It's been more than a decade since American fast food made its way to India, when McDonald's hoisted golden arches in Mumbai and New Delhi.
Taco Bell is following suit, having just opened its first restaurant in the bustling metropolis of Bangalore, a high-tech hub considered India's Silicon Valley.
The company aims to have three Taco Bell locations up and running in the city, India's third largest, by the end of this year. Its ambitious second act: to expand beyond Bangalore to 100 outlets nation-wide by the end of 2015.
In a land full of spicy foods and vegetarians, why is the Irvine, Calif.-based franchise betting that fajitas, tortillas, burritos and tacos will find favor with locals?
“India’s growing middle-class and especially Bangalore’s young, affluent population make for a perfect market,” Ashok Bajpai, the brand’s India GM, told the Global Post.
Already, more than 2,000 area residents have visited the restaurant in the new Malleswaram mall, which covers more than 100 million square feet and features stores selling other American imports such as Levis, Nike, and Calvin Klein. Many are drawn in for their first taste of Taco Bell by a sign outside the restaurant that reads: “Visit Mexico for 18 rupees" (about $.40).
Following McDonald’s lead, and in deference to the predominantly Hindu, vegetarian population of Bangalore, Taco Bell uses no beef and substitutes chicken on its menu.
Other changes are being made as it responds to customers and tweaks its menu to suit local preferences. “It took us over two years to perfect our three Vs for India — value, vegetarian and variety,” said Bajpai.
In a nation known for its strong spices and hot curries, British curries are also making inroads, reports the BBC.
The British curry, as developed by Indian expats, is typically milder than India's traditional curries, boasting less oil, fewer spices, less coloring, salt and sugar.
Shaun Kenworthy, a British-trained chef working in Calcutta, told the BBC he's not convinced that Indian consumers are open to foreign foods and flavors. "I think people are so used to what they have eaten all their lives, to change it is almost a sin.”
Taco Bell and Bajpai are betting he is wrong. “It might take a little time but India will mature to the global experience.”
No surprise: A big hit already is Taco Bell’s free soda refill, a new concept in India. Its Bangalore customers have been rushing the counter for seconds on Pepsi beverages, and inquiring if free food refills are also on the menu.