Monday, August 31, 2009

Falafel take over

"The number of Middle Eastern restaurants is catching up with the number of Indian restaurants," said McEvoy, who has been tracking Manchester's shifting immigrant population since the 1960s. "At this rate, some time in the next 20 years, we might see a majority of Middle Eastern restaurants on Curry Mile."

The new influx of Middle Eastern restaurants are larger than their Indian rivals. Beirut, a new falafel restaurant in Manchester, can seat more than 100 diners, whereas many of the Indian outlets cater for fewer than 40 people.

Manchester appears to be leading the trend. The first falafel restaurant has recently opened on London's Brick Lane, for decades a redoubt of curry lovers. Elsewhere in the capital, Hummus Bros, a putative chain of fast-food restaurants, has opened two outlets.

McEvoy said he believed Middle Eastern restaurateurs, from countries such as Lebanon and Egypt, had learned from the examples of previous immigrant groups, such as the Chinese, who were keen to be self-employed. "They might not have British qualifications and their English might not be perfect, so they set up in self-employment in the hope that will give them a better life than low-paid jobs in the mainstream economy," he said.

But why always use the word "Middle Eastern"? To avoid excluding the Israeli falafel grabbers?

1 comment:

Leila Abu-Saba said...

In the USA I see a reverse effect; speaking largely from the SF Bay Area but also a little from NYC.

Middle Eastern restaurants used to flourish everywhere, large and small. Falafel joints were ubiquitous. There was Indian food but usually overpriced.

Here in the Bay Area, Mid-Eastern restaurants don't seem to do so well. My cousins had a well regarded place in SF that got good reviews but they said it didn't make a profit for them. They own three Italian-oriented restaurants, one of which focuses on wood-fired pizza.

Several other cousins and connections had/have pizza places in the Midwest, South, West Coast.

Cherchez le pizza - that's where you'll find all the Arabs in lower US (aside from Michigan).

Now Indian food places have become ubiquitous and there are currently several "mini-chains" - 3 or 4 restaurants of the same name (and presumably family of owners) flung across the Bay Area. The Pakistani/Tandoori places started in SF's poor district near downtown, where brave high-tech workers ventured for meals. Many of them had branches in suburban neighborhoods full of Indians/Pakistanis. South Indian food is more frequent in those areas.

When you say large halls - our favorite mini chain, House of Curries, has opened a 500 seat banquet hall annexed to a motel near the Oakland airport. I have not been there but 500 is an impressive number for around here. Only immigrants with lots of relatives and lots of money patronize 500 seat wedding halls. People presumably don't want to go back to India for a long expensive wedding with elephants and so forth, so they have a truncated, less expensive wedding in the States where their family and work friends can all afford to attend.

I think this reflects the timing of immigration. Lebanese restaurateurs largely got here in the 80s, or 70s, during the war. They've had enough time to raise a generation of doctors, lawyers, accountants, pharmacists.

South Asian immigrants really came here in huge numbers in the 80s, and there were so many that not all became hi-tech or other top professional. Nor did *all* the children go to grad school (any more than all Lebanese). But there's still new influx of immigrant South Asians, especially the cousin going to engineering school who needs a job to make ends meet. I see them studying behind the counter.

How many Arabs have immigrated here since 9/11? Lots of Iraqis, and I understand they are changing the face of retail in Michigan.
But everybody else is finding it easier to choose Dubai, or perhaps England?