Kerala's anti-US communists allow McDonald's to open first outlet
State's notoriously anti-American party allows chain to open its first restaurant without protest
The opening of a new McDonald's outlet in India is not usually news. The fast-food chain already boasts 300 restaurants.
But for McDonald's to open its first outlet in the communist-dominated state of Kerala is remarkable because the party there usually treats burgers, along with nefarious drinks like Coca-Cola, as emblems of American cultural imperialism.
The communists who have ruled the south Indian state on and off for decades frequently hold anti-American protests and burn the Stars and Stripes.
Yet no party protesters have been seen outside the state's first McDonald's in a Kochi shopping mall, only customers streaming in to sample the McDonald's experience of burgers and French fries. Deference to local tastes comes in the form of fiery Piri Piri sauce, which is poured on the fries to make them compatible with the south Indian palate.
Amit Jatia, vice-president of Hardcastle Restaurants, which has the McDonald's franchise in south and west India, said he was so pleased with the reaction that he planned to open two more outlets in Kerala later this year.
Unlike the rest of mainly Hindu India, about 80 per cent of those in Kerala eat meat, and lots of it.
The state consumes about 5,000 tonnes of meat a day, owing partly to the large Christian and Muslim communities.
McDonald's success in India is in large measure due to its clever tailoring of the menu to suit Indian religious and culinary preferences. The range of vegetarian options includes the McAloo Tikki burger, and the restaurants' mayonnaise in India is made without egg.
The Kochi outlet, like all the others, has separate areas in the kitchen for vegetarian and non-vegetarian preparation.
Last September, McDonald's went even further by announcing that it planned to open totally vegetarian outlets in two pilgrimage towns, one near the Golden Temple in Amritsar, which is sacred to Sikhs, and the other in Katra, close to the Hindu Vaishno Devi shrine.
The quiet restaurant opening in Kerala defies the communists' distaste for American brands. Kunju Pillai, a member of the party's Kochi district committee, said that while the party had no plans to protest against the presence of McDonald's, he, for one, was going nowhere near it.
"From the Vietnam war through to the American invasion of Iraq, we have opposed American policy and their cultural exports to other countries. People are free to go to McDonald's but my family will not go as a matter of principle," Pillai said.
The new McDonald's restaurant is in the Lulu Shopping Mall, the biggest mall in India. For the communists, the seven-hectare mall could soon become a no-go zone. Coming soon? Walt Disney and Barbie stores.