The US does have it’s hot food, though: Mexican and the deep South styles of food. I don’t think it’s the heat or the bugs: it’s more likely that, as has been said, there isn’t a large enough Indian population.
From their website, Panda Express has 1157 locations in 37 States. That’s about as national as it gets, I think.
> As for Indian food, I image it hasn’t developed enough popularity for anyone to
> try starting a national chain in the U.S. After all, how many cities have Indian
> neighborhoods? And probably those who do like Indian food wouldn’t care for a
> watered down version of it that a national fast food chain would produce. To be
> viable a chain in the U.S. has to offer food which is on the lowest common
> denominator of taste, i.e., bland. Look at Yoshinora.
I don’t think this is true. In general, the food is spicier in American restaurants than in British ones. Indeed, twenty years ago British restaurant food was quite bland. Sure, there were a lot of Indian restaurants, but those generally didn’t serve very spicy versions of Indian food. In comparison, the food in Mexican restaurants in the U.S. (at least as common as Indian in the U.K.) was spicier. There are lots of rather spicy cuisines that are rather common in the U.S. - many kinds of barbeque, Tex-Mex, many of the Chinese subtypes, a variety of Latin American cuisines like Salvadorean, many Indian sorts, Thai, etc. British restaurant food has come a lot of way in twenty years, but I still don’t think it’s on average as spicy as American restaurant food. I’m fascinated to discover that a chain of restaurants offering quite spicy food - Nando’s, which does peri-peri chicken - has done so well in the U.K. that they’ve just opened their first restaurant in the U.S. (I’m not sure where Nando’s is headquartered. I know it started in South Africa. I thought I read that the company had been bought out by the U.K. franchisers, but I can’t find any confirmation of that.)
Outside of the large (mostly coastal) urban areas, there is very little non-ethnic spicy food. Cajun, creole, Southwestern, and eastern NC style pork BBQ (not all that spicy) are all I can think of. None of these are terribly popular outside their home regions, evidenced by the lack of national or regional chains. The only exception that comes to mind is Popeye’s fried chicken, which is somewhat spicy.
The spicyness of American Mexican food varies tremendously. The average dish, at the average restaurant outside of a big city is not very spicy. This sort of toning down of spicyness, not merely reducing “heat” but lowering the amount and variety of other flavors as well, would probably be necessary to make an Indian chain work, provided you could convince people it wwas bland enough for them.
Well, it’s indirectly because of the Empire. As the Empire became independent, Indians and Pakistanis migrated to Britain because they were British subjects, both from the subcontinent and from Africa. Of course, when these guys went out to dinner, they wanted to eat Indian and Pakistani food – then some of the indigenous English discovered the food too.
It helps that some cities, such as Bradford and Leicester, now have majority or close-to-majority populations originating in South Asia. (My mother came from Leicester: a few years ago, I went back there after a 40-plus-year break, and discovered the city now has a street where every restaurant is the same kind – Gujarati vegetarian – except for the fish-and-chip shop, which of course also sells kebabs and curries).
It’s funny, because there’s an almost macho culture here in the UK: “I can take it hotter than you can”. Though the most popular dish is probably chicken tikka marsala, which is not blazingly hot.
I live in a county town in the south west, and there are literally dozens of Chinese and Indian restaurants; the majority, it has to be said, from the same mould, but a few that try to be a bit more inventive. I really have no doubt that, given the investment that a well known chain would succeed.
It would be interesting to know more about the source. Something I read one time makes me think that the source of at least East Coast Chinese restaurants is somewhere in NYC.
When I lived in LA I played cricket with a guy who owned an Indian restaurant (a really good one at that). He told me that he’d thought about franchising, but he didn’t have the capital to do it at the time.
From what he told me about his restaurant, it seems to me the biggest stumbling block to a national Indian franchise (whether here in the States or in the UK) would be the supply chain. At his one place in LA, he could work with local suppliers and be confident about the quality of what he was getting. If he opened another location or two in LA, he could still order from the same local suppliers. But if he wanted to expand somewhere else, say to San Francisco or Las Vegas, he had one of two options: find another supplier in that city, where he wasn’t familiar with what their specialties were or which suppliers to avoid; or ship everything from LA. With option 1, the food quality might not be as good, and he wouldn’t have been able to negotiate personally with his suppliers. With option 2, the shipping costs would have been pretty high, and the food would have lost freshness in transit. Neither option would have been particularly attractive, especially with Indian produce and spices, which lose a lot of flavor if they’re not fresh.
So, he wasn’t interested in opening anywhere outside of LA. He thought there might be a lot of money in it (lots of places in the US, like Houston, NYC, and Florida have a large Indian population) but he didn’t think it was worth the hassle.
I tried a vindaloo once, never again, never, ever again.
Any Indian dish can be made at any level of heat. I’ve had lamb vindaloo that was no hotter than chicken curry.
There’s a small West Coast chain of Indian restaurants called Swagat. There are several in the Bay Area and some in Portland as well. It’s hard to tell exactly how widespread they are since there are plenty of restaurants named “Swagat” around.
I don’t know exactly how close they are to “fast food”, or what the quality is, as I’ve never eaten at one, but there’s one in the Great Mall (Milpitas) food court.
Yes, it can, but traditionally a vindaloo - or a madras - is hot, and the kormas and pasandas are creamier and milder.
One chain I can think of is the Aagrah group.
This appears to have 10 outlets, however this is very deceptive, as they have a much larger business supplying other outlets around the country, and they do a lot of event catering.
Having spoken with one of their managers, and a director I can tell you that the scale of this operation is vast, we are talking millions of meals per year.
I can also tell you that this chain has far greater plans, its moving steadily from a large regional catering company to national levels, its sort of at the junction between the two - and they do not borrow to do it, which makes the expansion all the more impressive, and secure.
There’s a pretty good chance that some of those supermarker ‘takeaway’ meals are produced by this company.
In the United States it seems as though most Chinese food served in restaurants is pretty darn standardized. In many cases the pictures of the food, the decorations, and supplies (chop sticks, place mats, etc.) seem to be coming from the same source. If you go from Chinese place to Chinese place you will even see that the menu is largely standardized with things like lo mein, seasame chicken, lemon chicken, General Tso’s chicken, etc. It isn’t all exactly the same but they’re pretty darn similar.
It seems to be a franchise in everything but name.
And here in the Triangle area of North Carolina.
We find that in Mexican restaurants, too – a #5 combination dinner is pretty much a #5 anywhere you go. They all use the same items in the same groupings. If one place serves a taco, a burrito, beans and rice and calls it a #2, all the other places will too.
This looks too much like “Aaargh!” to catch on.
Naan-N-Curry is a (quite good) San Francisco-based Indian/Pakistani chain that now has a restaurant in WA state (and perhaps others, at this point).
Let’s add Thai to the list of chainless cuisines, at least in the United States.