Indira S. Somani, journalist, PhD

From Pizza Hut to Olive Beach

I’ve eaten at Pizza Hut a couple times since I’ve been here.  I have to admit I did not experience the fast-food restaurants or hardly any restaurants in India before 2004.  At that time I was traveling with my friend, Leena, another Indian-American, her husband Shawn, a White American, and Seema, an Indian, who lived in the U.S. for 13 years before moving back to India.  I had my first aloo (potato)-tikki burger at McDonald’s at that time.  I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t eat at McDonald’s in the U.S.  (However, I used to be a non-veg and ate at McDonald’s before I became a vegetarian in 1987.)  That aloo-tikki burger tasted better than anything I had every eaten in the U.S.  Sunday evening, I  had the same experience with Pizza Hut in India.  I can’t stand Pizza Hut in the U.S.  There is something in the dough, I think it’s the yeast that makes it so unappetizing.  Even the pizza in Lexington is better at places like Frank’s and Naples.  Here in India, the Pizza Hut has many choices on the menu, not just Italian food, but also Indian food.  The pizza includes the traditional choices, plus Kadai Chicken, , Paneer El Rancho, Exotica, Teekha Paneer Makhani, Simply Veg and Veggie Crunch.  I actually have not had the pizza, only the pasta, which tastes better than the pasta I’ve eaten at the fancy restaurants in my hometown, Springfield, Ill. 

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Saturday night I explored another restaurant in Bangalore, Olive Beach Restaurant, that caters to the ex-pat community.  This time I was with other Fulbright scholars also teaching and researching in the Bangalore area.  I have never eaten at these types of restaurants in the past, mainly because they did not exist, but also because I was staying with my extended family almost all of the time.  Quite frankly I was taught that eating at restaurants in India 20 years ago was not necessarily safe.  When my driver was approaching Olive Beach, I kept asking, “Are you sure we are in the right area?”  The restaurant has a high wall surrounding it, but when you walk in, it’s like you are entering an oasis.  The bar is fully stocked as you would see in any high-end restaurant in the U.S.  When I saw the bar, I forgot that I’m in India, since I have been told by my parents that this used to be such a “dry” country.  The menu and its prices were comparable to any exclusive mediterranean restaurant in the U.S.  It didn’t feel like I was in India, because when I looked around I could see plenty of caucasians, not knowing if they were Americans or Europeans.  There were definitely Indians at the restaurant as well, but the atmosphere was of a mixed clientele, including a European maitre’D.  The restaurant had an indoors and outdoors.  The outdoors was underneath a tent that could be quite comfortable with Bangalore evening weather.  The indoors was surrounded by glass walls with plush couch seating.  As a result, the food, style, decor and even the social scene at the restaurant kept reminding me how India has changed.