Ethnographic study of an Indian Vegetarian Restaurant

INTRODUCTION:

For this assignment, ethnographic study of an Indian Vegetarian Restaurant named Tulsi was carried out. The restaurant, adjacent to the Bradford Gallery, is located at the heart of the Bradford city. In this essay globalization theories have been discussed in detail with especial focus on “globalization of culture” and “globalization of production” and how these theories relate to our ethnographic study of subject restaurant in particular.

Our brief (yet mind-provoking) ethnographic study of Tulsi Restaurant aims to touch upon various aspects of globalisation of culture and globalization of production (mainly food). The writings of various writers in the field of globalization are co-related to our organization. The Verstehen method of participant observation for understanding of social phenomena has been used for the Ethnographic study. The term globalisation has been explained in the literature section touching upon the two main aspects of globalization i.e. Globalization of Cultures and Globalization of Production.

ETHNOGRAPHIC STUDY

TULSI PLANT (BASIL)

The restaurant derives its name from one of India's most sacred plant named “Tulsi” sometimes referred to as “holy basil” or “queen of herbs”. The very name of restaurant establishes its linkage with Indian traditions.

I visited in the evening hours on a weekday. As I entered the restaurant, I noticed a striking waiting area where a middle-aged Indian lady was ensconced in one of the sofas reading a magazine. Unlike most of the restaurants, which aim to maximize the utilization of the covered area, the presence of a cosy waiting room signified the attention provided (by the owners) to the Indian culture of hospitality i.e. “God takes the shape of guests”! The exquisite stools carved with delicate Indian motifs, the little pink cushions and a few decoration plants besides the window gave a grand look to the interior. As I moved to take my seat in the main dining hall I noticed that the theme colour of Tulsi i.e. pink and green was repeated throughout the interior of the restaurant; oval-shaped pink design on the ceiling coupled with the handmade pictures of Tulsi, vegetables and plants on the wall. The thematic repetition of these colours not only gave a monolithic appearance to the interior but also accentuated its functionality as a vegetarian restaurant.

I took my seat at the far end side of the restaurant to take a complete and isolated view of the restaurant. The restaurant was very capacious (by far the biggest of all the restaurants which I have visited in Bradford) with more than 40 tables and around 110 seats. I noticed a formal gathering of around twelve local British people at the centre of the Hall. Besides them I noticed two Indian men having their dinner just one table away from where I was sitting. In a few minutes several customers started trickling into the restaurant to the delicacy of vegetarian Indian food. I noticed that the customers hailed from different countries i.e. China, India, Great Britain, Pakistan and Africa

Main Dining Hall / Tulsi Theme on Ceiling

I looked at the menu card and found all sorts of traditional Indian food varieties listed including the variations in the North and South Indian food e.g. Dosa, Uttappam, Sambhar along with the Tulsi Specialities Poppadum and Samosa. Typical Chinese dishes were also present in the Menu. Tulsi Drinks included a variety of Lassi (a traditional Indian drink prepared from yoghurt). However I noticed that flavoured Lassi e.g. Mango Lassi was also being offered which I had never found in local Indian restaurants. The restaurant had a Bar which served a large variety of alcoholic drinks including Tequila, Johnnie Walker Black Label etc. Besides that the Buffet items included vegetables, Daal and Pulao along with Achar (Pickle), Chutney, a large variety of Salads; sweet dishes including Gajar Halwa (made from carrots), Gulab Jamun and Ras Malai. The aroma and taste of food was no different from the food offered in typical restaurants in India. It was surprising for me that a few of dishes e.g. Pulao and vegetables tasted even more delicious and positively different from those I had eaten back in India.

I introduced myself to the manager as a student of Bradford University. He told me that the owner of the restaurant hailed from India and also owned a few “Cash & Carry” stores in the UK and that and some of the food ingredients were procured from their own stores. He informed that the restaurant had employees from different countries i.e. chef from India, pot washer from Afghanistan and kitchen helper from Pakistan; most of the waiters were Indian of Pakistani students from Bradford University/College.

LITERATURE

GLOBALIZATION

Globalization is such an important and pervasive word in our current vocabulary that it has become flavour of the day. Phenomenon of Globalization has been analyzed by many experts, in short it can be explained as “a process consisting of technological, economic, political and cultural dimension that interconnect individuals, firms, and governments across national borders.....characterized by open, interdependent, national economies connected by an increasingly faster and global communication infrastructure” (Dierks, 2001 pp.17, 164). At the same time it is a complex phenomenon rather than one which could be understood at a cosmetic glance. According to Tomlinson (2006) “Globalization is a complex process because it involves rapid social change that is occurring simultaneously across a number of dimensions – in the world economy, in politics, in communications in the physical environment and in culture – each of this transformation interacts with the others.”

GLOBALIZATION'S IMPACT ON CULTURE:

Hunt (1996, p. 52) cites the classic definition of culture, framed by sir Edward Tylor (1871) which reads that “culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” Culture includes the system of values and beliefs shared by the group and norms of behaviour expected of group members (Morrison 2006). Globalization has had a great impact on changing these cultural values. Anthony Giddens, a leading sociological writer on globalization (Begg 2007) term globalization as “the cultural suspension of space and time”. A substantial growth in the exchange of cultural goods i.e. printed matter, music, visual arts, movies, cinema and photography; radio and television has catalyzed this process of cultural diffusion (Held, 2002). However it has been viewed in pessimistic light by some experts who contend that the material prosperity comes with a “high spiritual and cultural cost”; some term “globalization as an engine of global destruction”. For example Cowen (2005) argues that monolithic, secularist, materialist (not aesthetic) homogenization of cultures in ways imperils and endangers the special values. On the contrary pro-globalization writers (Pison) believe that globalization can lead to a common understanding of all cultures and a global cultural and political unity. They find a “paradoxical relation” between globalization and culture in a sense that global forces seem to create and reinforce local cultures and identities by triggering the process of creativity.

GLOBALIZATION OF PRODUCTION

Globalization of production refers to the sourcing of goods and services from locations around the world to take benefit of national differences in the cost and quality of factors of production such as labour, energy, land and capital (Hill, 2007). This phenomenon has particularly been exploited by companies located in advanced economies to cut down on the cost of production (i.e. labour, transport, raw materials etc.) by producing elsewhere on the globe. It may have an adverse bearing on the domestic industry but benefits local consumers by providing them access to global products that they would not otherwise have.

Corollary to phenomenon of Globalization (of Production) is a comparatively new phenomenon of Glocalization which results from the combination of words “globalization” and “localization”. It signifies the importance for Business organizations (especially multinational firms) to explore the needs of local customers and subsequently to tailor their product or service to accommodate the user or consumer in the local market. It is a combination of intense local and extensive global interaction (Wellman, 2004).

ANALYSIS

The ethnographic study shows the many facets of globalization at work in the Indian vegetarian restaurant. The very location of an Indian restaurant at the epicentre of a city located in the Britain shows the concept of an increasingly globalized and shrinking world; into one which has been termed as “Global Village” by Marshall McLuhan.

The environment, food, taste, music and presentation were quite similar to typical Indian restaurants. The ethnographic study showed that customers from different parts of the world i.e. Russia, Africa, China and Nepal were present in the restaurant to enjoy the delicacies of Indian food. The very presence of people from diverse backgrounds highlights the growing interconnections and interdependencies of people triggered by the phenomenon of globalization.

It was observed during ethnographic study that English language was the main mode of communication between the customers and the staff. The dress code was mainly jeans and T-shirts by men and women. The non-local people were also dressed in jeans and not in their local dresses. This perfectly explains how Globalization has brought dramatic changes in the day-to-day lives of people.

The dress code and language are just one of the many ways in which our ethnographic study can be interlinked with the ways in which globalization has had its impact on the cultures. Food forms a vital part of cultures; eating habits and food preferences which take years to internalize are not changed easily. An age old European adage ‘you are what you eat' (Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach - a German philosopher and anthropologist: ‘Der Mensch ist, was er ißt') puts this idea in a nutshell. Witnessing people from various parts of the world, sitting under one roof with their distinct food requirements and eating habits, enjoying the delicacies of Indian cuisine provided strong evidence that the cultural barriers have been dismantled to a great extent by the phenomena of globalization. As a matter of fact it was observed to be a two-way transformation of traditional beliefs. It was observed that a few customers from Indian or Pakistani background preferred taking alcoholic drinks with their meal in consonance with the British mores, but dissonant with their own traditional beliefs. On the other hand the international customers were enjoying the traditional Indian food.

The preparation of food necessitates procurement of raw materials like vegetables, spices, sauces etc. These ingredients are either bought from the local market or imported from India (e.g. spices, to give the food its traditional flavour). This can be seen in the backdrop of Globalization of Production. The goods and services take benefit of national differences in the cost and quality of factors of production such as labour, land and capital. The alcoholic drinks from the local market, the spices from India, the cooking equipment and utensils from another country's' market etc. makes the production process highly globalized. Another interesting observation in our restaurant was that the food was ‘positively different' and ‘more delicious' from typical Indian food. It may be because of the variations in the taste resulting from procurement of ingredients from various parts of the world which gives the food its unique flavour.

The restaurant served a large variety of food variety; rather an exquisite blend of Western and Indian food to cater for the food requirements of customers from diverse cultural backgrounds. A large cocktail of alcoholic drinks being offered by the restaurant was purely to cater for the demand from local residents and international customers. In spite of the fact that drinking is a “norm of evasion” in India, alcohol is not served in family restaurants. This was an ideal example of Glocalized strategies adopted by the owners of the restaurant (cognizant of the fact that challenges faced in food industry due to the cultural differences are more critical and complex as compared to the other industries) to serve the unique food habits of the country. Moreover the variations in the Indian traditional drinks i.e. flavoured Lassi was another technique to tempt the local customers. As such the success of any food firm is determined by the level of trust that it is able to gain from the residents of a region. The strategy adopted by our restaurant was quite similar to those adopted by the world famous multinational food companies such as McDonalds and Pizza Hut in various parts of the world.

CONCLUSION

The ethnographic study focuses on two main aspects of globalization i.e. Globalization of Culture and Production as observed in Indian Vegetarian Restaurant - Tulsi and correlates them with the existing literature on the subject. This essay presents strong evidence of globalization of culture and production in our subject restaurant which is empirically supported by literature of various authors.

The restaurant had an aura of a typical Indian restaurant and mainly served Indian food with some customer-focussed adaptations such as provision of alcoholic drinks to cater for the needs of local customers. Customers from various cultural, religious, ethnic backgrounds exploring trans-cultural (Indian) cuisine; staff from different countries provided evidence of how the day-to-day lives of people have been reshaped by the phenomena of globalization and to what extent it has diminished the cultural boundaries between peoples by bringing people closer. This ‘unity in diversity' which promotes common understanding of cultures is, in fact, the essence and most striking feature of globalization which gets support from analysis of various authors on globalization. In fact the restaurant appeared as microcosmic reflection of the UK's much hailed policy of multi-cultures'.

The Globalization of Production has not only made it easier and attractive for the firms to explore new markets in other countries, it has also resulted in more creativity. In our case study of example is that of Mango Lassi; another example is enhanced/better food taste resulting from usage of mixed blend of local and international food ingredients. This creativity is a natural outcome of Globalization of Production. Moreover the restaurant was observed using localized strategies to serve the customers more efficiently and gain their trust. Literature shows that the world-famous multi-national restaurants have adopted these strategies e.g. Pizza Hut has localized its products and processes in various parts of the by including hybrid names of dishes e.g. American Dosa, Chicken Tikka Pizza in their branches in India. Lastly, it is pertinent to point out that our restaurant is not a multi-national organization hence phenomenon of Globalization of Production was applied with caution.

REFERENCES

Begg, D. and Ward, D. (2007). ‘Economics for Business'. 2nd Ed. McGraw Hill Publications. P.321.

Cowen, T. (2003). ‘Globalization and Culture'. The CATO Institute Publications.

Dierks, R.G. (2001). ‘Introduction to Globalization: Political and Economic Perspective for the New Century'. Burnham Inc. Publishers, USA

Held, D. (2002). ‘A Globalizing World? Culture, Economics, Politics'. The Bath Press, Bath. p. 49

Hill, C.W.L. (2007) ‘International Business: Competing in the Global Marketplace' 6th Ed., McGraw-Hill, New York.

Hofstede, G. (1980). ‘Cultures Consequences', London: Sage.

Horton, P.B. and Hunt, C.L. (1996) ‘Sociology'. McGraw-Hill Publications, International Edition 6th Ed., Singapore p.52

Kumar, S. And Goel, B. (2001). ‘Glocalization in Food and Agribusiness: Strategies of Adaptation to Local Needs and Demands'.

Pieterse, J.N. (2009). ‘Globalization and Culture – Global Melange'; Rowman and Littlefield Publishers USA

Pison, R. And Kamal, A. ‘Globalization and Culture or how Globalization reinforces local identities'.

Tomlinson, J. (2006). ‘Globalization and Culture'. A version of this paper was presented at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) Research Seminar Series 2006–2007. The talk was cohosted by the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies Ningbo and Institute of Comparative Cultural Studies on 24 November 2006

Wellman, B. (2004). Little Boxes, Glocalization and Networked Individualism,

Websites:

1. http://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/glocalization.asp

2. http://anthro.palomar.edu/culture/culture_1.htm

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