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Fast Food joints are mushrooming at practically every nook and corner of big and small cities. People – young and old – flock to them to satiate their hunger. This makes one wonder what is it about the food served by these joints that make it so popular. Is it that the food there is tastier or healthier? What exactly is fast food? Well Fast Food is the term given to food that can be prepared and served very quickly. The term "fast food" was recognized in a dictionary by Merriam–Webster in 1951.

What is fast food exactly
Though any meal that can be prepared in short time can be called fast food, the term actually applies to food sold in a restaurant or store that are precooked and just need to be heated before serving. Fast foods can also be sold in a packaged form as take-away.

These foods are generally sold at outlets that could be stands or kiosks, which have no seating may provide no shelter or seating, or even at fast food restaurants that are also known as quick service restaurants. One can also find certain restaurant chains sending standardized food stuffs to franchise outlets from a central location. 

What kind of food is served at these outlets
Most of the modern commercial fast food is usually processed and prepared on a large scale with standard ingredients using standardized cooking and production methods. They are usually paced in cartons or in wrapped in plastic which minimizes the production cost. In majority of fast food operations, menu items are generally made from processed ingredients at a central supply facility and then sent to individual franchise outlets where they are reheated or cooked – which is usually in a microwave or deep fried or assembled quickly. This way the product quality can be maintained which is important to make a name and maintain a place in the market. 

Fast food is not a modern day development

How did fast foods come into being

The concept of ready-cooked food for sale is closely connected with urban development. Time has become a very expensive commodity these days and people don’t have time enough to enjoy an elaborate meal. Especially working people, who need to grab a bite during their lunch hour, prefer to get something from these fast food joints.

Then again, more and more people prefer to live in a nuclear fashion rather than in joint families. And most of such nuclear households have both husband and wife working which leaves them little time to spend over hot stoves to produce a decent meal. A lot of such families depend on such fast food joints from where they can order foods that are quite often home delivered at little or no extra cost for the service.

One can trace the presence of fast foods as far back as the Middle Ages when vendors sold dishes like cooked meats, flans, pies, pastries, wafers, waffles, pancakes in major urban areas like London and Paris. Most of their customers were people who did not have means to cook their own food like bachelors who lived on their own. There were also those who lived in quarters where they could not afford kitchen facilities and had to rely on the fast foods to fill their stomachs. And of course, there were the travellers and pilgrims en route to a holy site, who bought their stuff to satiate their hunger pangs. After the World War I, when automobiles became affordable for common man, a number of drive-in restaurants were introduced.

Some of the international fast foods

Chinese takeaways are very popular. Items like spring rolls or some form of noodles or rice with vegetables and precooked meats make a good sell.

Sushi has gaining popularity in recent times. It is a form of fast food created in Japan and is normally cold sticky rice flavored with a sweet rice vinegar and served with some topping rolled in nori.

Pizza is a common fast food sold with a variety of topping. The base can also vary from normal crust to thin crust to cheese stuffed crust. Quite a few of the outlets offer the delivery with a time commitment.

In the Middle East, kebabs are a common fast food. Fish and chips are very popular in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Fish is batter fried and served with potato chips and tartare sauce.

Some of the Indian fast foods

In India fast foods take on many forms depending on the city where they are sold. They are tasty and can be prepared and assembled quickly. They are a part of the vibrant street food culture and the vendors do brisk business cooking and selling them practically throughout the country.

Pav Bhaji: is a product of Western India, particularly Mumbai. Pav is a small bun which is served with a spicy mixed vegetable. This combination is very wholesome and healthy too, what with the number of vegetables that go into it. In fact quite a few people have this for their meal.

Bhelpuri: is a mixture of puffed rice, onions, potatoes, tomatoes and a few chutneys. This too is a product of Mumbai streets and it is low in fat and both nutritious and delicious.

Tikki ki Chaat: this is perhaps the most popular North-Indian snack! Small potato tikkis are topped with matra (boiled dried yellow peas), sweet tamarind chutney, green chutney, crushed papdi and served. Very often one can find people preferring chaat parties to sit down dinners.

Ragda Patties: In Western India the same snack takes on the name of ragda patties. Here the topping includes fine sev and chopped raw onions too.

Bhajia/Pakora: these are batter fried vegetables, served with a spicy chutney. Very popular during the monsoon season. They make a wonderful accompaniment to cups of hot tea.

Green Chutney and Vegetable Sandwich (also known as Bombay Sandwich): This definitely is the most popular and fast selling snack. You find vendors doing brisk business outside colleges and business areas. They are also great at picnics.

Vada Pav: Also referred to as the Indian burger, vada pav is a creation of Western India. These are potato dumplings, batter fried and served sandwiched in small buns, with a spicy dry chutney. This was known as the ‘poor man’s food’ and has now become the favourite of rich and famous too.

Samosa: famous all over the world, samosa represents Indian fast food at its best. Crisp topping enclosing spicy filling, which is mostly potatoes, it is a snack for the rainy day or a cold day. Have it over cups of hot tea or coffee and feel completely satiated.

These are just a few. There are many more that can be found through the length and breadth of India. And the best part of these tasty snacks is that they can be made healthier by changing the mode of cooking. Like for example, the samosa which is deep fried can be baked. Vada pav can be made healthier by using whole wheat pav. Options are many if only one uses the imagination constructively.

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MasterChef Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.