#1 | Thaman - COVID nudged me to cut down on eating out.
What's cooking - Qualitative study to understand food in urban households
'What's Cooking?' is a research series aimed at gaining a better understanding of how urban millennial households consume food. Our relationship with food has shifted dramatically over the last decade, and this series delves into the factors that influence food-related decisions.
Thaman is a newly married Bangalore resident living in an apartment within a gated society. He is currently on a break between jobs, and his wife works in a technology startup. The couple has a cook who comes once a day to cook breakfast and lunch. The cook and his wife primarily manage the kitchen. Though the couple finds their roots in the Southern part of India, they grew up in different states across the country. Thaman is a non-vegetarian, but his wife is vegetarian. His meat consumption has decreased drastically post-marriage, and he prefers to order non-veg from outside rather than cook at home.
Thanks for reading The India Notes! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
This is the story of how Thaman's household consumes food daily.
The story is derived from interviews with participants. All personally identifiable information is masked to honour the privacy of the participants. The goal is to uncover the motivations behind their behaviour to help us understand how Indians make decisions. We hope this study helps product builders to provide a sneak peek of Indian consumer behaviour to build better products.
Table of contents
Cooking at home 🏠:
Thaman decided to employ a cook who could help them consume homemade healthy meals daily as both are working.
Both their organisations have moved to a hybrid workplace model (i.e.) they are required to go to the office only a few days a week. Having a cook gives them flexibility and removes the burden of thinking about cooking.
There is stark change even in the type of dishes they consume post marriage. As a bachelor, Thaman preferred cooking dishes ranging from Chinese to biriyanis. But post-marriage, the couple have stuck to traditional homestyle dishes like Roti, Sabzi and rice.
The dinner is usually managed by consuming what is left from lunch, and occasionally his wife prepares something fresh when they are in the mood to eat something other than lunch.
Thaman prefers Maharashtrian-style dishes, given that he grew up in that state, whereas his wife likes more South Indian dishes. The couple later between the two over the week.
Given that I have been brought up in Maharashtra, I have a knack for a wish of Maharashtrian dishes, which is a bit of Coconut and Ground-nuts (Peanuts), Green vegetables and other things. But typically a Curry and a Dal and a Roti . And we also go for South Indian dishes, but South Indian dishes, what we have seen is, the cook doesn't get the homemade flavor, so what she does is, she asks her to cut the vegetables and keep it. And typically she will just take all those things and cook it very quickly with her own way so that she gets household taste and flavors.
On managing dinners:
Typically I spin up Rice. I don't mind, I can cook rice and other stuff. You either have a I'll say What we had? So it varies. Sometimes you have overflowing Roti Sabzi in the day. So let's say if there's more Dal , so you don't need to cook Dal again you just need to cook some small Curry and make it happen. So either, I can cut the vegetables and she can make it because I am not that great at cooking. I mean, the taste goes wrong. So I can at least cut and make it happen. For other days, if it is the South Indian, usually Rasam and all, she cooks for one time and then you can use it for two days.
The menu for the day depends on the time of the week, what was cooked last week and what is available currently. If the refrigerator is freshly refilled, then the menu comes first. Else it’s the other way around.
You first see what is there in the house, in the refrigerator and if you don't have anything, then you figure out, what I ate last week, and then can I have something apart from those things than the last week. And then you figure out what groceries to order. And if you have enough groceries in the fridge and the kitchen, then you don't think about those things. You just say hey, we had these some of things and you'll just think about the menu right away and do the decision. So it depends on the time of the week where you are in. Whether it's the start of the month when you are especially replacing the groceries, it's more of menu first because you know all the things that you have. If it is mid of the week, then you think of groceries and then the menu.
Thaman segregates his grocery purchases into long-term and short-term.
They prefer to order the short terms groceries from instant delivery apps, but they prefer to purchase items with ample shelf space from a supermarket.
Thaman believes that the instant delivery apps have limited choices with higher prices compared to a supermarket, and the items can also be purchased in loose (as opposed to standard SKUs)
I nudged Thaman to talk about an instance of purchase in supermarkets.
Let’s say a typical Dal, if you go for a let's say Black Gram Dal (Urad Dal), I've seen that all these Apps in Instamart and everyone they sell you a branded Dals only. But this is something you eat everyday basis. So we are fine with spending once in a while on a premium brands, but we didn't feel that we are getting something of value for paying that premium. So that's why we felt that the Supermarkets provide you an alternative with the in-house brand, which has very similar quality to what the premium brands provide, as well as they give you loose ones. So if you want to explore those, you can get it.
What does a bulk purchase mean for Tharun in supermarkets?
It's either 1 - 2 Kgs is max for us. That is with respect to Dal. But Atta and all you want 5 – 10 Kgs pack. Typically supermarkets they try to cross sell you products. So typically if you have a good value basket you get a lot of products at a discount also. We figured out that ordering one item just from Instamart or this doesn't work well, so when quantities are in bulk it's better to go to a Supermarket is what I've realized.
Dine Out 🍽️
The couple prefers to explore new cuisines and restaurants during weekends. It's usually either on a Saturday evening or Sunday evening.
The weather, traffic, and the mood to eat, light or heavy, are some factors that determine if they go for a fancy restaurant, budget one, or order at home.
What happened last weekend:
This last week, on Saturday definitely the cook came and cooked us lunch, but we were wondering if we can eat that in the evening and go for a some buffet lunch somewhere outside. But it was again something very heavy; she wanted to eat something like buffet of options is what I'll say. So we started figuring out what are the options on the Zomato App . And then after going through a lot of back and forth between the restaurants, we thought it's better to order just a starter get it at home and enjoy that with whatever lunch we had. So we just ordered a starter and we had it. On weekend, Sunday, I will say it's because we didn't go out for a full meal, in the evening we just went out for something like a Street Chaat kind of stuff. Because most of the things are either North or South kind of distance, she wanted like a Chaat kind of thing. So we just went and had those things. That was a dinner itself for us.
Thaman's relationship with food had changed over a while, from when he was a student to marriage. COVID significantly impacted his eating out behaviour as he was with his family during the lockdowns. Check out the below visualisation.
As Thaman's friends move to different stages of life, his outside parties have become in-house gatherings where they prefer to order food and have interesting conversations.
The dining out is primarily restricted to weekends as going out during weekdays would affect productive hours for the couple.
Because, if you go for lunch, you just destroy the second half of your day. So don't want to destroy the productive hours of the team. On the personal front also it's like because given both of us are working it's not easy to figure out a common time in the weekdays.
Thaman also believes that the food is usually better on weekends as the restaurants have better chefs and are sufficiently staffed.
I was thinking this was just my observation, but typically I got this feedback from most people that the restaurants are not at its best like before COVID. And we also seen that there's no crowd at all on the weekdays. So either you have a very short hours for the best chefs, I guess. So we felt like, this is not cooked by same person because if we get that food on the weekend, we found out there's a slight difference or somebody else has cooked it. That's an observation which we have seen post-COVID coming back to Bangalore is what that has been.
Impact of social media on food
Consuming food videos on Instagram and youtube has pushed Thaman to try newer cuisine beyond the regular ones.
On the influence of food because of the internet
I feel it's a nudge or influence of the internet also. I feel like, if you give me a chance, I would prefer to eat Indian always. But given people are exposed to the social media, say Instagram and other things you get to know that, some places are cooking some different stuff. So that forces you to go and try like an experience. You might not be able go to those countries but you would just like to have a feel of it. Hence if you're seeing Japanese Food or Turkish places, so you would just like to go and try it.
Though Thaman does not use Instagram or Facebook his wife uses them to discover new places and cuisines.
I don't use Instagram or Facebook. I'm a Twitter person only. My wife uses Instagram a lot, so whenever she sees something different in the Bangalore Foodie Groups or something, she says, we can go out this place and try it out. It seems very interesting. There was some a hawker selling some Mutter-Kulcha and it got famous. As it was close by to us, we decided, let's go and try it out. It turned out very decent food because you don't get Delhi style Mutter-Kulcha in Bangalore. She got to know from Instagram about this place. And that was also her big debate that I say that I've explored a lot in Bangalore, but Instagram shows me how much unexplored places are in Bangalore.
Food ordering apps:
While dining out is a very planned activity, ordering is preferred when deciding to eat out is the last minute.
The couple prefers to order from the same restaurant, allowing them to try out multiple items.
The food order is usually discussed and placed together in one of their food apps.
Occasionally when Thaman orders a non-veg, he chooses to order from a different restaurant. When it comes to desserts, the couple prefers placing them as separate orders as their preferences are different.
Dessert orders are usually placed on weekdays when they feel like indulging themselves after the food.
The couple has a budget of Rs.500-600 for two people who order food via apps.
Thaman took me through an instance of ordering food via Zomato.
We first thought of going out. We finalized on the restaurant. It was a restaurant which was giving a unlimited food kind of stuff. I was initially fine with that, but somehow as time went by, I felt like it's too heavy for something on a Saturday. And I'll be sleeping throughout day. I said: okay, I'm not in that appetite to eat a lot of food. I just want to have good variety, but not like, gosh, myself with a lot of food kind of stuff. So then she said it's waste of money and time to go to that place. Only one person eating and enjoying and not both of us. So then we figured out what else to eat? So then we felt the other restaurants which were there it was too far away. Again getting ready, going for just for that just one meal on that lunch time didn't make sense for us. Then we thought, okay what is that actually she wanted? She wanted some variety apart from whatever is cooked at the house. Just we thought about it and we decided that, what is that variety which can make the lunch a bit better. So she ordered a few Chinese starters and then we ordered that. We got those things and had our dinner, lunch I will say.
Ordering food at home is also common when friends come to their place. They prefer ordering finger foods like Pizza and Nachos, making it easy for people to pick and eat.
On ordering food when friends come over
I don't decide on what to eat but I think after experimenting for a while, we realized that at such occasions if we have a lot of people; it's better to get a lot of picky items. You can say Pizza or you can say Finger Foods like Nachos and French Fries kind of stuff. That's the occasion. I mean, we experimented this couple of times. I'm having like a Pasta or Biryani kind of stuff. But typically if something goes wrong with these things, nobody eats it. It comes up to the us to finish up down the line. That's the only thing. I think after experimentations we realized that it's better to have some picky foods, have some drinks along with it, and do it.
The availability of a good cook who could make healthy dishes has also nudged me to take up fitness more seriously.
Thaman has started running, and his wife has joined CULT (fit) gyms.
The sedentary lifestyle post-COVID and the hybrid workplace model have drastically brought down mobility, which was a critical nudge to move towards a healthy lifestyle.
What have been your observations about food behaviour? Drop a comment :) For more real-time conversations, you can follow me on Twitter
Thanks for reading The India Notes! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.