Vegetarians are now living it up with regional cuisines, be it the Rajasthani ‘Kadi’, Chettinad spices, Kashmiri ‘Nadru’ (lotus stem) and are even looking into experimental international fare to spice up menus.
‘Aaloo’ or boiled potatoes and ‘paneer’ or plain cottage cheese are passe with a league of eateries whipping up delicacies from across the country to cater solely to the vegetarian’s palate.
“It is not that difficult to order sea weed, yamagobo or Kashmiri guchi in Delhi these days. In terms of innovation, terms such as reduction, foam etc are not as unheard of as they were before,” says Om Routray a foodie who blogs at Theyoungbigmouth.
The ‘Kathputli’ restaurant, a new eatery in Delhi has put on offer a royal Marwari ‘thali’ that serves delights such as ‘Gulkand Kebabs’ and ‘Mirch Pakodas’ for starters, ‘gatte ki subzi’, ‘Kadi’ and the popular ‘Daal Baati churma’ dipped in pure ghee, a variety of breads in the main course accompanied by spiced buttermilk and ‘Jal Jeera’; all served without any onion or garlic.
The restaurant changes its platter every week and owner Vipul Gupta says the trend of burgeoning vegetarian restaurants is universal.
“Vegetarianism has been gaining momentum not just in India but all over the world as well, thanks to animal rights activists.
“...Major chunk of Indian society is dominated by veg only communities, namely Gujaratis, Jains, Marwaris, Baniyas etc. for whom dining out places were really scarce...we have tried to fill in this gap,” says Gupta.
Food blogger Reeta Skeeter says entrepreneurs are finally waking up to the existence of a large chunk of an all vegetarian market which has not yet been tapped into.
“Restaurateurs are realising that there is a sizable vegetarian customer base that is interested in their food and they want to cash in on that.
“Nowadays we can get vegetarian sushi, which is an oxymoron for some, but works well for vegetarians,” says Skeeter who blogs under the Delhi Foodies’ Zone.
A pioneer in the pure vegetarian restaurant league, ‘Sattvik’, fine dine restaurant in South Delhi has been in the business for the past seven years now.
With delights like ‘Flourless Cheese cake’, ‘Tangy Lotus Stem Salad with plum sauce’ and other in house specialties like ‘Paneer Sattvik’ cooked in a rich coconut milk sauce with flavours of mint, the eat out is serving a diverse menu under the larger North Indian cuisine.
Its owner Rajeev Manchanda believes that vegetarian food is no longer just the cheaper option but has gone mainstream.
“Vegetarian is the new cool and getting green and is a style statement now. With so many exotic vegetables available and experimenting with fusion food, vegetarian food is not just a meal but also an overall experience of eating out,” Manchanda says.
Another addition to this veg brigade is ‘Shiv Sagar’, located in the heart of Delhi, serving typical Mumbai street food, which hitherto could be found only in distorted versions across the capital.
In order to replicate the same texture of the food, the owners are flowing in the ‘Pavs’ from Mumbai.
“All of us are really excited to serve the most loved dishes of Mumbai in Delhi. In our quest to replicate the experience of Mumbai, we are actually getting the famous Laadi Pavs flown everyday from Mumbai,” says Varun Puri, who owns the eatery.
With the emergence of vegetarian restaurants, people who would did not venture out earlier due to purity concerns of their vegetarian meal, are now stepping out and exploring.
“Call it a marketing gimmick or being fair to consumers, concepts like ‘live kitchen’ reassure vegetarians that their food is not being tampered with. No chicken gravy falling in the paneer makhni bowl etc,” says Skeeter.
Most restaurateurs say they believe vegetarian food cold have been perceived as inferior or ordinary in comparison to the more expensive non-vegetarian counterpart due to the lower prices of green items on any standard menu.
“It’s a popular perception that meat is more luxurious or expensive than it’s veg counterpart but curries made with dry fruits and items like Ker Sanger are much more expensive and luxurious,” says Vipul Gupta of ‘Kathputli’.
However the veg food industry may soon be able to shun the tag of the cheaper meal as many five star hotels pay equal emphasis for both veg and non-veg meals, shares Rajeev Manchanda of ‘Sattvik’.
“Five star hotels and destination restaurants going in for vegetarian restaurants or carrying a separate vegetarian menu has already taken vegetarian menu to position it always deserved,” says Manchanda.
Even mainstream television is becoming a growing testimony to this trend with vegetarian only culinary shows emerging and having successful runs, not simply because health or religious reasons, but a conscious lifestyle change.
“Many celebrity chefs have started promoting vegetarian food and the trend where even programs like Master Chef turning vegetarian has made the difference,” says Rajeev Manchanda of ‘Sattvik’.