Food: Is Mumbai ready to go vegan?

Jan 09, 2016, 08:28 IST | Krutika Behrawala

Mumbai restaurants are pulling all stops to meet the demands of the small but growing tribe of vegans, by introducing special menus and tweaking existing dishes

The guide logoIn A 600-sq ft kitchen at Lower Parel, 15 staffers armed with aprons and plastic headgear, are busy packing tiffins that include a raw vegetable salad, falafel, rotis and Methi Malai Mutter, to be delivered to 250 customers.

Vegan Beetroot Cake is part of a permanent vegan menu, launched this week, at The Pantry, Kala Ghoda
Vegan Beetroot Cake is part of a permanent vegan menu, launched this week, at The Pantry, Kala Ghoda

Meanwhile, a few others are busy preparing pizzas, summer rolls and hand-churned ice creams for a catering order, one of the five such requests received every week. Sounds like a typical dabba service? Well, except that all the items are vegan — slow-cooked without using dairy products. Plus, no refined flour, sugar or oil.

Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls at Lemon Leaf
Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls at Lemon Leaf

So, the malai in Methi Malai Mutter is substituted with coconut and cashew gravy; zucchini and psyllium husk go into the pizza base; dehydrated papaya puree is the wrap in the summer roll and nut milk is used to prepare the dairy-free dessert. This is what Vegan Bites, one of Mumbai’s few pure vegan takeaway services in the city has been whipping up since 2011.

Raw Pizza by Vegan Bites
Raw Pizza by Vegan Bites

“Plant-based foods are rated as one of the hottest trends this year, so, 2016 is going to be the year of vegans,” shares co-founder Samir Pasad, who launched the service with Hemali Gala, a certified Raw Food chef. “Turning vegan is an ethical choice, not a fad diet. Seven per cent of the population in the US is vegan, while the numbers may be restricted to a couple of lakhs in Mumbai. However, it’s a growing tribe,” foresees Pasad, who has chalked plans to start an all-day cafe and fine dining restaurant that will offer vegan, organic items.

No Carb Spaghetti at Craft Deli.Bistro.Bar
No Carb Spaghetti at Craft Deli.Bistro.Bar

While you may have to wait till mid-next year to enjoy Pasad’s fare, tuck into Oven Roasted Chimichurri Tofu with Bulgur Pilaf, Tofu Scramble and Beetroot Cake to curb your vegan cravings at The Pantry. Introduced this week, the dishes are part of a special vegan menu set to be a permanent fixture at the eatery.

Cafe Fuschia’s Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Sauce
Cafe Fuschia’s Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Sauce

“There seems to be a misconception that vegan food is boring. We are trying to ensure that people understand that there is no end to creativity when it comes to designing dishes. Vegan food can be tasty and nourishing,” shares co-owner Pankil Shah.

Jaggery cupcakes by The Green Stove
Jaggery cupcakes by The Green Stove

Tweak it
Today, several city restaurants offer vegan options on the menu, some, by default, considering they’re dairy-free. For instance, the vegetarian Asian spread at Sid Hospitality’s Lemon Leaf (Bandra and Andheri), and at Vashi’s Soy Street, makes for a large amount of vegan-friendly options too.

“We get a few requests every week, and while earlier, they were mostly from expats, more locals are also asking for vegan food now. The vegetarian fare constitutes 40-45% of the menu at the restaurants and all those dishes are vegan, as we don’t use any dairy products. Those with cottage cheese can be replaced with silken tofu,” says chef Mitesh Rangras.

Others, like The Sassy Spoon, stick to transforming existing dishes on the menu into vegan-friendly options. Here, vegans can enjoy a meal of salad, appetiser, a rice dish and even a pasta that can be prepared by omitting the fresh bocconcini.

“The vegan population in Mumbai is still a very small one, so we haven’t found the need to do vegan specific dishes on the menu. Tweaking is easy, especially in a commercial kitchen, considering it’s more a question of omission rather than addition.” shares chef and owner, Irfan Pabaney.

By request only
City five-stars too, have jumped on the vegan bandwagon, by offering ‘on request’ options for vegan guests, especially expats, put up at the hotel. “We get one or two international guests a month who prefer and request for vegan meals,” admits Manav Koul, executive Chef at Sofitel Mumbai BKC. Chefs, of course, are game to wiel their culinary arms and whip up interesting vegan options.

“A recipe that is free of animal products, with no trace of dairy products, can become quite a challenge and allows one to innovate remarkable dishes,” shares Amit Chowdhury, executive chef at The Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai, that receives a vegan request per month, like its sister concern, Vivanta by Taj — President.

Chef Paul Kinny of Bellona Hospitality seconds, “By altering and adding a few cooking techniques, it is simple to adapt a dish to vegan. Once we tried a Pad Thai Noodle variant with zero carbs because the noodles were made of tender coconut strips, and tossed in a sweet-spicy Thai sauce.” He’s also introduced a scrumptious No Carb Spaghetti, with strips of carrots, zucchini and almond slivers, at the Craft Deli.Bistro.Bar at Phoenix Marketcity in Kurla.

Worth the risk?
experts agree that total vegan menus are financially viable, only if there is greater demand. “Once the demand increases, cost of production would automatically come down as plant-based foods are cheaper than dairy or any other animal products. Plus, ingredients are largely sourced locally from farmers’ markets,” says Pasad, whose vegan meals range from `250 to `300.

Fortunately, the easy availability of ingredients works in the favour of home bakers and entrepreneurs, who are keen to start vegan ventures. “Ingredients like organic soy milk, almond milk, tofu and even vegan mock meats can be bought off the shelves of up-market grocery stores,” shares Rashi Paliwal who curates vegan meals for her pop-up restaurant, Cafe Fuchsia.

Divyaa Ranglani of the five-year-old bakery, Healthy Treats, whose clientele includes the likes of Zoya Akhtar and Anshula Kapoor, adds, “Vegan cakes cost 10-15% more than regular ones but it
doesn’t bother the clients who get homemade products as per specifications.”

The road ahead
Seven years ago, city-based entrepreneur Rithika Ramesh turned vegan and began baking vegan cakes, due to lack of available options. Having started her own vegan bakery, The Green Stove in 2010, Ramesh observes, “The awareness about vegan food is slowly, but surely, increasing. Some examples are Ray’s Pizzeria and Bird Song Cafe. Many restaurants will avoid dairy if tell them you are allergic to it (that is what I do), because most people still don’t understand what the word vegan entails. If you ask me, in probably 10 years, it might just be something that the restaurants cannot ignore.”

Find vegan food in Mumbai

Fig and Walnut dairy free ice cream by Vegan Bites
Fig and Walnut dairy free ice cream by Vegan Bites

>> Sign up with Vegan Bites for vegan meal offerings in Indian and international cuisines or call for dairy free ice creams, dips, sauces and cold pressed juices.
At: Vegan Bites, NM Joshi Marg, Lower Parel.
Call: 7666586430
Log on to:
Delivery areas: Across Mumbai

Vegan Almond Milk Cassoulet with Edamame, Bokchoy and Pointed Gourd served with Masala Foccacia at The Pantry
Vegan Almond Milk Cassoulet with Edamame, Bokchoy and Pointed Gourd served with Masala Foccacia at The Pantry

>> Tuck into Vegan Tofu Scramble, Oven Roasted Chimichurri Tofu with Bulgur Pilaf, Vegan Beetroot Cake, Dates Banana Soy Shake, Salted Caramel Chocolate Shake and Rose, Vanilla, Beetroot Shake made of Homemade Almond Milk which are part of the new vegan menu.
At: The Pantry, Yashwant Chambers, Military Square lane, Near Trishna, Kala Ghoda, Fort.
Call: 22700082

>> Relish a vegan Thai Curry Meal, Vietnamese Paper Rice Rolls and Som Tam Salad or ask the chef to replace any cottage cheese dish with tofu for a hearty, vegan meal.
At: Lemon Leaf outlets at Bandra (W) and Andheri (W)

>> Try the vegan options for Smoked eggplant Bruschetta, Pearl Barley Salad, Brown Rice Paella, Mapo Tofu with Soba Noodles, Black Bean Chilli and Crispy Okra, and Penne With Smoked Aubergine and Tomatoes.
At: The Sassy Spoon outlets at Bandra (W) and Nariman Point

>> Enjoy Mushrooms with Lotus Root, Stir Fried Shimeji Mushrooms, Stir Fried Spinach with Garlic and Steamed Jasmine Rice.
At: By the Mekong, The St Regis Mumbai, Lower Parel

>> Opt for Roasted Walnut, Citrus and Tabasco flavoured Hummus with Spinach Pita bread or Tofu and Mushroom Vegan with Thai Curry.
At: Silver Beach Cafe outlets at Juhu and Fort

>> Call Divyaa Ranglani’s handcrafted Quinoa Dark Chocolate, Apple Cinnamon Walnut and Pineapple Coconut vegan cakes, granola bars, almond pistachio biscottis or cookies.
Log on to:
Call: 9820154550

Mixed Green Salad with Arugula and Olives, Sweet Lime by Cafe Fuschia
Mixed Green Salad with Arugula and Olives, Sweet Lime by Cafe Fuschia

>> Hosting a vegan party? Ask Rashi Paliwal of the vegan pop-up restaurant, Cafe Fuschia to curate a menu that will feature treats like an Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Sauce, made up of whole wheat flour, almond milk, cocoa and macademia nut oil.

>> Order from a variety of cakes like Tropical Coconut, Lemon & Poppy Seed and Nutty Chocolate along with flavoured cupcakes like Carrot Happy, Bananarama and Roasted Almond.
Log on to:
Call: 9819955320

>> The chef can whip up vegan options Lemon Pumpkin Consomme, Asparagus & Cherry Tomato on Bread, Tomato Crumble and Avocado Hummus Sphere on request.
At: Sofitel Mumbai BKC, C-57, Bandra Kurla Complex, Bandra (e)
Call: 61175000

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