India is the cradle of civilisation, say the history textbooks. Well, seems to me it's also the birthplace of a million different vegetables.
The average Indian is acquainted with far, far more veggies than any Western man. It could be my imagination but vegetables - when referred to with their Indian names - conjure up a completely different meaning.
Say, cauliflower and peas. To the Western palate that would be a side-dish made edible with salt, pepper and butter. A form of par-boiled punishment.
Alu-gobhi on the other hand, is warm, fragrant and inviting on a chilly winter afternoon in north India. Though it does evoke a 'not again!' feeling when you open your school tiffin box... at times.
Beyond potatos, peas, carrots spinach and aubergine, Western man has alternatives like asparagus, leeks and artichokes. The Indian has bhindi, kaddu, lauki, tindli, turai, methi, karela...
Everyone has at least one of those veggies on their hate-list but often with time and the right preparation that changes. I absolutely love baingan ka bharta and stuffed karela - things I never ever touched in my childhood.
Firang Sabzis seek stomachs
Of late, we are being invaded by new, foreign vegetables. The runaway success in this race is 'sweet corn'.
Three years ago, it was something rare and exotic. Now, 'American sweet corn' is everywhere. In supermarkets, at roadside vendors, at multiplexes and malls (where 'corn in a cup' - 4 different flavours - has become a popular snack). And of course the classic 'sweet corn veg' Chinese soup.
Lettuce - which has been around longer - remains a veggie for health-conscious, upmarket types. MAybe because salad is not exactly an integral part of the Indian diet and lettuce can't be eaten in any other form.
Mushroom is popular - but nowhere near the levels of sweet corn. Because again its an acquired taste and alien texture. Plus, the fact that it's technically a fungus puts off some communities like Jains.
Sweet corn on the other hand is a variation on a veggie we know and love - the bhutta. And it's sweet which means everyone (and especially the Gujjus) love it.
Besides, several fast food concoctions like corn bhel and corn chaat have quickly been invented and it's being promoted as a 'zero fat' snack. (if you choose to overlook the dollops of butter on top!)
What's in a name?
And being called 'American sweet corn' is an added bonus. Because names do matter. Studies of consumer psychology show that descriptive labels and dishes evoke more interest. "Tender Grilled Chicken" sells better than "Grilled Chicken" and "Grandma's Zucchini Cookies" outsold "Zucchini Cookies."
The theory being that people transfer the positive associations they have with those descriptors to the food itself.
So American sweet corn definitely had higher chances of success than plain sweet corn. Or Bangladeshi sweet corn :)
Of course, it's both a demand and supply side story. The farmers are smarter today - they quickly scent a 'cash crop'. After strawberries, sweet corn was noticed as the 'Next Big Thing' and Mahabaleshwar has gone completely corny.
Which is great. More supply = more reasonable prices. As Axl Rose might've put it... Woahhhh woah woah Sweet Corn of Mine!