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Indian food fourth most popular in the world, a study of cuisine trade finds

With Italian, Japanese & Chinese food occupying top 3 spots, cuisine emerges as weakest link in Anglo-American cultural hegemony, says study by US economist.

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New Delhi: That Anglo-American culture has the most far reaching influence across the globe has been a common assumption and assertion for the longest time. A new research paper now contests this notion of complete Anglo-American cultural hegemony, using the idea of cuisine trade.

The four most popular cuisines across the world are Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian, suggests the working paper by US economist Joel Waldfogel.

Hollywood movies and music are a source of massive global cultural power, but the popularity of American (and British) cuisine is outranked by that from the four aforementioned countries, says the paper published National Bureau of Economic Research journal in the US earlier this year.

Indian cuisine enjoys its presence across most of the sampled countries, but it is especially popular in United Kingdom, South Korea, Thailand, Japan, Germany, France and US.

Here is a look at the most popular cuisines across the globe and how food translates into soft power for nation-states.

How the research evaluates hegemony

The paper titled Dining Out as Cultural Trade uses foreign cuisine restaurants in a country to asses the cultural soft power of the other countries exporting their cuisine. It does so by calculating what the author calls “cuisine trade”.

For instance, Joel Waldfogel writes that for the purpose of his research, the criteria don’t need all Indian restaurants in China to have Indian owners — as long as they serve Indian cuisine, they help spread Indian influence. So, the consumption of Indian food in China and vice versa, is treated as “cuisine trade”.

“In some ways the trade documented in this study resembles foreign direct investment, in which home country ideas are used to produce abroad with local inputs,” writes Waldfogel.

He uses data aggregated from travel website TripAdvisor and includes 52 destination countries in the sample.

Also read: Food supply under threat, UN climate agency urges world to go vegan

Largest cuisine exporters

Joel Waldfogel’s study finds that Italian is the most popular cuisine across the world. Over 10 per cent people in 10 countries — among the top 17 economies — eat at Italian restaurants.

Japanese and Chinese, respectively, are the second and third most popular cuisines. Across five of the large economies, more than five per cent people eat at Chinese and Japanese restaurants.

More than five per cent people across two of the large economies eat at Indian restaurants, making Indian cuisine fourth most popular in the world.

Infographic: Arindam Mukherjee | ThePrint

In India, the most popular foreign cuisines are Chinese and Italian.

Challenging Anglo-American cultural hegemony

The biggest takeaway from Joel Waldfogel’s work is the explicit refutation of Anglo-American cultural hegemony over the world.

“In contrast to their audio-visual trade surpluses, the Anglo-American countries have substantial cuisine trade deficits. If we add the net exports across cuisine, movies, and music, we obtain substantial trade deficits for the Anglo American countries,” notes the US economist.

The author argues that foreign restaurants (as a whole) in a country create a much larger business activity than foreign music or movies.

For instance, Hollywood movies and American music sales in Germany might be large. But the sales in the restaurants serving the American cheese burger and fried chicken dwarf in comparison.

Food as soft power?

According to political scientist Joseph Nye, “Soft power is the ability to get other parties to wish for the outcomes that are in ‘your’ best interest, using attraction to shape preferences.”

And unlike hard power, a government has little control over soft power. Rather, “it is created from a society’s culture, economics and ideology — with its effectiveness determined by the context, circumstances and situation of the power action”, notes Christian Reynolds, from University of Sheffield.

Food works as a source of soft power because it carries with it a lot of cultural symbolism. “It is this symbolism (and values) attached to the food — more than the food itself — that enables soft food power to be successful,” writes Reynolds.

In turn, food works as soft power by shaping the views of the residents of a foreign country and altering their decisions in the favour of the country of origin.

For instance, Reynolds talks about how the widespread popularity of Japanese sushi restaurants across the globe helped it to shape the global opinion on Japan’s excessive fishing practice.

Waldfogel’s paper, however, does not comment on how foreign cuisine translates into soft power.

Also read: Drumstick tea & chickpea ‘pasta’: Indian staples are now Western superfoods


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  2. Excellent post. I want to thank you for this informative, I really appreciate sharing this great post. Thanks for sharing this

  3. American cuisine at # 5. Is this a joke? What is american cuisine? Is it not just taking any international cuisine and americanize it? Adding more cheese, fat, cream, sugar ….no healthy spices…….causing obesity and inviting lots of health problems.

    Yes, there’s a new healthy wave starting with salads, acai and other healthy bowls, smoothies, etc. ….however that can be hardly called a cuisine.

  4. In most countries now, it is American style Pizza and American style fast food (McDonalds, Dunkin Donut, etc) that is most popular. I think you are treating Pizza as Italian and thus making Italian as the most popular cuisine. But American style Pizza is quite different from Italian style Pizza. Pizza Hut and Dominos are American Pizza brands.

  5. The modern protestant culture started in north western Europe and it’s off shoot in North America is perhaps the best culture in the world, most tolerant, least racist, based on science and logic, and the one that has created the most equal, democratic, and prosperous societies the world has ever seen. It has two big failings – oweful food and no sense of humor. I would rank American food way below # 5 rank, perhaps in bottom 5.

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