Earlier this year, there was a strong rumor that Chef Joel Robuchan, who has the highest number of Michelin stars – 28 has been specifically awarded – is going to Mumbai. With an unlikely location in Dadar, Mumbai, Robuchan is looking to set up his signature French fine dining restaurant L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in the Kohinoor Square Tower. However, what surprised culinary experts was his confession: it was the vegetarian cooking that made him interested in the city.
While the various waves are making a lot of noise in the country’s consciousness, Indian restaurants have taken root in their kitchens and dining spaces, close to the heart of our new Prime Minister.
Although the country has always been a vegetarian nation, eating options – especially those who prefer their greens – were fairly limited. But restaurant owners are taking steps to correct it. For example, Colabar’s latest entrant Burma Burma is a pure vegetarian restaurant that specializes in Burmese food, which is inherently vegetarian. “We understand that there is always a gap in the market that needs to be filled with imaginative and affordable vegetarian options,” said Ankit Gupta, co-owner of the restaurant and owner of a third-generation restaurant.
Even a non-vegetarian can enjoy a variety of vegetarian salads made with interesting ingredients like tea leaves, tofu, grapefruit and even a deep-fried samosa.
In Asian Street Kitchen – a pan-Asian restaurant in Mumbai’s Chowpatty – dishes from Thailand, China and Japan have been reinterpreted to suit vegetarian palate. Its Nasi Goreng – for an Indonesian delicacy – traditionally used shrimp wafers to replace rice wafers when scrambled egg toppings gave way to a tofu scramble. “Such innovations can satisfy the hunger of even those who like their meat,” said Mitesh Rangras of Sid Hospitality, who owns both Japanese restaurant Aoi and Pan-Asian restaurant Lemon Grass in Mumbai.
Also behind the Asian Street Kitchen’s experimental menu, Rangras is a veggie version of the Vietnamese fo that uses a concentration of shita made with mushrooms instead of beef stock. According to Rangras, innovation with fresh vegetarian products is the future of modern food.
Unimaginable a few years ago, but now Chandigarh – where food lovers frowned at the idea of vegetarian food – has seen an increase in the number of all-vegetarian restaurants. Garlic & Greens, a newly opened all-vegetarian restaurant, is located in the heart of Sector 9 Market, where there are various meat shops offering meat specialties. Its menu includes everything from sandwiches, burgers, pasta, salads to a large dessert line-up. In some cases the meat has been replaced with soy but the emphasis has been on fresh vegetables and exotic flavors.
In contrast to garlic and greens, the name is Casa Bella Vista, a pizzeria located in the Sector 10 market in Chandigarh and not a gift on the menu of the restaurant. It offers lip-smacking all vegetarian food offers that are gaining popularity among meat eaters. This may be because many diners are looking for vegetarian options and the restaurant offers home-style Italian food. For example, it contains a pasta with toffee butter, lemon rind and sage sauce that has been added to four popular cheese sauces. “It’s a misconception that Italian rent can’t be vegetarian or gorgeous. Our veggie pizzas are very well received, “said Jas Giri, owner of the restaurant.
Manish Mehrotra, executive chef at Indian Accent in Delhi, which is known for its modern Indian cuisine and is considered one of the best restaurants in India, blames the trend mainly on health and lifestyle choices. “Internationally, there’s a wave of vegetarians with ideas like meatless Mondays and chicken-less Fridays,” says Mehrotra, who has introduced vegetarian and gluten-free foods to her menu. “It’s a lifestyle trend that is similar to being gluten-free or vegetarian. We get at least two guests a day who request gluten-free or vegetarian meals,” he says. This does not mean that people sometimes do not deviate along the thin red line. Mehrotra describes how she recently found an internal guest who requested a gluten-free vegetarian meal, eating the famous Bacon Kulcha of Indian accent with great taste. “I said it must be against his dietary restrictions. He replied that they were so delicious that even his doctor would not mind,” he said.
In Delhi, as in Mumbai, the number of restaurants serving pure vegetarian food has increased. Chanakyapuri’s The Ashoka’s Shramana offers a completely sattvic menu with food cooked without onions and garlic. Sattviko Delivery, a larger Kailash-based food store, offers boxes of vegetarian food, snacks and breakfasts in Indian, Mexican and continental cuisine. Even petty foodies have joined the vegetarian brigade. The Rolling Joint is a vegetarian roll restaurant in Delhi, while Zen Cafe in the Lower Pearl area of Mumbai specializes in vegetarian pizza, sandwiches and wrappers.
With exotic ingredients found in specialty grocery and gourmet stores, even home chefs find it exciting to experiment with fresh products. Bidhu Mittal, author of Cookbook Pure and Special: Gourmet Indian Vegetarian Cuisine, says: “Today, the roadside market also has a wide range of ingredients and I have incorporated them into Indian cuisine.” Renowned chefs like Ritu Dalmia and Vicky Ratnani have also championed the cause of vegetarianism with their books. “The next big thing in vegetarian cooking is the use of sprouts and micro greens such as beetroot, fennel, sunflower seeds and okra,” says Ratnani.
(With input from Shantanu David and Jagmita Thind Roy)
This story was published in print under the title: Catch Meat