MUMBAI: “Are you using made-in-China doubanjiang (a spicy broad bean paste)?” asked a guest before placing an order for Hunan chicken at an East Asian restaurant in a city luxury hotel. The front-line order taker, without batting an eyelid, said no. Before the guest could ask a follow-up question, he said, “All ingredients used in our dishes are made in India or are brought in from Singapore.” The restaurant employee knew where the guest was headed with the question. Since the outbreak of the deadly Novel Coronavirus, which originated in China’s Wuhan region, upscale restaurants serving Chinese food have seen a number of inquiries about the source of their ingredients.
Some restaurateurs also say people are avoiding Chinese cuisine—the most popular foreign fare in India—for fear of getting infected by the virus, which causes a pneumonia-like illness.
Food importers have turned cautious. “People have halted their food shipments from China and are avoiding travelling there. It may have a long-term ripple effect and prices may shoot up in the near future,” said Amit Lohani, founder-director, Forum of Indian Food Importers.
Some Chinese restaurants confirmed they have stopped placing fresh orders for made-in-China products and have started to look for alternative sources. “Lots of ingredients come from China. We buy them through distributors. But all supplies are approved by the food regulator. Right now, we don’t foresee any issues but there will be a crunch in supplies in the coming months. We will have to use alternatives wherever possible and may have to make some dishes unavailable from the menus till supplies resume,” said chef Sharad Dewan, regional director-food production, The Park Hotels, which runs 22 properties in the country.
Chefs at Chinese restaurants, though, ruled out any shortage as “they usually have buffer stocks and there would not be any need for import in immediate weeks”. “Anyway, most of our items are sourced from Thailand and Hong Kong. But we are still checking with suppliers and vendors so that there is no issue in the coming weeks,” said chef Yongliang Wong of Ano Tai, a Chinese restaurant at Jaypee Vasant Continental hotel in New Delhi.
Some are avoiding Chinese, certain restaurateurs admitted. “Due to the hype on media platforms, guests are restricting themselves from visiting Chinese restaurants,” said Wong.
But at another fine-dine outlet in a five-star hotel in Goa, it was business as usual as people had queued up for a taste of chicken in hot garlic sauce and crispy vegetable roll, said its executive chef.
Anjan Chatterjee, chairman and managing director of Speciality Restaurants, echoed the view. “There has been zero impact on business.” Speciality Restaurants owns Mainland China and Asia Kitchen by Mainland China, the largest chain in this segment.
Chatterjee said, “At our restaurants, most products, for instance, noodles, are of Indian make. Only 10% of ingredients, specifically sauces, are imported. But those too are brought in from Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. Kwong Cheong Thye and Lee Kum Kee, the brands we use, have manufacturing facilities in these regions.”
A 2019 report by National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) highlighted that 27% of the respondents surveyed called Chinese their top favourite cuisine after North Indian fare. India’s food service industry, estimated to be Rs 4 lakh crore in fiscal 2019, is expected to reach nearly Rs 6 lakh crore in financial year 2023, NRAI had said.
Mumbai’s executive health officer Dr Padmaja Keskar said as long as food was cooked well and long enough, there can be no risk of infection. “The only problem is with fomites (objects such as clothes and utensils that could carry infection),” she said.
Indonesia plans to ban live animals and certain foods and beverages from China. Many countries, including the UK, are reporting a drop in sales of Chinese food. German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has said given the virus’s transmission methods, infection from food exported from China is unlikely. Doctors said the fact that WHO has not mentioned Chinese food at all indicates the low risk associated with it.


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