I had read that McDonald’s is opening their first all-vegetarian restaurant in India, at Amritsar (en route to Golden Temple) and Katra (tea break spot for Vaishno Devi pilgrims). I thought of it as another example of local adaptation by a global brand. Clearly, I was missing the bigger picture.
India always had a remarkable number of vegetarians. There are the permanent vegetarians – Buddhists, Jains, fastidious Brahmins and then there are the occasional ones – non-vegetarians who give up meat on specific days of religious importance. While the temperamental Westerners have swing all the way from being total carnivores to vegans, we have rarely been so extreme about food.
For us, even on those few days when religion dictates what we eat, the food should never be too bland. I remember the sacred Mondays and Thursdays from my childhood when the women of the house either fasted or were supposed to have sprouts, fruits and other raw foods only. I was a vegetarian who hated most vegetables, milk, rarely ate fruits – a very difficult child, in short.
Even then, I looked forward to these salad days, the food was always so simple and fantastic. Given the great food, I used to wonder how these occasions could be termed as hardships. If you are in Delhi during the Navratras, you will see that a whole food industry springs up catering to the fasting ones. Restaurants launch special menus and every food outlet will be serving some taste-alike versions of their regular menu. The whole exercise is aimed at pampering the poor, suffering religious souls. They should not feel like they are missing out on anything, no matter that is the original purpose of the fasts.
During the recent Navratra / Dushera, I made my customary trip to CR Park. While the rest of the city is immersed in sacred vegetarianism, this place dedicates itself to all kinds of meat. One particular dish that you find during this time of the year only is Mughlai Paratha. As you may know, any item on the menu that comes with the prefix Mughlai is sure to give you an instant heart attack. In keeping with the spirit, this paratha is made with a filling of eggs and meat and deep fried in oil.
However, what really stood out is an outlet that was selling all the regular North India fare – kebabs, kathi rolls, shahi gravies and koftas etc. Just that it was all made with Soy, not the regular chicken, mutton or paneer.
I am not a huge fan of Soy. I had read enough about them here, here and here. And, I have been a victim of the faux-meat since childhood. Many of you would remember the way your grannies used to cook raw jackfruit. The recipes and the resulting texture and taste were closer to red meat than to any known vegetable (yes, raw jackfruit is a vegetable).
Anyways, coming back to the Soy King, that was the name of the outlet, the food that I so reluctantly ordered was better than our expectations. The soy was far from the soy granules that we generally get in the supermarkets. The gravies were the intense spicy keema types and the soy chops needed to be pulled the way you pull meat from the bone.
So, what’s next? KFS?