Monday, November 10, 2008

On pasta in India

Generally, I tend to preach 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do' - or in my case (at the moment): 'When in India do as the Indians do'. This also applies to food, of course - but if you actually live in a place as an expat - or global citizen as I tend to call it - you want to 'Do as your homies do' every now and then.
Now, while I'm not from Italy (I am from Germany and Taiwan), I do like my pasta, so tonight Nick and I decided to have some pasta again at our local 'Italian' (at this point I have to mention that the 'authentic italian cuisine' they offer features 'penne masala' as one of the first items on the menu).
Unfortunately, they can't ever really cook the pasta right: it's ALWAYS too soft. You could drink it through a straw, so this time, I thought I'd explicitly ask them to cook the pasta less soft. Ambitious, I know, because the concept of 'al dente' is not widely known here, but I tried nevertheless.
I was totally intrigued by the fact that one of the managers told me that the pasta is mostly prepared, and it would take them another 2h to make fresh pasta.


I was so intrigued that I came up with my own theory as to why this might be...
Fresh pasta from Italy
I am convinced that they must be getting fresh pasta from Italy - that's why it takes them two hours. A quick napkin calculation, some reasonable assumptions, yielded the following:

  • ~12'000km or 12m meters
    my estimated distance from Pune to somewhere in Italy
  • 4m people at 3meters average inter-body spacing
    since we're talking about India, it is safe to assume that they use lots of manpower to execute, since manpower is cheap. If we assume they form a human chain with a uniformely distributed average body-spacing
  • ~0.4% of the Indian population
    That is how much this epic human pasta supply chain to italy would 'cost' the nation
  • ~5s return
    to pass up the message that new pasta is needed nd subsequently hand down the fresh pasta, from one person to the next
  • -> ~20'000'000 seconds, that's about 5555h or 8months
    from order to delivery
Clearly, something is wrong with my initial calculation, so I should revise my assumptions, and work backwards
  • 2500 times faster
    Since they claim they can do it in 2h instead of 5555h, they must be about 2500 times faster than I initially guesstimated!
  • instead of 5s, they must be operating at ~2ms
    to hand over pasta from one person to the next, since they are around 2500 times faster than initially guesstimaged
  • 3meters / 2ms ~= 1500meters/s ~= Mach5 
    given that the speed of sound is around 340meters/s, the pasta would be moving at approximately Mach5 down the human supply chain
This fact casts serious doubts on the claim that after two hours of waiting, my pasta would actually be al dente. I suspect that it would be rather soft and reduced to jelly after traversing 1/3 of the planet at such speeds.
What about cost?
We know it would take about 0.1% of the Indian population to make this magic happen, but how much would it actually cost?
  • 10Rs/h
    We're not talking rocket science here, and wages are generally low
  • 4m people, 2h => 80m Rs
    For just this one delivery of pasta. This is not adjusted for low occupancy of this human supply chain, so real costs are likely to be much higher!
  • 150Rs
    Is the price they actually sell the pasta at, even after spending 2h on it to make it al dente (or 'not sloppy'). 
  • 533'333 times more efficient
    Since I cannot account for other hidden costs, I have to assume that these guys are actually muuuuch more efficient than I originally thought. Economies of scale, and learning curve effects apply, which would contribute a bit towards them being able to offer the pasta at 150Rs - but still, their operational efficiency far surpasses that of my so-very-efficient home country of GermanY! Respect!
So what do we learn form this? I don't know really, it's just a thought experiment, but two things are clear: 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do'


Federico Pomi said...

/me is looking forward to do business with you.

I'm sure we could create the next big thing, by mixing your skills and my italian roots.


Gita said...

You are SUCH a loooser!!! And clearly have FAR too much time on your hands!

Scribbler said...

Of course, instead of spending so long on figuring out all this, you could do it yourself... or better still... order it in good old taiwan or wherever you're from...

Anonymous said...

omg...dnt u hv anythin else to do???

Nitin said...

ok, this is where you goofed up: each person would actually be spending only 2ms on the job. So, it will work out to: 2ms@10Rs/hr x 4m = Rs.22 for the delivery :)

As long as the pasta costs less than Rs.128 in Italy, the restaurant gets to pocket a profit! :D