I was craving for some Mexican food from San Jose’s La Victoria Taqueira in Bangalore after seeing all those Superbowl 50 tweets about salsa and burritos. If only there was a local taqueria from where I could order a veggie burrito and get some nachos with some guac it would be wonderful I thought. While I was dreaming of Mexican food I realized with a rude shock that our trusty on-demand chef Kamakshi did not get our lunch order. Due to a technical glitch she never got the WhatsApp message we sent her the previous day. She was my Plan A for our lunch and I had no Plan B! “Oh, let us look what FreshMenu has,” my husband suggested. And lo & behold! it seems Freshmenu, a Bangalore-based startup, has somehow read my thoughts. Oh, wait that can’t be I told myself. That is some good old marketing to coincide with all that Superbowl buzz out here in Silicon Valley of India or Bangalore.
FreshMenu had a vegetarian burrito bowl (Rs. 200 or approx $3.50) with all the works – refried beans, corn, tomatoes and cottage cheese. Wait a minute cottage cheese? Hmm that is an interesting add-on. I also ordered a passion blueberry mousse (Rs. 60 or approx $1). Am not sure what this mousse is made of or how many calories it contains, but am mighty curious to know what it tastes like. We logged in to our FreshMenu account, placed our order and then waited for the food to appear at our doorstep in less than 45 minutes. It took us all of 3 minutes to look up th menu and place our order.
While waiting for my Mexican burrito bowl and the mousse I got thinking about my current trip to Bangalore and living a truly on-demand life. I get my grocery, food and car without much friction from these on-demand companies like BigBasket, FreshMenu and Uber. But then I said to myself “Hang on a minute. In my previous trips to Bangalore I did lead an on-demand life. I got my food from Kamakashi’s kitchen or my mom’s kitchen, my grocery from the local corner or kirana store and our transportation from our local tour and travel company, Ola cab or the good old auto rickshaw.” And then there were times when I’d whip up breakfast and lunch in our kitchen using our Philips induction stove and not the traditional gas stove top.
I’d like to submit that this on-demand service or economy was an option in Bangalore and in India long before this surfaced in Silicon Valley and in the USA and created all these Unicorn companies. Let me clarify. Way back in the late 1990s when the mobile revolution started in India the trend for on-demand services began. By early 2002 the mobile phone phenom had turned into a strong one with millions of users being added every year. In 2006 when we briefly lived in Bombay we ordered everything via our mobile phone – right from our car to our food and movies – remember DVDs? I remember a friend of mine regularly ordered fine wines from California, France, Argentina and Australia from the local wine shop.
Back in 2006 store owners drivers, cooks, maids all had a basic Nokia phone and missed call was the protocol of the day. I remember our carpenter had 3 phones. I wondered why he had 3 phones. “One is for my family and the other 2 are for my customers. If my second phone is busy, they will give me a missed call on my third phone,” he replied without any hesitation. And his explanation made perfect sense since his service was in high demand and he did not want to miss out on any new business opportunities. The only difference in 2006-2007 was none of these folks had an online presence, Whatsapp or an app. This was the good old on-demand economy where you called the store or the vendor and got your order executed. It was built on trust and that famous Indian concept of COD – cash on delivery.
Fast forward to 2016 and the on-demand economy has assumed an American avatar with an Indian twist. The American avatar is the influence of Uber and AirBnB and their business models on Indian startups, esp the ones in Bangalore. Acquiring customers is key and you do that by subsiding your service or product. What this means is that burn rate for many of the Indian, esp Bangalore based startups is pretty high I’d wager. The second Indian twist is the COD option. And if you are a food startup like FreshMenu then the third Indian twist is in the food that you offer, which has a distinct Indian flavor to its global menu.
My reverie was interrupted when the doorbell rang. It was our order from FreshMenu. I forked out Rs. 260 in cash and got my 2 orders in exchange. All without any hassles.
And then I unboxed the burrito bowl that was attractively packed in bright yellow and red wrapper. I was eager to delve into this Mexican bowl of chef-crafted salad and discover the joy of eating Mexican food in Bangalore.
I tasted a spoonful of the Mexican food and was surprised by the strong Indian flavor! I had forgotten that I was wearing my California lenses and was looking for Mexican Spanish rice with refried beans. Instead what I got was basmati rice flavored with a strong dose of roasted cumin powder. Instead of refried pinto beans there was al dente kidney beans. I have never had any sort of cottage cheese with my burrito bowl in California. This burrito bowl had cottage cheese or good ole paneer. This is Mexican food with an Indian flavor. This indeed was a “unique dish,” of “the famous burrito bowl,” to quote FreshMenu. And this burrito bowl had a definite bite to it – the kind that comes from chillies or peppers liker serrano or jalapeno. I liked the burrito bowl but I wish they had mentioned they had kidney beans instead of refried beans.
The passion blueberry mousse was a tad too sweet and was not bad. The bottom of the cup had a thin layer of blueberry jam or compote as they put it. The middle layer was the passion fruit mousse I was wondering what sort of cream they used in their top layer? It had a sprinkling of sliced and toasted almonds. I am not sure if I’d order this dessert the next time around.
This is not the first time we ordered from FreshMenu. We have ordered about 4-5 times and the result has been a mixed bag. I am a tad curious on why the choice of Indian dishes on FreshMenu is almost non-existent? Maybe their research shows that folks in Bangalore and other metro cities like trying food from different parts of the world? Or, maybe they are listening to their user base and that is why they had a Lucknowi biryani on their menu a couple of days ago? Who know. In the meantime, am back to our regularly scheduled vegetarian meals from Kamakashi’s kitchen. For a couple of dollars we get a healthy lunch of rice, sambar, rasam, kootu and poriyal. Everyday there is a different menu for our lunch from Kamakashi’s kitchen and you can’t beat that option. Kamakshi’s kitchen is a different on-demand option – one without an app and requires a 12 hour notice. A simple text the night before seals the deal. And if you run into a tech glitch like we did, we turned to FreshMenu for our lunch. This on-demand life in Bangalore ain’t that bad I say. I could get used to it very easily.