Why Indian Home Cooks Lead the World

Why Indian Home Cooks Lead the World

Beef kebab seller grilling beef at Russell market, Shivaji Nagar, Bangalore on 14 June 2015.

Why you should care

Because you thought you already knew all the ways in which India is killing it.

If you think of the world’s fussiest foodies, obviously it’s going to be the French, right? Or maybe the Chinese? If that’s what you thought, you’d be wrong. A global survey of cooking habits around the world found that:

Indian cooks spend

13.2

hours a week preparing food.

And they lead the world, according to the German consumer data research company GFK. Indians came out near the top in other categories too, including knowledge of cooking (self-assessed!) and passion to turn out that perfect dish. As for U.S. household cooks, they did respectably well on passion, and above average on knowledge, but with a scant 5.9 hours a week in the kitchen, how much can the Americans really know about food? They don’t even spend as much time in the kitchen as the ho-hum average global cook (6.4 hours).

What would possess anyone to even track this number down? GFK thinks that the study might indicate market potential for kitchen gadgets, electronic or otherwise — but the study was launched without a client. Spokesperson Stefan Gerhardt says the survey went ahead because it had never been done. That kind of thinking led to “We thought it might be worthwhile,” he says. Some 27,000 consumers were interviewed in 22 countries. Is it accurate? Well, as accurate as any survey that asks people to assess themselves on not extremely objective criteria. Still, it is interesting.

Italians won the prize for being the most passionate cooks, doing absolutely nothing to shift or add nuance to stereotypes. Holding up the bottom in all three categories: Koreans. That seems surprising, since Koreans have a distinctive cuisine that they are justly proud of. Perhaps that reflects the fact that home cooking is relatively simple, with more elaborate preparations left to restaurants. Ukrainians gave good competition to the Indians, with South Africa, Indonesia and Italy next in line. France and China? They fell toward the bottom of the pack on most measures. Even the British came out ahead!

As for India, the time and passion undoubtedly reflect the complexity of Indian flavors. Alka Chhabra remembers growing up in Delhi, where her family shopped daily for fresh food and made everything from scratch, even grinding up their own spices, but she had no interest. “Every chance I could get, I would run away from the kitchen,” she says. After arriving in Indiana in the 1980s and starting a family, cooking at home became a necessity, but it wasn’t easy, with neither chili peppers nor cilantro available locally. She relied on bottled lemon juice and prepared garlic paste for convenience.

But no more. “I gravitated toward the more basic way,” she says, now using all fresh ingredients and nothing frozen or canned. An Indian grocer set up shop a few miles away. It’s more work, she admits, but very gratifying. “You know what you are feeding your family,” she says. Not only that: Her grown children come back frequently for mom’s home cooking.

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