NEW DELHI (AP) — Hotels and restaurants across South Asia have had to adapt and reimagine dining out since…
NEW DELHI (AP) — Hotels and restaurants across South Asia have had to adapt and reimagine dining out since the pandemic swept through the region, forcing many to close.
Those who have survived turn to local sources and go online.
In India, from hole-in-the-wall casual eateries to fine-dining restaurants, restaurants have been devastated by lockdowns and virus outbreaks, with millions losing their jobs since COVID-19 struck in early 2020. .
In neighboring Sri Lanka, where the tourism-driven economy has also been hit by political turmoil and shortages, the situation remains dire.
Saman Nayanananda, a food and beverage manager at a hotel chain in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, says it’s vital to go local for food sourcing and menu offerings.
Nayanananda, who was in New Delhi recently for the South Asian Food for Thought festival, survived a devastating tsunami in 2004 that killed 230,000 people. He lived through a protracted civil war that ended in 2009 and witnessed the aftermath of the deadly Easter terror attacks of 2019. After each calamity, the economy managed to recover.
The fight to recover the nation of 22 million people is infinitely tougher given Sri Lanka’s problems with debt, fuel and food shortages, said the 50-year hotel industry veteran.
“We had many challenges, including raw materials and transportation issues. One year after COVID, all hotels started food delivery. Little by little we were recovering and then this economic crisis came. We ran out of both imported and local materials. Back to zero,” said Nayanananda, who lost his job at a resort in 2020 when everything shut down.
“We recovered from terrorism, from the tsunami, but this crisis has broken the middle class,” he said. With 70% food inflation and a shortage of hard currency to buy abroad, going local both in terms of food sourcing and menu offerings is the only option.
“We came out with the concept of growing and selling. We replaced imported production with local production, creating innovative food products,” he said, mentioning dishes that use locally grown sweet potatoes, cassava, yams and cowpeas or black-eyed beans.
Throughout the region, hotels and restaurants find previous business models obsolete. That’s forcing a reset in strategies as investments pick up to meet growing demand from hungry diners eager to eat out again.
India’s foodservice market is expected to grow to $79 billion by 2028 from $41 billion in 2022, according to a report by Francorp and restaurantindia.in. But the sector will still face supply delays or shortages, the report says.
Maneesh Baheti, founder and director of the South Asian Gastronomy Association, said the pandemic has raised awareness about health issues and food sourcing, prompting the industry to adopt more sustainable practices.
That includes offering dishes made with locally sourced ingredients.
“Eating fresh local produce according to the season, returning to diets rich in nuts, legumes and green leafy vegetables are trends that are here to stay, as they attract customers who are now a health conscious segment with deep pockets,” Baheti said.
“The entire food industry has realized the importance of promoting better health and the potential of wellness-based menus,” Baheti added. “Eating local and eating fresh also helps reduce your carbon footprint, as reliance on transport and refrigeration reduces greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.
As the foodservice industry rebuilds, restaurant owners say some practices born out of necessity during the pandemic may offer a way forward.
Many urban communities are experimenting with plant-based diets and growing produce on their rooftops and backyards.
Siddharth Bandal, a partner at Hideaway cafe and bar in the western Indian state of Goa, said they have learned to be nimble enough to adapt to changing customer behaviour.
“It arguably strengthened the sector by exposing weak spots and the industry has shown resilience by adapting quickly. The pandemic made everyone more alert about hygiene. There is a renewed focus on the guest experience and restaurants are evolving as they respond to the shift towards healthier dining,” Bandal said.
In Colombo, Nayanananda began cycling to work and growing food at home after markets dried up and it became difficult to feed her family of four.
In Sri Lanka and elsewhere in Asia, a wave of COVID-19 infections in China after it abandoned its pandemic controls has reignited concerns about the risk of a return to lockdowns and other restrictions. But Nayanananda says that he is hopeful.
“The important thing is to learn to live with what we have in our hands,” he said.
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