Friday, September 21, 2012

Decor of Indian resturants in North America

After trying out food of various countries in the hotels of Toronto and  a few cities from USA, I discovered that   I prefer Indian food and to some extent Mediterranean & Mexican food. More often than not, I end up eating Indian most of the time.

While I am okay with the food served in Indian resturants most of the time, I am not happy with the decor of the resturants and the music. The writer, Harlan Coben, shares my dislike of the music in Indian resturants and he has brought it up in  two of his crime fiction novels!

For people from Canada and USA who have eaten in Indian resturants, I dont need to explain about the food, decor and music. The food from most resturants tastes about the same, especially north Indian food. Different Indian resturants seem to offer the same food. Pardon me if I sound critical but this is my opinion and my opinions are not necessarily facts!

 The music streamed into the Indian resturants are either  songs from the 60s-70s  Hindi movies or instrumental music to the same Hindi songs . Some resturants have instrumental music which sounds like Hindustani classical or semi-classical to my untrained ears.

 And how do I describe the decor? It is usually a mish-mash of Indian artifacts such as Mughal style paintings, brass vases, photoes of Gods, Indian musical instruments, brass vessals, Photos or paintings  of Gods, Indian women in saris, Rajastani dancers, elephants, etc. Most resturants have a God at the entrance, usually Ganesha and unlit brass lamps.

Each time I sit in an Indian resturant and wait for the food to arrive, my husband and I  look around and discuss  how we would decorate an Indian resturant . I think, we have unconsciously fallen into this  exercise while waiting! Only recently did I realize,  how repeatedly we had been doing this !The more tacky the decor, the more quickly we start this discussion! Udupi Palace on Gerrard street is one resturant where we start this discussion even before sitting down!

This discussion has not gone far as the wait at Indian resturants is thankfully brief(except if you have ordered dosa which takes about 10 minutes or more  to arrive).
 I would like to have white washed walls (with the traditional lime), solid teak or teak like wooden tables and solid, heavy wooden chairs. I want the white tube lights which would fill the resturant with light. I dont like the dim lights of most resturants(not just Indian). I know most people would disagree but I simply love well lit places. Hmm. What else? I really cannot make up my mind about decorations except to say that I do NOT WANT plastic flowers, brass vessals, lamps, statues, assorted paintings and sculptures of  varying styles.
In India, I had loved the ambience of roadside dhabas. I had admired the minimal decor of roadside coffee shops especially in villages, small towns. Let me add here, as far as I know, people who own these resturants do not even consider decor when they plan their resturant...the bottom line is much money they can make! The busy loud resturants in small towns serving non-veg food ( called 'military' hotels in areas of Karnataka !), the busy tightly spaced resturants in bus-stands providing super-fast service and serving hot masala dosas, idlis and coffee to travellers also fill me with nostalgia. These small town resturants were always painted in garish colours such as fluroscent green or a sort of sky blue. They remind me of the decor of Mexican resturants in Toronto and US cities. When I lived in India,  I hated these garish colours but .......after living in Canada and enjoying the garish colours of Mexican resturants, I am wondering if I should reconsider using those garish colours in the resturants of India  if I do open a resturant in Toronto!

I think I would like to have black and white photoes of Indian kitchens with the traditional instruments of cooking such as the mortar and pestle, the vanake(stick used to crush grains), the beeso-kallu(more primitive mortal and pestle to grind rice, wheat, ragi, etc). Photoes of plates of food or food on banana leaves, photoes of a marriage meal with a row of banaan leaves with food on it and servers serving.

Or I could make a silent movie with various food based themes such as  traditional Indian cooking process(women cooking at homes in villages and cooks cooking large quantities of food in wedding hall-kitchens), eating, serving food(in homes, hotels, weddings, in the fields during harvest time, etc) and run this movie silently on walls of the resturant where the patrons can see. I would like to make the movie with the cooks using archiac cooking instruments and new ones too and show the progression and evolution of cooking implements, etc.

I could also put up on the walls, hand-written and framed recipes of the foods served in my resturant. Maybe a little bit of history of each dish.

A color photo of spices, a photo of various fruits and vegetables, photoes of markets selling fish, food and vegetables, wholesale grain market (such as city market of Bangalore)of photoes capturing rice from it's start as a seed of paddy to reaching the table could also be used. But of course, these photoes should not put you off your food!
My husband's idea of decorating the hotel includes having small thatched huts with 6 foot high walls, a round table with chairs inside this hut, which has an entrance without a door. Maybe he wants the walls to be white-washed with lime. He wanted a mud floor with cow-dung to smoothen and harden  it but I doubt if even Indians would come in if we had such floors!

If Indian kids coming into resturants weren't so unruly, I would have had a few  Kashmiri Kangris in each of these huts for the patrons to warm their hands in winter(apart from having the regular heating)

Instead of photoes to decorate the walls I could have nooks in the wall and place a range of mortal and pestels used in India or a range of (same colour) rare cooking implements from different parts of India. A couple of  humungous but aesthetically appealing  vessals used in large scale cooking, could be placed as decorative pieces in some places in the hotel. unpainted natural-looking clay pots of various designs could also be used to decorate...only clay pots or only black and white photoes or only color photoes...NOT ALL of them TOGETHER. I dont want a mish-mash but one theme at a time only, for decorating

I could also have photos of a certain theme and change the theme and photos once in a while. The theme will always remain Indian food but there are so many themes within Indian food to photograph. Foods from various parts of India, vessals from various parts, stoves from ancient to modern times, photoes of people eating, I could go on and on about the range of food themes and photoes one can take in India.

But my favorite idea for photos for Indian resturant decor would be  a series of black and white,candid photoes of ordinary, anonymous people in various places, eating or drinking and appear to be oblivious to the world around them . For example a photo of a guy, sitting at a window, with a cup of coffee, reading a newspaper; a couple sitting in a park, laughing and surrounded by a picnic basket and food; a mother feeding her infant( a common sight in India) by putting balls of rice into his mouth while having him perched on her waist, a couple of teens watching cricket on tv with plates of food in their hands, farmer eating under a tree near his fields,etc.

I would put these  photos on my own dining room walls but my husband will not let me hammer a single nail on the wall!

Another idea for decorating Indian resturants : The Indian resturants could serve Indian food but SHOULD loose  the Indian music and Indian decorations. The resturants could have an aesthetic decor with a universal appeal.....the decor could be modern, of any ethnic or non-ethnic type and plesant, low-key and unobtrusive. A series of paintings or art-work by one artist would be one such idea. Aquariums, continuous stream of air bubbles or water bubbles is another(or does this sound tacky? When I visualize this it doesnt seem tacky to me. Fresh flowers in vases would be great and  Ikebana would be even better but I can also see Indians protesting to this decor as it is not 'Indian'.

And no music at all. I like music but prefer silence or barely audible music in resturants & shops. I find the non-stop music in shops distracting and wish they did not have music. I also hate Indian music...hate is too strong a word but I am FED UP  of the Indian music in Indian resturants. I prefer silence! I prefer the sounds of people chatting and laughing filling the air. The sound of waiters walking around serving is also natural and nice. But Indian music...NO


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