one village to other to know what and how others are producing grains. When he got hungry, he would have asked his nearby villager for food in exchange for something he had. Most possibly, this could be the first food centre man has made for his survival when he was on his journey.
With the invention of wheel, he made carts initially pulled by him and later by the animals.
This invention leads him to travel to far places and slowly he would have established his different shelters and food centers for the travelers.
Now let us come to the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.
The early food centers would have been with thatched roof and people would have taken their food by squatting on the floor and food served on leaves. As the number increased, the difficulty in cleaning the ground after every batch would have lead to providing high and low level benches to serve food and to sit. Later the scarcity in getting leaves would have welcomed the arrival of the mud pots and mud plates. These food shelters, which became untouchable and labeled as unhygienic during later years by the neo riches, have mushroomed again in the present century by a different name as Dhaabaas and cottages and now enjoy a 5 star status. Even today, these old fashioned thatched food centers on the way to pilgrim centers are cynosure to the eyes. Of course here only one can really enjoy the fresh steamy iddlies, puttu and kadalai combination and the Punjabi foods to enrich your palate and fill the stomach fully at moderate charges. As Churchill said “army walks on its stomach”. On this deserted wayside, no billionaire can fill their stomach with the Oil and metal they make and this hutment food will be “elixir of life” for them.
Then most possibly the arrival of the famous Udupi chain of hotels took shape right from the small town of Udupi in Karnataka state. They started serving only pure vegetarian items. The popularity of the iconic name UDUPI has led many to inherit that name for their hotels in nook and corners to lure the hungry. I don’t think the original inheritors of Udupi hotels would have fought in the high court and Supreme Court to procure and preserve their trade mark under the intellectual property act like the present Thalappakkatti biriyani centers. Probably the large heartedness and the presence of Lord Krishna of Udipi would have made them think others as brothers and let them also survive.
The competition in this line reached a remarkable level that everyone started playing different tricks to pull the customers. In the Esplanade area in Chennai, erstwhile Madras, there was one such hotel in 60’s displaying the writings in Tamil with bold letters thideer idly, thideer rasam etc. to tell in short that everything is instant and no waiting. It must possibly be the first stage of fast food centre.
Again two neighboring hotels nearby central station started displaying the list of items that they prepared for the morning on big boards. Later on one of them went a step ahead. His crooked brain really worked with a trick to popularize his hotel. He wrote a complete list of items with a chalk and then cut off with a line all the items except one at the bottom which read as Upma,to give an impression to the hungry and hurrying passengers going by the next train that more people patronize it as it must be tasty than the other. In fact he was grabbing a good chunk of business with one item only. When others understood this trick, he closed his establishment.
The taste of meat and fish would have compelled to open up non veg hotels. They started as military hotels and took to different levels.
Beginning of Star era
By early 70’s, the appearance of hotels in India started showing a glitter, due to collaboration with foreign countries by few big burocrats and the Gulf boom acted as a catalyst to many to jump into this. The talk on clean environment and hygiene became the front running issues for the regular foreign going, and the so called NRI’s who started seeing big money. Space became important criteria to set up these star hotels as per the international standards. As the wallets bulged, so also to taste the delicacy of all sorts of food increased. Dishes under different names started appearing like ethnic, rural, Chinese, continental, oriental etc.not to leave our own south Indian, north Indian, Punjabi, Rajasthani, chettinad and Kerala and a lot covering every existing Indian state and more of them which are in the pipeline to come in. With well dressed order takers and servers, glittering silver and gold plated plates and spoons, crystal glasswares , neatly arranged dining tables, air-conditioned and perfumed ambience, carpets spread all over, piped music, towel to cover your dress to avoid spill over, latest home theatre system, Mughal era chandeliers, all these clustered together makes one feel that he has bought the heaven for a price for a while and staring with admiration with his mouth wide open, his wallet becomes a blown out balloon which he could realize later.
Fast food era of the 20th century
The old wall clock disappeared and made way to the latest chronometer with 24 hours and ticking even the nano seconds. Time became very precious, and caught in the” www”; one finds it even difficult to stand erect and breathe. Our biological clock lost its normal rhythm trying to synchronize the different time zones around the world and every organ in our body started showing early stage of fatigue. A stressful life and no time even to look our own reflection in the mirror, forget the family as a whole. Time of departure and arrival from home is not predictable, creating a deplorable condition of life for others. Digesting the work, food and family matters became difficult at the same time.
To recondition the body, a totally different type of food pattern entered very fast in the market. Low fat, low calorie, low cholesterol and we ran back to the Vedic period, in search of Yoga, to condition the mind and soul.
Because of this timeless life, intake of timely food is totally forgotten and the road side open restaurants started increasing. Again flushed with currency wallets, hygiene is thrown to winds. Leading a fast life.
Earlier there were place to park the cars and go to the restaurant. Later in 80’s it became a fashion to eat sitting in the car itself. The server comes and fits a locking table outside the door window and food was served.
Now atlas has shrugged to that extent, there is no standing place to take the food.
It will be no wonder that the food will be packed and thrown inside the moving car after prior order and the car number is confirmed, the way in which the keys were exchanged during the bygone era by the engine drivers of fast moving trains when leaving a station, the key locked in a bamboo ring looking like a hollow bat. The Anglo Indian drivers were experts in catching it even in utter darkness with a flickering lamp shown by the signal man standing on platform specially made for that. But here it is food packed in flimsy plastic bags. Please beware to show the dexterity. If a good cricket player, there is a good chance of a perfect catch!
We are now in the 21st century.
Food chains and habits are changing. The arrival of Pizza. Something one has to pull out tearing and push into the throat, side by side gulping the cola. The esophagus and the stomach should accept them simultaneously. A total mess indeed. It is door delivered within a whirling speed by the motor racers from so many pizza huts by many names and delicacies within half hour!
It seems in Singapore, Japan and China, fast foods are offered right on the roads and footpaths after the midnight by erecting canopies during rainy season and before daybreak all the place are made spick and span. Really a superfast action, as fast as the trains they run. Will it happen here?
Again a talk in the air. Turn to vegetarianism. Everyone expects in superfast way.
The world is made to run faster or the man is trying to run faster to build an empire? Both impossible in any way. Remember, even the supersonic planes, the pride of place of France and England was grounded after few years. There was a story: How far the man can run.
The other day I happened to see a program in Animal planet. I was wonder struck to see the seagull flying fast on the surface of the turbulent sea and before I could blink my eyelid, it lifted a big fish without wetting its body and flew away.
The same may happen in future in hotels too. Idly will be thrown and the man in the fast moving car will be catching it with his mouth wide open. Days are not far off. Training in this line seems to be essential just like dog catching the biscuit thrown.
Darwin’s theory “Struggling for existence and the survival of the fittest” will aptly fit here in all contexts. What a far sighted statement for the present and future generations of mankind.
(With malice to none)
Dated 29th Oct 2013