In 1998 I backpacked for a few months around northern India. One of the things that struck me most about the experience of traveling was the profound (and often, incredibly destructive) effects that tourism had had on the local culture, ecology, and economy. India has been dealing with visitors from the West for centuries, of course, and there was an explosion of interest in the country during the 1960's (one can still see crazed hippie expats in full tie-dyed regalia), so one would expect to see a thriving tourism industry in the larger cities. Even in a place like Leh, however, which was only opened up to foreigners in the mid-70's, and which is tucked into the high reaches of the Himalayas, you'll find a burgeoning riot of homes converted into hotels, trinket shops, and non-biodegradable tourist-generated refuse.

Competition for tourism dollars is ferocious wherever you go; upon disembarking from a train or a bus, a backpacker is often immediately surrounded by people wanting to take him/her to this or that hotel, and getting a rickshaw or taxi driver to take you to the hotel you want instead of to the driver's patron hotel can be an exercise in exasperation. Supplying tourists with what they want is big business in a country as poor as India; finding out what they want, however, may prove difficult given the enormous cultural divides.

That's why when a clue to the elusive consumerist desires of Westerners is obtained, it is immediately seized upon with enthusiasm. There were dozens of bakeries and pastry-shops in Leh, where any wheat flour has to be laboriously imported by truck through treacherous mountain passes, and they were all German bakeries. Germany, as a gastronomically-inclined Westerner will know, is not known for its especially delicious pastry confections, but at some point in the past some Teutonic tourist must have given some Ladahki entrepeneur the idea that German baked goods were especially savory to Western palates, and the idea spread like wildfire.

Similarly, there was no place in India I visited, whether below sea level or 4000 meters above it, city or hamlet, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, or Parsi, where I could not get banana pancakes. Plain pancakes, mind you, were almost always unavailable, and there was never any maple syrup or butter involved, but some traveler long ago with a hankering for banana pancakes requested them, and the meme spread from menu to menu, restauranteur to restauranteur, forever changing the culinary landscape of India as a grubby backpacker who hates banana pancakes experienced it.