How far would you go to experience 100% vegan food (assuming you’re vegan, of course)? The past weekend, I found myself commuting 14-odd kilometres. And given that I didn’t do this in my own vehicle or Uber, that’s no small deal. First, a 750-m walk to the bus-stop; then, 11.5 kms to the last stop of the bus; finally, a 1-km walk from there. At last, I’m looking at the pastel-hued board of Chennai’s first and only 100% vegan eatery. Below is the fruit of all that labour…
Advertising-and-creative-consultant me has to pay attention to the branding. And it gets my full marks. Café Kripa. Kripa in Hindi means mercy. Mercy toward sentient beings and, if animal love isn’t your reason for turning vegan, then mercy toward yourself in the form of a healthier lifestyle. In some contexts, kripa can also mean grace, and that fits too: grace for the benefits a vegan lifestyle gives you. It’s also organic. Seriously, virtues are in no short supply here.
The first, for sure – and certified by…
It is the city’s first and only 100% vegan eatery, although the owner, Heenu Nanwani, thinks it is the second. She mentions Veganer, but having examined the menu and eaten at Veganer, I can confirm that that vegan-sounding restaurant is just that: it’s a good deal vegan, but not 100% so. Even Little Italy – which can make, wow, even pizza vegan – is at the most ‘vegan-friendly’, but not all the way up. So, congrats on the achievement, Café Kripa. May there be more (of yours as well as others) to follow.
Mercy all around
A dog and a cat are seated at a table, with farm animals as their audience. The dog shares, “…and if we are mistreated, the humans are taken to prison.” The cow, from what I remember, remarks, “We feel so jealous.” In case you think vegan folk, due to their tremendous animal love, can understand the sounds emitted by their furry friends, that’s actually a painting at one of the tables.
There are other vegan-friendly paintings, posters, and announcements all around. There are some environment magazines as well (since being vegan pretty much goes with being environment-conscious too). There’s an organic store on the right, the substantially-covered kitchen is to the left of it, and there’s a low seating area in front of the kitchen. There’s tender music playing, giving the feel of a spa/retreat, without the dim lighting and joss sticks. My expectations are building.
Meet Mrs Kripa
Heenu has been vegan for 10 years. (I have been vegetarian for 19 years and vegan for 5 months.) Her reason – with just with a tinge of personal disappointment for me – was not animals, but health. Back then, she realised dairy didn’t agree with her, and made the switch. However, she does have honey, though she doesn’t put it, or any other animal-derived ingredient, in the food. Fair enough.
Like most things vegan, the menu is simple and even a bit limited, but Heenu says it’s because they’ve just started (two months back) and these are their regular items. There are other items they make sometimes, but those are more on a day’s-special basis. I remember reading about 10 items: Black/Lemon Tea, Buttermilk (yes, the famed Tamilian cooler, typically made with rich, creamy milk), Shake (yes, yes), Pasta (yes, yes, yes), Pani Puri, Dessert/Cake, CK Salad, Toast, Carrot Juice…
Vegan buttermilk, shake, pasta, and cake sound not just appetising but intriguing, and I ask for these – if only to cast them the challenge of making these items vegan and delectable.
Now you know why it’s authentic…
Having placed my order, I hope to speak more with Heenu, as I’m the only customer around. So, check with her, “You’ve shared the order with your chef?” She coolly replies, “We’ll be cooking for you.” The owner doing the cooking herself. What more can one ask for? The ‘we’ includes her niece, who also genially brings my items to the table.
Everything else has scored so far. But will the essence of what makes a restaurant?
The buttermilk is first to arrive. It looks pretty authentic, though a bit greenish, but seems to have the necessary spices. I take a sip. And Café Kripa has nothing to worry about. I thought it would be a great accompaniment to the pasta, but find myself finishing it within a few minutes, resisting gulping (a principle of eating healthy) as much as I can. It’s made of coconut milk, Heenu informs me. Along with the masala, you just won’t be able to tell the difference with the dairy variety, at least if you’re vegan.
Next up is the pasta. I asked for white sauce, as I keep having red-sauce pasta (which is vegan). The spaghetti floats in ample white liquid. I take a bite. Hmm, it tastes a bit different and does take some getting used too, but works. It’s made of oats and cashew, and feels devoid of the fullness/fatness of cream/cheese-based white sauce. Tender kripas.
Bringing up the rear are the banana milk shake (again with coconut milk) and sponge cake. Non-sweet-toothed me was not sure of this combo, but didn’t have a choice, as I asked for these mid-way into my pasta. But these triumphed too. The shake was not face-skewingly sweet: the banana was all the sweet stuff they added. And the cake (the only item outsourced, from a friend) was another piece of heaven. Even if it wasn’t, finding vegan cake is heaven enough. (And I make a mental note to next profile her vegan-cake-making friend.)
No soy, still joy
I notice that none of the ingredients contain soy or soy milk. (Most people seem to think vegan people have bean marrow instead of bone marrow.) I inquire about this, and her reply is simple: “I have never been able to figure out how to use it satisfactorily. Plus, coconut milk is a local ingredient; it’s easily available, and doesn’t cost as much as almond milk.” Practical, and economical. This also beats the reason of soy allergy that many cite for wanting to, but not being able to, adopt a vegan diet.
I’m quite full by the end, but since I’m walking it to my movie, am okay with it. The bill comes to under 500, which is, well, merciful, given how much I ordered and the nature of vegan/organic ingredients (which are not easy to make/procure and therefore a bit costlier). The final mercy? They insist on not tipping; they even have this on their board. They should rename this Café Nirvana, you know.
Light food, engaging conversation
We spoke before, after, and even during the meal, in snatches, as they were cooking. Here are snippets from the chat, though mostly the parts that fall within the menu of this post…
Health: Right at the beginning, we talked of the growing link between cancer and a dairy lifestyle. As if to endorse us, there was this poster there: Milk is nature’s perfect food – if you are a calf.
Prowess: She loves cooking, but not has gone to any food institute. So, the mind-converting taste in her food comes from her… fingers. A person’s touch, as they say.
Plans: She is happy to keep it small for now. (A bit disappointing for me, as I’ll have to keep making the 14-km trek when I need.) So, even as I give her some ideas for publicising it, slow and steady seems to be her mantra. After all, why advertise like crazy and then fall flat on your saucepan while trying to cope with the demand? Plus, on the practical side, they are yet to receive their licence. She does ask me to review them on Zomato though. I say I’ll go one better and blog about them. Well, here you are.
I’m certain I’ll be making the long haul again the coming weekend. Only this time, without Google Maps.
To know more about Café Kripa, visit their Facebook page: Café Kripa on Facebook