HOW DOES life on the fast lane taste? As heavenly as perhaps, a ready-to-eat Chettinad chicken available at the neighbourhood Food World.
Fast-forward seems to the buzzword these days, prompting one to ask, has laidback Hyderabad woken up from its slumber, to a pace where there is so much business, so much of work to be done that there is no time for nothing? No time to stand beneath the boughs, no time to stare as long as sheep or cows… and if Hyderabadis may be permitted the luxury, `no time to cook nor any time to look at the book.’
No lamp, no genie… no problem. One just needs to rub the purse and boil some water. Snap a finger and lo! There is a lavish spread in the table ready-to-eat. Welcome to the readymade zamana, where food – be it anything, Qubbani ka meetha, Chicken durbari, Chana masala, Dal bukhara or Palak paneer - comes packaged now, is sold from the shelves of the grouch grocer, in a ready-to-eat format.
“The future belongs to these ready-to-eat food items. Very soon, the consumer will have a wide choice by his fingertips – 3, 643 listed grandmother’s dishes, with the same grandma taste,” affirmed Central Food and Technology Research Institute (CFTRI) director Dr. V. Prakash, while delivering the keynote address at the recently concluded two-day long National Conference on `Emerging Trends in Food Technology’ at Osmania University.
“The CFTRI is working on strategies to deliver the same taste and increase the shelf-life of these packaged ready-to-eat foodstuff,” he revealed.
As the number of working women burgeons, more and more of these packets find way into the kitchen with an alarming regularity. “Although the present consumption of these ready-to-eat mixes is about 0.2 percent in the entire country, we foresee a situation where in the next few years, there would be a 50 percent increase in demand,” says OU Food Technology lecturer Jyothi Karan Singh. “Some of these items come quite expensive,” says Rashmi, a call centre manager. All good things come with a price. Many an expert has fallen off the wagon dreaming of the perfect recipe of Chettinad Chicken. And here you are, getting an authentic dish which you just have to boil and serve.
“The processing technology is at a very nascent stage. Once it grows and the items become a way of life, prices are sure to roll down,” explains food technologist Pradip Ganguly.
Elucidating the technology that goes behind processing and packaging these items, Prof. Jyothi describes, “At first the food is cooked by expert chefs and then subjected to an extremely high temperature for a short period of time to an extent where all the micro-organisms responsible for food spoilage are killed. Retort Pouching does the packaging, where blowing infrared air cleans and makes the foil sterile that renders it safe for asceptic packing of the food.” “Before the packaging is done, a redox test to test the potential shelf life of the product is done, which follows a PH (acidity) test and a test to ascertain the sugar and salt percentage in the item,” she adds. The preservatives used are nitrates in case of meat and propanates in case of cereals or lentils that gives them a shelf life of 12 months.
Many of us who play it safe haven’t tried the food apprehending the safety, nutrient quality or the taste. “Safety is not an issue at all. All food items that are packaged and sold in the market have to get the PFA (prevention of food adulteration) certification, which by itself is a safety seal,” says Prof. Jyothi.
Industry experts believe that the nutrient quality of the raw food is tried as best possible to be retained although there may be fractional loses in Vitamin-B and Vitamin-C. “We are researching on how to retain the original nutrient quality,” assures the CFTRI head. “Rest assured, the taste will be just as close as mama’s food,” he adds.
Now, that is manna for the laid-back Hyderabadi. “We are busy, ra,” they say. Or lazy? All’s the same as long as the table has a spread of good food.
The menu of ready-to-eat food spans the length and breadth of the country, keeping the interest of carnivores as well as our lettuce-loving friends. From Chicken samosa, Methi mutter masala, salad mixes,Bengal lentils, Dal makhni, Avial, Bombay potatoes, Jaipur vegetables, Kashmir spinach, Sambhar and Tomato rasam, Dum-ka-kumbh, Palak paneer, chicken tangdi kebab and Mushroom butter masala, and a list of many such swooning delicacies, too numerous to mention.
There are instant desserts too, like Khubbani ka meetha, Kaju burfi, Gulab jamun and Kesar pista ice-cream mix. Thank the monks, who married milk and time to cull out that form of crude cheese that marked the beginning of the food processing industry, that such a wide surfeit of ready-mixes are available off the shelves today.
“I agree life has become easy for these. But I don’t think they are meant for everybody. The quantity is pretty less. It just doesn’t even suffice for a single stomach,” complains Atiya, a busy volunteer for an animal NGO. Seconding her, friend Shalom – a housewife feels, “Once a while, it’s okay but not always. It does not work out to be very economical.”
“Keeping such customer regrets in mind, companies, like ITC, MTR or Tasty Bite, are making food packets that can serve at least a family of four, at quantities of 400-500 grams and at prices ranging from Rs. 22 to Rs. 222,” observes food technologist Pradip. And as these ready-mixes find more acceptance prices will fall involuntarily.
Palak paneer, please… the pizza can wait. The Indian palate when hungry certainly craves for a saucepan of Dal makhni more than that saucy pasta. By chance, fast foods have become fast moving because they are fast. Not much of culinary wangles involved in their preparation. Now that pure Indian gourmet cuisine is available, ready-to-eat, widespread acceptance is guaranteed. But over some time, when the country is ready for these ready-mades.