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Vegetarianism on the rise


Health-Conscious Youth

Health and wellness are major concerns for the younger generation and in a bid to adopt a healthy lifestyle, they are happy to turn vegetarian, or at least lessen the intake of meats gradually. Not surprising therefore, that there has been an increase of about 30 percent in the number of vegetarians in the last few years and the numbers are steadily growing. Vishal Atreya, Executive Chef, The Imperial New Delhi, attributes this increase to purely health reasons. “The increase in percentage is primarily due to the fitness quotient. A diet low in saturated fat and high in fibre is preferable amongst many nowadays, as the emphasis is on consuming a balanced diet full of essential nutrients,” he analyses.

Whatever the reasons, the benefits of vegetarianism are strongly being felt. “Vegetarianism helps in weight loss, lowers cholesterol levels, longevity and a lower risk of developing cancer.  Our body was meant to be vegetarian, as we cannot digest all the proteins present in meats,” explains Ajay Chopra, Executive Chef, Westin Mumbai Garden City.

“Perhaps that explains why Cream Centre, a 100% vegetarian restaurant has been running successfully for the past 58 years,” avers Executive Chef
Kiran Ravi, Cream Centre.

‘V’ is for Vegetarian

Seeing this spurt in the number of vegetarians, hotels and restaurants are jumping onto the vegetarian bandwagon. Menus in non-vegetarian restaurants which earlier offered limited vegetarian options is growing. Anurag Katriar, Director at deGustibus Hospitality, explains, “Almost 50% of the menu in most cases is today vegetarian. The idea is to create an equal choice for the customers with vegetarian leaning. In fact, our “daily-specials” at Indigo Delis have more Vegetarian dishes than Non Vegetarian ones.”

|Ajay Chopra is of the opinion that by adding vegetarian items to the menu, establishments are reaching a variety of growing markets: those with cholesterol or heart problems, the lactose intolerant, certain religious groups, the kosher community, athletes, and the environmentally-conscious unlike earlier days when people went out to eat only non- vegetarian meals. So clearly, the demand for vegetarian food is growing.

Vegetarian Is Versatile

Trendy multi-cuisine diners today are happy to savour vegetarian fare, if it is exciting enough. And restaurateurs find it a viable option to serve it too. Stand-alone vegetarian restaurants are mushrooming as never before.

‘Vedge’ a multi-cuisine restaurant in Mumbai opened recently, with a view to offering customers a unique experience, through a fresh vegetarian menu with modern presentations.  “Our concept is purely based on creating strong surprise elements within our food. Comfort food, with Indian influences and contemporary presentations. We want to educate our customers that there is more than just paneer and potatoes in vegetarian fare,” states Aditya Sawant, Owner, Vedge, Bombay Hospitality.

Taste buds of the average Indian have evolved and they definitely look for the wow factor in the meal, even if vegetarian. Chef Atreya, concurs. “People are ready to savour a delicious meal created with fresh and healthy vegetarian options, presented artfully.”

Flavours are what foodies seek in vegetarian cuisine, especially if they are otherwise non vegetarians, settling for a vegetarian meal. Texture is important too, but not the sole consideration. Tofu, mushrooms, soya and beans are often used as healthy and tasty meat replacements, to create exciting vegetarian dishes. Of course a lot depends upon the other ingredients that are used along these and the cooking methods too. So it does not take too much to satisfy a non-vegetarian with vegetarian food nowadays.

Fusion Food

Vegetarian food has certain limitations and restaurateurs and chefs alike are aware of that. “No guest would want to eat vegetables like a ridged gourd, snake gourd, drumsticks which are very nutritious, but generally unacceptable in a restaurant. So, one has to be different and play with ingredients,”
Chef Kiran Ravi admits.

To create something is thus the need of the hour. Fusion is hence, more the norm rather than the exception today and chefs are having fun as never before. They are going all out to marry cuisines, techniques and culinary styles. ‘Sattviko’ in Delhi, uses culinary secrets derived from Yoga and Ayurveda to offer a diverse food palette, which is light and yet, delicious. It represents Indian Epicureanism through the Sattvik style of wholesome food preparation, without onion and garlic.

While Sattviko, is pure vegetarian and yet, strives to be different, ‘Farzi Café’ in Gurgaon, which serves modern Indian food and is a part of Massive Restaurants, uses strong elements of molecular gastronomy and showcases Indian cuisine’s strength and robustness through offerings  like ‘Nimboo achar caviar’ and ‘Makhan wali kaali daal ka shorba.’

Chefs are undisputedly at their innovative best. Vegetarian choices on the menu have improved dramatically. ‘Trim-o-belly rice bowl’, ‘Stuffed Paratha’, ‘Quad Burger’, ‘Chilled Melon Salad’ and ‘Ratlami Poha’ are some of the best sellers on the Sattviko menu.

Similarly ‘Roasted Tomato Tortilla Soup’ is a unique dish that Vedge offers.  “This is a traditional Mexican soup with a twist,” explains Sawant.  He adds, “We use locally produced quality tomatoes, with an amalgamation of modern Mexican spices.” Sharing another example he says, “‘Chukandar ki Galouti’ is a twist to the original North-Indian Beetroot tikki or Beetroot kabab, by using Italian Cheese, Balsamic drizzle and Green Mango zing.”
Hotels and restaurants are also going that extra mile to serve their patrons the best. Chef Atreya says, “Retaining quality and freshness of the food is our prime focus. For instance we have introduced microgreens in our Sunday brunch at 1911, which, although tough to serve, since it requires the right temperature and environment for growth, but goes well with our tradition of unique and healthy offerings.”

Ingredients are Key

Ingredients are becoming the focal point for chefs to liven up their offerings. Avocado, zucchini, broccoli, leek, cherry tomato, fresh asparagus, are now commonplace in chef’s kitchens. That’s not all, other ingredients like quinoa, chia seeds, speciality cheese, exotic fruits, herbs and spices too are used unhesitatingly.

Chef Atreya says, “Ingredients have a unique role in making any food unusual. For example, the usage of tender white asparagus from Europe will make a huge difference in the taste and texture of the final dish and can never be recreated with the local or any other variety of the same.”

With exotic vegetables and the farm-to-table concept gaining popularity among chefs, companies like Trikaya Agriculture, one of the pioneers in supplying exotic vegetables to Hotels and restaurants, sees a definite increase in demand.  “The younger breed of chefs have all studied or worked abroad, are well aware and know about all types of vegetables.  Our business is growing annually at 15-20%. More restaurants and hotels, more spending power, more awareness are some of the reasons for the demand of exotic vegetables going up,” reveals Samar Gupta, Managing Director,
Trikaya Agriculture Pvt Ltd.

While many restaurants prefer exotic and unusual ingredients to boost their vegetarian fare, others rely on their chef’s expertise and creativity. Anurag Katiar says, “We play with flavours, ingredients and cooking techniques to create something different. It is about being aware of newer ingredients in market and a definite streak of creativity.”

Sawant of Vedge on the other hand believes in creating a flavoursome gastronomic journey, through Vedge’s fun and refreshing culinary style. He has successfully amalgamated  old-meets-new flavours embedded in a variety of cuisine options such as North and South Indian, Oriental, Italian Pan-Asian, Chinese and Mexican.

So it is evident that today, the choices of cuisine are not restricted for the consumer. There is something for everyone. Mexican, Lebanese, Italian, Pan Asian cuisines have plethora of healthy and tasty dishes which are completely vegetarian, apart from Indian cuisine of course. Some of these global cuisines may have been tweaked to cater to the vegetarians, but at the cost of authenticity, these gourmands are not complaining.

Challenges in Serving Vegetarian Cuisine

In their bid to be different, Chefs admit that it is more challenging and sometimes expensive to serve vegetarian food in exciting avatars. Aditya Sawant confesses, “Vegetarian fusion food could be a challenging task, as it takes a lot of experimentation and several trials to create a new or unique dish. Each dish needs to be prepared repeatedly to get the right balance of taste and quality.”

Executive Chef Ajay Chopra adds, “In today’s world serving a vegetarian dish can be as expensive as serving a non-vegetarian dish, but it is the organization or a chef who can actually balance the cost- effectiveness by balancing the recipes with expensive unusual products and economically-priced products. It is all about your knowledge of ingredients that can make a dish cost- effective.”

Given the pace at which it is growing, this green revolution is here to stay. Variety, ensuring that the meals are well-balanced and cost-effective, are the major concerns restaurateurs and chefs have. Else, whatever the reasons for turning vegetarian, the future of vegetarianism seems bright.