Friday, June 24, 2011

Desi Restaurants in DFW

June 22, 2011

By Saeed Qureshi

It is difficult to run a restaurant business unless it is a franchise or one has a background in this field. But patently there is no franchise for Desi or Indo-Pak cuisine in the United States of America. All food eateries are run on exclusive ownership basis in all the cities of USA.

I do not harbor a charitable view about the DFW Desi restaurants for a variety of reasons. There must be around a few dozen restaurants serving the oriental cuisine. Incidentally, the hasty way, these restaurants are opened; they are closed with the same speed.

If we think of comparing Desi restaurants serving Desi or Indo-Pak cuisine in Dallas Forth Worth (where I have lived for nearly a decade or so) , with those back home, one would find a huge difference in taste, service and quantity served. Such a comparison would be simply a mismatch.

Here is DFW; First of all you would walk into restaurant or more appropriately a dark and dingy room with dirty, greasy tables. The lights are switched off to save the bill on electricity. The food would be same that you ate last week.

The table would be too small to accommodate four persons at one sitting. The napkins would be so tightly stuffed into an 18th century tin box that if you extract or draw one paper there would be 19 coming along.

Every restaurant opens with big bang slogans, boastful claims, and mouthwatering pledges about exotic food and great variety of culinary dishes. They would indeed keep up that aura of glamour for a few days and then relapse into the lowly and exceedingly disappointing paradigm.

There are only a few restaurants that are still holding on to their businesses. The reason is that they are providing good services. They survive on the orders of catering for parties and festivities.

There are also a few others that mix up their restaurants with the grocery stores under the same roof. So naturally those who come for buying grocery items once in a while, eat at the restaurants even if these serve only Chaat or Samosas.

A few months ago, a restaurant was launched in Irving, with exceptional fanfare for the grill and barbecue delicacies that it did serve with the promised tempo and gusto for some time. But then, all of sudden it plummeted to the ground. If you walk into that restaurant now, you will undergo an irksome aversion of your life.

What I encountered was the gnawing looks of the novice waiters without the kind of courtesy and welcome that could have been even artificially put up. The food items were undoubtedly left-over of the past one or two weeks, that were preserved over and over again by warming these. The plates were small perhaps ostensibly kept so to deter the customers from putting more on those plates.

The spoons and forks and knives were all placed in one big hole and every one would pull these out with labor to take away in their bare hands. Every spoon must be touched by several hands in a day or during the eating session.

Normally these set of spoons, forks, and knives have to be placed separately in open flat pots to be easily picked. I cannot vouch if these were washed and cleaned by adopting proper heigenic procedures.

The same stuff of lintels, the biryani, and the cold chicken pieces that are the routine items in every restaurant were on display. There should have been some warming device under each food tray to keep the food hot, as is customary in non-Desi restaurants. But what was frustrating was the cost of $ 13 per person for that cold and stale buffet.

I would have not seen any restaurant in the DFW for almost 9 years that would charge 13 dollars for a buffet. The famous Mexican restaurant Palominos, East Buffet, Mongolian BBQ, Golden Corral, Mediterranean restaurants, and other similar famous buffet chains charge from 6 to 9 dollar per person. There the food is plentiful, freshly cooked, fuming and nicely placed. There are no prying eyes staring at you for taking a second plate.

Can you imagine that this much-hyped restaurant charged 10 dollars for five pieces of chicken boty (piece) that we paid? And when we ordered a few nans to take away, each Nan was $ 1.75. But the most shocking part of this story is yet to come.

All these nans were burnt and given under the firm malicious understanding that the customer cannot detect it unless opened at home. These are outright dubious and dishonest business malpractices that hasten the closure or slowing of business at these restaurants.

The tumblers that were placed for drinking water were so enormous in size that first you need a strong fist to lift them. Better call these lassi utensils. Besides they covered a lot of space to leave little place for the plates or the quarter plates to be kept. It is good to serve the plates, glasses and spoons made of paper than these antiques as the former are at least clean and hygienic.

But, since in most of the Desi restaurants, the porcelain quarter plates have vanished, the cutlery has to be placed on napkin. The jug of water is clumsy, with not very cold water and occasionally something either at bottom or at the surface kicking a vomiting revulsion.

And there is the restroom behind your back and table. You enter and find that either the tissue papers rolls are missing or these are unkept or unattended. There is the soap bottle with no liquid inside. There is a nauseating stink around.

The people who come out or go in the rest rooms rub their legs or shoulders with the person sitting near to the entrance of the toilets. It is discomfiting to sit within a foot or a meter out of the restroom while eating. There should be screen between the sitting area and the rest room enclosure.

Of late the lights are switched off to save the energy bill. So you eat in a murky atmosphere engulfed by the irritating dimness. The airconditioning system is off and substituted by a mega size fan that creates sound pollution of horrendous scale and sends the tornadoes of winds right through the aisle.

The stinginess in food, the untidiness, the sluggishness in service by the staff, the staleness of the food, and lack of d├ęcor or finesse in service make most of Desi restaurants dreary and forbidding places to enjoy food once in a while.

On Indian and Pakistani Television channels we see very enticing ads and commercials that show exotic food being served at restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Washington DC, Chicago and other American cities. The butlers are properly attired, with apron and head covers, and busy preparing various dishes (some with flashes of fire).

The tables in those bewitching ads are also covered with nice draperies, and food looks sizzling. How far those pictures reflect the truth but if these are factual then we should be proud of those exalted standards.

If our Indian and Pakistani hoteliers and restaurant owners in DFW can take a cue from those high standards, we can have a food culture here too that would be adored and relished not only by the Desi community but also from other ethnic segments thus enhancing their businesses which is exactly the purpose of their opening the restaurants.

Presently, we can find some decorum and touch of delicacy both in serving and quality of good besides modesty of prices in Almarkaz Restaurant and Roma Palace, to name two out of the whole lot. Roma Palace has the added advantage of having a spacious hall, a bar, and a huge grocery store that maintains low prices.

However, if smaller restaurants offer fresh, well cooked, dainty dishes at modest prices, their business can also flourish and they can remain in the market longer than closing it sooner.

Additionally they should maintain a reasonable standard of cleanliness and keep a watch on the good manners of their staff who should be humble, polite and forthcoming in assisting the customers. To prepare the staff for professional behavior it is necessary to train them and send them to the city training centers for service orientation.

Moreover, instead of serving the same dishes over and over again it would be desirable if a fresh menu is offered from time to time with the addition of new dishes. For the sake of good impression and tidiness, the table where the customers sit either should be cleaned on top or covered with a piece of cloth or so.

Thus the poor impression about most of our restaurants being thrifty, stingy, and substandard and wanting in good food and hospitable atmosphere could be washed off.

Finally, only those individuals should go for restaurant business who have its experience and have enough cash to maintain the quality and high culinary standards and also can sustain the losses for some time. Those who falsely dream that the moment they open a restaurant the money would start pouring down better take an ensured job and enjoy life.

The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat.

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1 comment:

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