An open box of Nordic Kandie Magic marzepan with 12 pieces, with two having silver and gold leaf

Luxuriant Marzepan, for Luxury Gifting

A content marketing post for a luxury marzipan brand based out of Bombay / Mumbai. First, their post on SlideShare, and then my original post below.

This post on Nordic Kandie Magic SlideShare

When it comes to gifting, especially luxury gifting, only the best should do. After all, this is a day and age when people have travelled to destinations as exotic as the Cook Islands and as expensive as Guana Island. And when it comes to gifting food and confectionery, it gets even trickier. The well-heeled, apart from being well-travelled, are also adopters of new-age, healthy lifestyle and dietary choices. Trans fat free, gluten free, organic, vegan, artisanal… The list goes on, much like that of their dream holiday destinations. Finding a gift that matches all these preferences would call for the services of a genie. Or in our case, some good old kandie. Nordic Kandie’s range of handmade, gourmet marzipan (or marzepan, as we prefer to spell it, to reflect its authenticity) and couverture chocolates ticks all the right boxes when it comes to high-end gifting, right down to the elegant gift box. But allow us to start at the beginning.

Marzepan, as you may know, if you’ve been to a Scandinavian country, or an Anglo-Indian neighbourhood closer home, is a sweet made essentially of almonds (blanched and ground into paste) and sugar (though in some places, that’s replaced with honey). The ratio of almonds to sugar may vary, but authentic marzepan is that known to contain at least 35% almonds. Ours is made up almost entirely of almonds, but that’s only the delectable beginning. So, if it doesn’t contain almonds – in some countries, it may be made of anything from cashews to pili nuts, and commercial marzipan usually contains almond flour – it’s not marzipan.

An almond-flavoured marzepan ball with almonds beside

The heart of marzepan, almonds are being counted among the superfoods these days. They’ve for long been known for their health benefits, thanks to all the goodness they bear (protein, vitamin E, antioxidants, manganese, magnesium… this list seems endless too), and are especially famous for providing an “energy blast”. So, mom knew best, after all. However, the elders may have been off the mark in one respect. Recent studies show that apprehensions of gaining girth – thanks to it being such a loaded luxury nut – are unfounded. Almonds are quite filling and it’s usually not possible to have too many at one go without feeling satiated. Unless you’re taking part in something like a ‘Man vs Nuts’.

When it comes to the almond source too, we’ve set the premium bar high. Our choice is the world’s finest, the Mamra of Iran. The defining quality of the Mamra is that it’s cultivated organically and so retains the finest flavour, texture and taste, all perfect for making our marzepan luxuriant. Not surprisingly, Mamra almonds constitute only 3-4% of the world’s almond produce. (If you see parallels between this and high-quality wine, we like where you’re going. Gourmet marzepan and fine wine, in fact, make for a very appealing combination, not the least because both are acquired tastes. But more of this some other time.)

Now, if the almonds are organic, can our sugar be otherwise? Befitting the health-conscious, we use only organic sugar for our marzepan. Making the actual confection itself is a complex process, and in our case, artisanal, perfected over centuries of marzepan-making. Our founder, Thea Tammeleht, is a sixth-generation marzepan maker, from Reval in Estonia, the Scandinavian nation widely regarded as the birthplace of marzepan. In India, in keeping with tradition, we make it all by hand in a European-standards factory.

Nordic Kandie Magic marzepan in the making

Almonds from its finest place. The recipe from its birthplace. To add further exquisiteness to our marzepan, we kept going west. To Belgium. Which can only mean one thing. Our marzepan is enrobed in authentic, luscious Belgian chocolate for a truly divine experience. One bite, and you’ll be transported to all those small chocolate stores dotted across Belgium, or as we’d take pride in thinking, to our stores in India.

Edible-gold-covered Nordic Kandie Magic balls

This is precious candy, do we hear your saying? But. There’s. More. Seriously? How? Here’s how. Make your marzepan experience the ultimate in decadence by going for a covering of – hold your pranayam breath – silver or even gold. Even as you wonder if our marzepan needs to be kept locked up (well, maybe from roving palates), you would of course know that this is the edible variety. This is a thin sheet (or leaf, as it’s called), much like the varkh found in some Indian sweets. However, like the rest of our marzepan and couverture chocolate range, it’s 100% vegetarian and vegan. (What’s non-veg/an about varkh, do you ask? That, if you don’t already know, we’ll leave you to find out for yourself. You could be surprised, or rather dismayed. Additionally, in many cases, the varkh is made not of a precious metal but aluminum, which is of course hazardous for consumption.) We use purified 24K gold and 18K silver for these premium pieces. Needless to add, these are certified for their authenticity from the source, a globally renowned maker of edible silver and gold leaf based in Italy. (Iran, Estonia, Belgium, Italy… Our marzepan seems the world in a box, doesn’t it? As well as… a world of luxury in a box.)

If you prefer things a bit more down-to-earth though, we offer numerous embellishments (more than 100, and free of cost if you order in bulk) on the marzepan pieces. And keeping in mind the Indian fondness for variety in everything, we offer a range of flavours as well: cinnamon, rose cardamom, salted caramel, strawberry, mint, nutmeg… Well, what do you know, our marzepan seems to be for the gluttons, after all.

The tradition of having edible silver and gold in confectionery comes, not surprisingly, from the royals and aristocrats down the ages. They believed it to be the elixir of life and would more than occasionally indulge in marzepan topped with gold leaf. Marzepan itself was considered a confection for the regals, due to the fine and rich ingredients it is made of. For the same reasons, with or without the gold, it was also considered a treat for the royals. Queen Elizabeth I is known to have developed quite a liking for it. Which is perhaps why at the beginning of this year, the German President, Joachim Gauck, gifted Queen Elizabeth II a marzepan model of the Brandenburg Gate for the new year. With our artisanal, gourmet marzepan, encased in equally exquisite packaging, we only seem to be continuing this rich tradition.

We invite you to be a part of this luxuriant gifting culture. Pay a visit to any of our stores in Mumbai and Delhi or get in touch with us here. Give it to your BFF for her baby shower, your closest kin you’ve invited for the destination wedding, your C-Suite frequent flyer, your blue-blood Deluxe Suite guest. And because we’re sure you won’t be able to resist its temptation, we suggest you also gift it to yourself.

An exquisitely wrapped box of Nordic Kandie Magic marzepan

Cover pic for this post, with silver-coated marzipan balls below and the text 'MMMarzipan' above

IrfindingVegan: Mini Marzipan, Mega Magic

IrfindingVegan LogoFor this post alone, this series should have been called Irfvestigating Vegan. Read on.

Nordic Kandie Magic logoOne of my Bombay friends is an associate with Nordic Kandie Magic (or simply Nordic Kandie), makers of gourmet marzipan and luxury chocolates. She had undertaken this association just a bit before I was in Bombay last, around Feb, and has been talking to the Nordic countries and back on how good the marzipan is. I heard her out as a friend, but as a foodie (or rather, voodie, a vegan foodie), I had tuned out. The only times I have been exposed considerably to marzipan is during Easter or Christmas or both (see, I have been that tuned out), when I used to work with this large organization in Bombay and when the sizeable Christian population in the department used to bring this sweetmeat for the rest of the folk. As far as I remember, it would contain egg, and so I wouldn’t have it (while I wasn’t vegan then, I was veg). Sensing my lack of shared interest, she seemed to ease up in her marzipan mania communication to me. And then one day, boom.

A Nordic Kandie Magic mini about to be dunked into chocolate, with almonds in the backgroundShe got back squealing to me Nordic Kandie’s marzipan is very much vegan. Her WhatsApp message came around the beginning of April, so I thought it to be a belated All Fools’ Day prank. However, as the notifications from her continued with more and more exclamation points, I decided to speak with her. She gushed to me. Not wanting to first be elated and then disappointed, I calmly asked, “Are you sure?” She was vehement, “Absolutely!” And then she made me super-proud. Not by the confirmation that it is indeed vegan, but by narrating the tactics she employed to find out it is so.

Edible-gold-covered Nordic Kandie Magic ballsShe asked her boss, the lady who runs the company, whether it’s got egg. No. Milk? No. Cream? Nyet. (Her boss is from an erstwhile USSR republic, and more about her at the end.) Milk solids? Nada. Gelatin. No-no. The lady equally vehemently told her – as if offended that people think she puts these “contaminants” into her fine marzipan (and chocolates) – they use only almonds (and the best, mamra, from Iran) and organic sugar, and where they use chocolate, it’s Belgian and sans lait (without milk). And for the high-end marzipan, silver and gold (yes, thin slivers, and certified from where they buy this precious metal), but I am only Irfan Syed vegan, not James Cameron vegan. In short, she didn’t ask her boss directly, but very directly/indicatively and in various forms, and each time, her boss denied putting any meat or dairy vestiges in it. Time for me, and my heart, to go boom-boom. It was vegan, and my friend had found out, or investigated, indirectly. Just the way I do it. And like it.

Yes, that’s my strategy. When I need to find out whether or not something is vegan, I never use the v-word directly with the attendant/manager. Most folk, especially in India, don’t know what vegan is, neither as a concept nor as a word. At one place, the manager even shot back with a question of his own, “Baingan?” (Brinjal/Eggplant/Aubergine in English.) My friend had done (learnt) well. (She had also learnt to not dislike street dogs with my influence. That’s another strategy of mine: don’t forcefully urge people to be nice to animals; rather, show love to animals in front of them, and they’ll gradually begin liking them a bit, or at least loathing them less. But that is a part of the Irfanimals series.)

It was my turn to do the “inrestigation” – the rest of the investigation. I went to Google and the Nordic Kandie site and social media pages, and found that it is indeed “100% vegetarian and vegan”. And even the images looked good enough to eat. I turned the investigation back to my friend. Why doesn’t the lady say it’s so? Ah, that’s because many folk don’t know what vegan is; when she says so, many still ask her whether or not it contains egg. Villiterates (vegan-illiterates).

Vegan certification over, there was now only one thing to do: sample it. My friend came to my help here too. She said she’d send me some, at no cost. I wasn’t complaining, especially as it is high-end and not something I’d eat on a daily basis. Also, this is one of the perks of being a vegan blogger.

True to her word, though a bit delayed in her word – during the wait, I stopped short of sending her typical jokes like ‘Are the almonds coming from Iran?’ – it came last week, a couple of weeks later than promised.

The box was huge, and I wondered whether the European understanding of ‘sample’ is ‘copious’. But disappointingly or elatingly, it was packed long and hard. There was the outer box, then the bubble wrap (lots of it; bubble-wrap poppers would have been delighted), lots of cellotape, and then… squish. I felt my scissors had made an incision. Some sticky gel began oozing out. (Did some bubbles of bubble-wrap contain something other than air?) However, my mom, who’s apparently more used to packaging food items, assured me, “It must be something to prevent the items’ loss of quality or taste.” To me, it seemed a moat, for once I was through that, there was the jar of mini marzipans, like a fort beyond the water.

Nordic Kandie Magic Minis in the jarI cleared the wraps, cleaned the liquid, and held the jar of joy in my hands. Branding-loving me admired the packaging. The jar made of glass and not plastic, indicating premiumness. The deep blue ribbon, bestowing richness. And finally, the luxurious-looking brand card. I loosened the ribbon and proceeded to the lid. It was tight. I held the jar against the light and saw a vacuum seal. Neat thinking. I held the lid more firmly now and started slowly rotating it. The lid loosened and my senses did too: the aroma of almonds slowly went through my nostrils and then into me. I looked in: from top, the bits looked like billiard balls neatly arranged at the start of a game. I lunged in and popped one. Umm. This should be called mmmarzipan. Then, another. Then, another. And then, started feeling a bit full. But of course: it’s made of almond. I had my lunch (light), and then opened the jar again for dessert. Again, um, two, three. I couldn’t seem to be able to have more than three at a time. Which, come to think of it, is a good thing. It automatically forbids you to have too many at one go and fill up yourself and your hips soon after. Also, you can keep and savour it, even that tiny bit of a jar.

A user photo of a jar of Nordic Kandie Magic minis on a ledge overlooking a beach at sunsetI had the mmmarzipan mmminis over three days. By the second day, I think I had figured out how to have it. Yes, these are foreign, specifically, European sweet-treats, and so an acquired taste. I even devised a small ritual. Open the jar, smell the contents (like they do wine), have the whiff of almonds pervade me, whet my appetite and then dig in for one, two, three, stop. Also best not to mix up flavours/tastes. They come in different colours/flavours such as rose, vanilla, light chocolate and dark chocolate and are coloured accordingly. My favourite was dark chocolate, also as I don’t have a sweet tooth, and not surprisingly saved those bits for the last on all days and for the end. And once there were none, I went back to leching at them on the FB page. And started sucking up to my friend.

Thea Tammeleht, owner of Nordic Kandie Magic, holding an open box of marzipan magicTo tell you a bit about the company, from the investigation I have done, Nordic Kandie is run by Thea Tammeleht, an expat of Estonian origin. She started this a few years ago, after multiple years in the corporate field, to pursue her passion and long lineage of making marzipan. In fact, on further investigation, I found that there is a long-standing war, though not a bitter one (can’t be when marzipan is involved), between Tallinn, the capital of Estonia and from where Thea hails, and a German city with a typical German name: long and pronounced like you have marzipans in your mouth. What’s the war over? Over which city the dessert originated in. I don’t know about that dispute, but over these Nordic Kandie treats there is none: these marzipan minis are mega magic.

Find out more about Nordic Kandie on their site: Nordic Kandie website

Connect with Nordic Kandie on their Facebook page: Nordic Kandie FB

Cover pic for this post with the text 'On1y The Best', the 'On1y' formed using the On1y logo
A meme on determination

IrfindingVegan | On1y (the determined)| Prologue

IrfindingVegan LogoI must be a very determined person. Twice over. But let’s start at the very beginning.

From a food bloggers' meetAbout three months ago, this digital agency group head who I have done a project for and done initial consultation on one other project called me for another initial consultation on another project. For a food brand. As he knows I’m vegan and therefore know quite a bit about food and also blog about it, but of course from a vegan perspective. One idea he shared was organizing a food bloggers’ meet. I didn’t know much about this then, and didn’t know any food bloggers either (in my network), but intrigued, decided to find out more, over time. For you can only do this gradually, plus the client put this and the other ideas we discussed in cold storage soon after.

Logo of Social Beat, a social-media agency based in ChennaiNow, when I was attending another meet-up recently, organized by another digital agency, Social Beat (specifically, social media agency), I came to know of a food bloggers’ meet they were organizing for one of their brands, On1y (note the spelling). They were looking for influencers, and although I don’t consider myself one (except maybe in my vegan group, and only with regard to communication), and I’m guessing neither did they, but perhaps because I expressed a lot of interest and perhaps out of some goodwill (this was the second meet-up of theirs I was attending, plus I follow them on social media), they decided to put me on the roster. I confirmed my attendance by mail, and awaited the event. It disappointingly got postponed once, but elatingly enough, got scheduled for the next week (last Friday). I started getting my branding and vegan senses ready.

Cartoon depicing a man with the runsIt was scheduled for 12 – 3 pm. And exactly at 9.30 am on Friday, an hour before I had planned to leave, I started getting… the runs. Talk of ironies of life. During my second visit to the washroom, I wondered what the culprit was – yes, the stale pizza bread I had the previous day – and once that was nabbed, started putting my mind to the other worry: should I go?

I don’t think they would have missed my presence tremendously – they were not really looking for a vegan perspective. Also, I could attend some other food bloggers’ meet in the future to know how these work. But I’ve been trying to make myself more positive for sometime now – pity my stomach wasn’t aligned – so, came out, dug into my emergency medicine pouch, and pulled out and popped two pills for the loosies.

I then had to play the waiting and resting games. As the clock kept ticking and approached the mark at which I had planned to leave, things finally seemed to clear: no rumbles, no tumbles. I stepped back in for my shower – things continued to hold up – dried up, got ready, and things were still looking good. I looked at the clock: 11 am. I could make it, but not with the bus/share auto, as I had initially planned, but with the new-age/tech boon, Uber.

The earlier Uber logo with the letter 'F' before itI launched the app, and… it refused to launch. I got a screen that I don’t remember ever getting. Asking me to log in or register. Now, who remembers their ID/passwords for these things? I mean, don’t we just keep them on, with location turned off? Anyway, so, I set about trying to recall my password, managed to, but it still refused to launch, going into an eternal spin. I did the next thing you’re supposed to do with gadgets in India: switch on and off. I repeated the whole process, and was still met with the whirling wheel. Again the process. Again the same result. It was then time to do what every Uber does in an emergency: use Ola.

But it just wasn’t going to be my day. (Of course not, it was Friday the 13th, it just struck me.) Ola too wouldn’t work: it couldn’t identify my location. I checked my location settings, they were fine, so went back. But again, the same result. Ah, yes, maybe it was because I had loaded some extra apps the previous day. Went and uninstalled them. Same result.A black cat near the date 'Friday 13' on a calendar

Next move: use my tab. But on launching it, I remembered I had recently had it cleaned of viruses and therefore all apps, so would need to install the app/s all over again, but then also remembered that the tech guy at the service centre had told me my tab doesn’t have the memory. My mind was whirring like that Uber wheel.

When stuck, do the same thing the fifth time, only with more care/vigour. This time, there was some response from Uber, but not a good one: my account had been disabled and I could contact their support for more info. No time for this. (That saga is turning out very distasteful: Uber has disabled my account without giving me a reason and also gobbled up the money I had therein.)

No Uber, no Ola. Was I a goner? Not quite. Time to pull out my next weapon: call my sometime-regular cab and auto drivers. Called the cab guy. It was his day of leave, someone else answering his phone told me. But of course. Called the auto guy. In the Tamil I could understand, he was somewhere far off, perhaps running some candidate’s election campaign. I wished the candidate ill. The time: almost 12. Should I really go? A still-determined yes. I was way too committed by now. But for this, I would have to resort to my most unfavoured experience in Chennai or anywhere on the planet: hail a regular auto guy and bargain with him.

Info-pic, of man bargaining with Chennai autorickshaw driver with complaint information given aboveIn case you don’t know, auto-drivers in Chennai don’t ply by the meter, although they are supposed to, and there are enough notices around, even on their autos themselves, urging the public to report against non-compliant drivers. But you can’t win against the Chennai autokaaran. And definitely not if you aren’t 100% comfortable with the language and look like an NRI (their words). I believe he’s up there with politicians and movie-stars as among the most powerful people in Chennai.

But I have a strategy for this. (Apart from being determined, I am also very resourceful, I guess.) It’s not sure-shot, but it’s the only one that can guarantee someone like me (the Tamil-uncomfortable NRI) a fair chance. Unlike most people, when the auto guy approaches me after I’ve hailed him, I don’t first tell him where I want to go. No, that would put the power in his auto-wielding hands. He would engage me for a while asking where exactly I wanted to go, checking whether that indeed is the place, which route and all, all the while sizing up how much he could fleece off me. I first and immediately ask him, in my best Tamil, whether he’ll ply by the meter. That does two things. It weans out the thieving folks, the ones who wouldn’t ply by the meter, and I have no interest in engaging them or with them. It also anchors the conversation, giving me some power in the discussion/negotiation: they understand immediately that someone who’s asked for the meter will not pay much more above the meter. (I have other strategies, but those are more for ‘A Survival Guide in Chennai’.)

So, this driver I had ignored because he was outside his auto (another strategy: that guy would not be interested, as he’s outside and not in a running vehicle, and would demand more money for the simple act of moving his lazy ass), when he got back into his vehicle asked me where I wanted to go. I did my number: “Will you put the meter?” He insisted (his strategy): “Where do you want to go?” Me: “I want to go by the meter. Will you go by the meter?” He was adamant too: “Where do you want to go?” I relented (it was too hot): “<Destination>” He: “No, too far, I don’t have the gas.” (Basically, an excuse for: ‘I don’t want to go because you have insisted so much that you want the meter and now I know I can’t fleece you.’)

A second driver approached. (He wasn’t wearing the uniform. Another strategy: never take an auto from someone who’s not following the uniform rule – if he won’t follow the uniform rule, he won’t follow any other rule, definitely not that of pricing.) However, desperation (or some instinct) got the better of me. He and I ran through the same conversation above. Only, he demanded 20 bucks above the meter. Nothing doing; I’ll give only 10 more. He insisted. I maintained my position. He relented. As I got in, he… put on the uniform. I told you I had an instinct about him.

As he started off, he checked with me which route to take. We discussed a bit, but finally decided to go with his suggestion. He seemed to be one of the rare decent Chennai autowaalas. As we made our way, the clock of course kept ticking. It was 12.08 by the time we started. 12.15, 12.20, 12.25… 12.27, we were at the entrance of the hotel. But today had to be the 360o test of my determination. He didn’t have change. And I wasn’t going to let him have 55 bucks as “keep the change”.

He asked me to check with the hotel guys. That would take too much time. He decided to check with nearby auto guys. I knew that wouldn’t work either: no one helps in these situations. Sure enough, they didn’t. Time to pull out my final weapon: it’s for times like these I keep two wallets, a smaller one for change. I pulled it out, rolled out all the coins, pulled out all the coins and small notes from the main wallet, counted, double-counted, and realised I had his money. However, he would need to count, double-count, and be sure. As he did, the clock kept ticking: 12.30. He was finally satisfied. But would I be?

Logo for On1yHad I reached too late? How much had I missed? Had I missed the key part/s? Would my determination have gone waste?

All those answers in the next and final part of this two-part piece…

And where does all this determination come from? Of course, from being vegan.

Cover pic for this post with the Meena Tai's logo and the text 'Bhegan-phrendly?'

IrfindingVegan | Meena Tai’s | Vegan / Friendly

IrfindingVegan Logo

Read the prologue of this piece here: Meena Tai’s – Prologue

So, last Friday, at dinner time, I found myself at the portals of the three restaurants. This time, the manager was different. (Last time, it was a Bengali-speaking guy, and it later struck me whether Pricol was aiming for national and international integration: Maharashtrian, Parsi, Bengali, and African.) This time, it was a guy with a Christian name, that too a Biblical one, Gabriel, and I became certain of the integration bit. Gabriel was pleasant, like all hotel / restaurant managers, I guess. But he didn’t need to guide me about which cuisine I was interested in. Maharashtrian food was calling this man born in one city of Maharashtra (Nagpur) and stayed in another city of the ‘Great Land’ for the longest time (Bombay / Mumbai). Meena Tai’s it was going to be. The Parsi dudes would have to wait for another time.

Interiors of Meena Tai'sMeena Tai’s is trying for homely – so they don’t have Bombay’s famous street food ‘Karan-Arjun’, vada pav and misal pav. And homely is the feeling you get when you step in. It’s peaceful, quiet, like you stepped into a home in a Maharashtrian village, with mellow Marathi songs playing in the background. A few ditties down, even the other tai, Asha, shows up on the playlist. The relaxing atmosphere is enhanced by blue accents all around and the homely ambience accentuated by the jars of spices and pulses in a recess and various cooking instruments of yore displayed on the walls.

A server in another restaurant wearing the traditional Marathi kurta and topi

I take my seat, the server comes with the menu and wearing the rustic Marathi manoos outfit – white kurta and topi – and I wonder for a minute if I could speak with him in Marathi. Then, I look at the name on his tag, and am not sure. ‘Sasti’. That doesn’t sound Maharashtrian (in fact, that means ‘cheap’, or to be less c-rude, ‘inexpensive’ in Hindi), but from the little I know, that doesn’t sound Tam either. So, I let out very slowly, “Are… you… Maharashtrian…?” “No, I’m local,” he offers. And since he does so in English, I proceed to speak in that common language.

He makes the standard Indian restaurant query, “Are you veg or non-veg?” The restaurant – tasteful, refined and all, so far – looks like it could stand up to the IrfindingVegan test, and I decide to chuck my roundabout way of asking so (“Does it have any milk, cream, butter, curd…”) and go straight up, “Actually, I’m vegan… You know what that is?” He takes a moment before responding, “Yes, you don’t have dairy…” “And honey,” I complete. Sasti at once points me to the bottom of the page on the menu, which has icons for Dairy, Gluten, Nuts and Chilli. I. Am. Impressed. And also think, Clever strategy. Show which items have dairy, thus helping out both lactose-intolerant and vegan patrons. So, while not vegan, vegan-friendly for sure, at least in their communication.’

The veg starters' menu at Meena Tai's

Note the legends for gluten, nuts and dairy below

I think of asking him for suggestions, but decide to go with, um, my gut feel. I’m not too hungry. So, decide on a drink (sol kadhi, coconut milk with kokum) and a starter (mini matar karinji, deep-fried stuffing of peas). I check with him whether the karinji will be too oily. He replies in the negative. Cool. I ask him to leave the menu behind in case I have the appetite for dessert: I saw a couple of items with no dairy icons.

Kollywood director, Mani Ratnam, and his actor wife, SuhasiniAnd while I’m waiting for the food to come and flipping through the dessert section, in step a couple of folk that will have my Chennai friends and acquaintances envying me for a long time: Mani Ratnam and Suhasini Maniratnam, arguably Kollywood’s leading power couple. However, they decide to party with the Parsi boys and so take the stairs. That’s ok, I think; I’ll be loyal to my Maharashtrian history.

However, the food was taking a bit – I guess they also believe in not rushing things (believers of slow food?) – so I decided to go and speak with Gabriel, especially about the power couple that had just ascended the stairs. Gabriel smiled even more and shared, “This is a VIP neighbourhood, and you have lots such folk coming in. Why, Dhanush too stays close by.” OK, not too hot about that one. I decide to put him through the vegan test too, and he too passes. In fact, he does one better. When I tell him I also plan to hang out with the Parsi boys next time, he feels uneasy for me, suggesting I won’t find anything there. I reassure him: “I will find at least one or two items there, don’t worry, and what I don’t, I’ll check if they can make vegan.” And if not, I can always come here again, right? Well, that is, if the food too ends up scoring like the ambience and the people (somehow, ‘staff’ seemed too coarse for such genteel ‘staff’).

I go back, the food comes, and the Parsi bawas can wait: I’m visiting Meena’s again very soon, with a bigger appetite. The sol kadhi is obscenely good. In fact, it almost tastes like curd. So, I summon Sasti. “Are you sure there is no curd in this?” He reassures me. To be doubly sure, I have a sip in front of him. I again get that curdy feeling. “Sure?” “Absolutely. But the taste could be due to the kokum.” “Hmm. OK.”

 

This is a bit of a moot point. Some vegans look for vegan substitutes for non-vegan foods and so some product-makers go to the extent of making some vegan food taste like non-vegan food, especially meats, and in this case, curd. However, I’m not sure any vegan wants their food to taste like something they’ve given up for very strong reasons.

I have the kadhi with some more assurance now, and clarity attained, it seems to taste heavenly: it’s playing a perfect orchestra of sweet, sour, heavy, light, smooth, silky. OK, not the last one.

A plate of karinjisI proceed to pick up the first of the six karinjis that await me. They don’t look too deep-fried, as Sasti had assured me. These folk seem true to their word, I see. I take a bite, and Meena Tai appears in the chair opposite me, looking on as I savour her made-from-the-heart karinjis. The karinjis are packed with all the right flavours: light savoury, medium spicy, hint of sweet (thanks to the peas and onions), and the crust perfectly crunchy-crumbly. One karinji, one sip. One coolant-snack combo, one heavenly trip.

My tongue is lilting with all the right flavours, I don’t want to ruin the taste, or better put, I want the taste to linger, plus am a bit full, so decide to not engage with dessert. I ask for the bill. As Sasti comes with the mini-clipboard that bears the bill, I gush, “The food is awesome… Next time, I’ll come with an appetite…” And it’s his turn to complete, “And with your family.” Wow, vegan-friendly. And friendly.

To know more about Meena Tai’s, check out their FB page: Meena Tai’s on FB

Cover pic for this post, with the logo of Meena Tai's and Meena uttering, in Marathi-style, "Bhegan?"

IrfindingVegan | Meena Tai’s | Prologue

IrfindingVegan LogoThe signage of Pricol's three new and upcoming restaurants in ChennaiFirst, the boys moved in. Next, came the lady. And soon, there will be something that aims to get them together. We aren’t talking of a PG accommodation here or community living (if the first were the case, the lady would have come at the beginning, right?), but the sequence in which Pricol, the South Indian automotive major, has been making its entry into the hospitality space. It first launched the cleverly-named Batlivala and Khanabhoy, a Parsi restaurant, the boys in the opening lines (and Parsi men, and men in general, always remain boys), and then Meena Tai’s, a Maharashtrian restaurant, the lady from above. Next up is Abyssinian, an Ethiopian (yes, a first not just for Chennai but perhaps India) restaurant that will come up in about two months’ time, its logo being the mezob, the Ethiopian community-eating table. Meena is on the ground floor, the Parsi bawas on the first floor, and I guess Abyssinian will come up on the second floor, though on the signage at the front of the premises, it’s in the reverse order: Meena on top, the boys in the middle, and Abyssinian bringing up the bottom.

The logo for Batlivala & Khanabhoy, the newly-opened Parsi restaurant in ChennaiI first came to know of B&K and then MT’s through reviews in The Hindu, and of Abyssinian when I went visiting there. (I ended up being the first person to like its FB page. I had already liked B&K and MT’s pages earlier.) The two restaurants, which opened up within a month of each other, are fine-dining restaurants, so they were closed at the time I went there, which was about mid-evening. My appetite stoking, I decided to come back soon enough, at the right time.

The logo for Meena Tai's, the newly opened Maharashtrian restaurant in ChennaiHowever, my craving for the two restaurants was also incited by their logos, both of which I love (though maybe B&K just a bit more – two typically quirky- and happy-looking Parsi men, what’s not to like?). Logo-loving me dove to find out which agency had done them, and I wasn’t surprised. Chennai’s very own Banana BrandWorks, who I’ve known to do lush, delish design work.

The logo for Banana BrandWorks, the Chennai-based agency that did the logos for Batlivala & Khanabhoy and Meena Tai'sBut my fervour was kindled to the max when I met with Mukund V, founder, director and creative director of Banana BrandWorks, at the recently concluded Maddys (the Madras Advertising Club Awards). I have known Banana’s work for some time, and inquisitive me had gone through their FB page and come to know of Mukund. So, when I saw his team and he come up to receive a few awards, I knew I had to speak with him.

Mukund comes across as quite affable and so seemed fine in engaging in a longish chat with me and also to excuse a personal-cultural gaffe. (I make enough of those in Chennai, and no, I’m not sharing that one here.) I told him I loved the restaurants’ branding, enough to really want to visit them now. We spoke at length about this, and in winding up the conversation on this, he suggested, “You should try out the two restaurants. They are really nice.”

Three voices speaking in favour of the restaurant. Dare I refuse?

So, did Meena Tai’s live up to the clamour of the three voices, and to vegan mine? Find out in tomorrow’s post.

An edited featuring Leonardo Caprio from 'The Revenant' with a bison inset and header text for the post

IrfindingVegan… In Bangkok | Days 5 & 6 – Milling Around, Vegemilling Around

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Day 5: Breakfast with Leo

Day 5 began just the way Day 4 had ended, by making gastronomic love to Vegemil – all its variants. Two packs of crazily yummy almond and walnut (A&W – A&Wesome?), a pack of decent black bean, and a pack of another variant that slips my tongue, er, mind. Followed by the standard room breakfast with friends over thepla and aachaar, and accompanied by the Oscars (it was Monday, Feb 29 in Bangkok).

Dithering and dilly-dallying (our own Piggy Chops was to present an award), we finally pulled ourselves out as Leo finally won his Oscar. Ruminating over whether veg folk have to eventually eat non-veg (bison liver) to attain success, I got ready for a day of work and shopping with F1 (friend 1, non-vegetarian). F2 (friend 2, vegetarian) was staying in to catch up on mails as his vacation was ending and his work was resuming (after our holiday, he was to stay there till the weekend for a conference).

Photo of Leonardo Caprio from 'The Revenant' with an inset photo of a bison

Thankfully, it didn’t come down to eating bison liver in Bangkok…

The last shopping spree

F1 and I spent a couple of hours in the wholesale market for his product and eventually left disappointed as he felt he hadn’t achieved what he wanted to on this trip and so it was a disaster. To assuage that perhaps, he then hit the shopping zones again. We went first to MBK (like a giant and hip Spencer Plaza in Chennai) and then to Robinson’s (Bangkok’s version of Shoppers Stop and Lifestyle, I figured) for some clothes-shopping.

Where’s the green?

Out for four hours by now, we decided to address our increasing rumbles. We resolved to play it really safe our last day in Bangkok and before a flight, so zoned in on Subway. Subway in India has a good deal of vegan options (if you don’t have any of the cream servings and sauces), so I was happy. In we go, I look around, and get a feeling of Day 4 déjà vu: where are the symbols and boards for green / veg and red / non-veg, as in India?The green and red symbols for veg and non-veg, so ubiquitous in India

They are obviously not there, and you end up ruminating over culture (these signs and symbols are given in a country like India, and perhaps India alone – I don’t think any other country is as vegetarian as India) and history (India indeed must have been the birthplace of many a civilization and culture – Buddhism, attitude toward animals, food choices).

Really, where’s the green?

But you can only mull over this for a minute and then need to get practical again: you haven’t eaten for four hours, your legs are whining from all the walking, and there’s only so much fries and Coke you can do. My sharp eyes, rather, contact lenses, spotted ‘Vegetarian’ written after all. Ah, where there’s a vegan, there’s a way… I go up to the counter, look around, and then ask the lady attendant very softly (as I would have crumbled if she had replied in the vegan-negative), “What is the vegetarian option? I don’t seem to see it…” She smiled, went to the fridge and pulled out three patties. Oh, right, where’s the demand here? I went ahead with it, with my usual selections of: multigrain bread (doesn’t have milk), no cheese, no sauces that have mayo. It’s ready, I bite, and I’m in India again.

Refuelled, we decide to shop again, this time for food, F1 for the extra time he’d be spending in Bangkok compared with me (I was leaving first; he would leave 12 hours later as he had some pending work) and for back home. While he bought a few items, I looked around for Vegemil and not spotting it there, decided to keep my shopping for Villa Market nearer the hotel.

The last Vegemils

The many variants of Vegemil soymilkIt was early evening by the time we returned to the hotel. I of course had Vegeville, or Villa Market, to go to. I put in four packs of A&W (I wanted to put in more, but reminded myself that I was flying tomorrow, that too early morning, that too alone), a pack each of the black bean and the one-whose-name-I-can’t-remember, a pack then of the kiddie flavours (I wanted to have my fill of Vegemil – Vegefil? – before leaving), and then to show that I wasn’t biased toward a Korean brand in Thailand, I decided to take in a bottle each of HomeSoy. To eat, I put a ready-to-make cup each of porridge and flavoured rice from another brand I can’t remember. Who said I didn’t shop in Thailand?

The last dinner

Dinner, our last together in Bangkok on this trip, was a good-natured one – at our favourite Aryaa’s, with tried-and-tested items (mine was daal khichdi), and with no friction-inciting conversation. We ended with an observation: the food here seems better than back at home, at least most places back home. And then got the realization: as there are fewer takers here than back home, they make the food fresh rather than make it and keep heating it over and over again. You always see things afresh when outside your home zone.

Back at the hotel, the friends educated me on the procedures at the airport. I would like to think they were seriously thoughtful about my first solo unaccompanied international flight than about the edibles they were transporting back through me. “If you reach a hitch, message us…” they trailed off.

Pack-shot of HomeSoy soymilkI came back, packed my stuff, and decided to wash the food down with HomeSoy. Er, the night wouldn’t end well, if that was its taste. (Also, it wasn’t Thai, but Malaysian; so Thailand got back at me.) I decided to have one, then two Vegemils, but only two – I wanted to leave some manna for the morning.

Day 6: The last Vegemil

A pack of Vegemil Almond and Walnut SoymilkI managed to get up at the alarm. Perhaps the prospect of winding my trip with A&Wesome helped me do so? Coffee done, ready-to-cook porridge (felt a bit coarse) and rice (nice) done, Vegemil black bean done, Vegemil other done, Vegemil A&W last-but-one done. I was staring at the last pack. Like a lover who was separating. But not without one last kiss. I pulled out the straw, pierced the opening, and gave in to it.

As if to allow the taste of it to linger, the security officials at the airport asked me to throw out my two bottles of water.

Going through the procedures as guided by my friends and after checking with an attendant there, I was at the boarding gate. No more deep-brown food, only deep-brown faces. I was getting home.

Day 6: Mid-air mercies

An hour into the flight, the trolley came trolleying. I hadn’t done a web check-in this time, so hadn’t indicated my vegan preference. I asked for the veg meal, with the thought that I would follow my SOP of letting the non-vegan items be. Mercifully, it was South Indian / Tamil food (vada, sambar, upma). And more mercies, it was not made in South India / Tamil Nadu, but by an India-sensitized Thai catering service, so it didn’t have ghee. To me, that spelt glee.

Day 6: Land ahoy, such joy

Landing, I again proceeded as the friends had instructed, going into the Nothing to Declare lane although I was carrying dairy products (F1’s chocolates and two bottles of some flavoured milk brand). I felt all sinister thinking I was sneaking in contraband, though F1 later joked that this little amount doesn’t count.

Rose applesAt the immigration counter, there was a bit of crowd, so I pulled out the last red rose apples I had kept and chomped into them. The last bit of Bangkok in me.

Immigration check done, I went into Duty Free, as each of the friends had asked me to pick up a carton of ciggies and a bottle of wine (for their brothers and friends back home). I found neither brand, and was secretly happy. I hadn’t bought any anti-vegan, anti-health items in Bangkok, and I guess I wasn’t going to do it here.

I had managed to be vegan throughout the trip, give or take a few. Not bad for your first international trip ever, that too to South-East Asia aka Seafood Asia. You know, I deserved an Oscar myself for this achievement.

This is the final part of a five-part series on being vegan in Bangkok, or at least trying. Read the previous parts here.

Day 1: All’s Well

Day 2: All’s Not Well

Day 3: Getting One Back

Day 4: You Vegan Some, You Don’t Some

Composite image with the overlay text 'Vegan in Bangkok: Day 4'

IrfindingVegan… In Bangkok | Day 4: You vegan some, you don’t some…

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By Day 4, I was set in Bangkok, knowing what to expect (of the day) and what to suspect (of the food).

A day well begun…

Variants of Tofusan, a popular soymilk brand in ThailandWe had stocked up, so in the morning, woke up to hot black coffee made by self using the room’s electric kettle. After that had made its way through my system and into my head, helped myself to the other soymilk brand I had brought, Tofusan. It proved to a bit raw for my taste, both the plain and the one with the tofu sheet (it felt like eating and drinking at the same time), so expunged the taste with the mango-sized rose apples. Then, to F2’s (friend two, vegetarian) room for the staple of theplas with chutney, then back to my room to shower and get ready, and then while friends were still getting ready, dashed to Villa Market for more of the manic and manna-ic Vegemil almond & walnut soymilk. Smacking my lips for the treat that awaited at night, I was ready for the day – a trip to the Chatuchak market, famous as the world’s largest weekend market.

“No thanks”

We took the metro, friends bought some snacks (non-vegan; chocolates, I think), offered me, then immediately realized I “can’t have it” (I corrected them with “I don’t have it”, but I don’t think that registered with them), then at the last station bought some more snacks (a cake slice, if I remember correctly), with the same responses and reactions from both sides, and then made our way to the market.

Seafood on the rocks, erm, woks

The main lane at Chatuchak market, BangkokBy now, I knew what to expect in any touristy area of Bangkok: a microcosm of the world walking up and down and a macrocosm of the sea world being cooked in woks up and down. So, walked up and down myself unfazed. As the friends shopped for their families back home (they were to shop more later, at Tesco, so I was happy buying only small curios to gift back home), they started feeling the heat. An hour or so down, they paused for coconut ice cream, made fresh before the eyes. And we went through the motions again: “Here”, “Oh, ya, you can’t have this”, “That’s ok” (me), “You want something else?” By now, I had also become used to not eating for prolonged periods in Bangkok; but that was fine, for like a camel, I had tanked up with two versions of breakfast in the morning (my room and friend’s room). (Survival tip: When vegan and travelling internationally, eat like a king when you can, which is typically at breakfast, which you can control as it’s inside.)

Ivory tower

The friends continued shopping, and my interest started waning a bit, or rather, it was caught by something else. A stall exhorting tourists not to buy ivory products in Thailand. I went over, looked at the posters and materials on display, took one each along with a badge I planned to give my nephew, and then tried to speak with the group (a fair mix of guys and girls) manning the counter. But due to the language problem (or should I say ‘ploblem’; mean!), it got lost in translation, or rather, didn’t even get picked up. So, I had to be content with just stuffing the communication in my backpack.

The kiosk at Chatuchak market in Bangkok urging tourists not to buy illegal products

When I came back to the hotel and read it carefully, I was encouraged to read the Thai government’s efforts to reduce the illegal ivory trade. But on reading between the lines, I felt discouraged thinking that they seem to be okay with the “legal ivory trade”. Something told me they sell off ivory from “domesticated” elephants (after killing them of course, once they are past their “expiry date”), and the whole industry of domesticating elephants for entertainment and work / transportation – along with that of tigers, at the in/famous Tiger Temple on the way from Bangkok to Pattaya – is, as any vegan would tell you, cruel in its own way. But again, I was in their country…

Shopping done, and tired to their teeth, the friends decided to move to their next shopping destination, the equally large but ACed Tesco. We hailed a cab, they dozed off in it (I kept my eyes peeled not just because I was in front, but because everything was so new to me; they in contrast were virtual veterans in Thailand by now), and sometime later reached our destination.

Testing times at Tesco

Camel in the desert

When vegan and in a foreign land, you have to become a camel and keep going with what you’ve consumed a while back…

By now, we were famished – I was too; I could only be the Ship of the Vegan Desert for so long – and looked for a place to eat. But what I had faced at Central World the previous evening – food, food everywhere, but not an ounce vegetarian / vegan – all of us faced together. After two rounds and a lot of piercing looking, I spotted a kiosk that offered two variants of vegetarian bun with stuffing, one mushroom, the other plain. F2 was designated the test subject. (F1, non-vegetarian, plays it safe all the time. F2 doesn’t mind accidentally munching non-veg. F3, me, is already battling too much on the food front.) He popped it in, and kept swinging with every chew: “Phew, it’s veg”, “Ew, it’s not”… Neither F1 nor me was going to risk it, and so we decided to head to… McDonald’s. What did I say the first day itself that out of India, you need to survive on fries / potato when veg / vegan?

The grass ain’t greener on the foreign side

It’s only in India, I guess, you look at food through two eyes, or rather, two symbols, a circle within a thin-outlined box, in either of two colours: green (for veg) and red (for non-veg). Outside India, I realised, even in McDonald’s (where in India there are separate cooking sections and separate indicators for the meats and the non-meats), everything is one big menu. I think outside India, if you ask for veg, they will show you the door… to the grazing field. So, fries and orange juice it was. (They seemed to have this option, which they don’t in India, plus I was fed up of Coke.) While refueling, all we could say was, “At night, we really need to eat.” Or better put, at night we need to really eat.

We returned to the hotel, plonked all the bags, rested our aching bodies, decided we needed a good foot massage, and after some rest, headed for just that.

Relaxed body, aching mind

Exterior of Prauw Massage, a popular massage parlour in BangkokWe decided to indulge ourselves and went for a two-hour session instead of one hour as we had originally planned. We leaned back on the easy chairs at Prauw Massage, and gave in. It was only the second time ever I had received a foot massage by a woman (back home, I get a nice head massage by the guy at the saloon once a month when I go for a haircut, and have always felt guys do it better – you need someone tougher to do it on a tougher body and skin, no sexism intended), so I was a bit queasy. But a bigger point of discomfort was the thought: ‘Does the cream have any animal ingredients?’ At the end, due to the language differences and not wishing to irk my friends more than I had seemingly done so throughout the trip with my, or rather, their “Oh, you can’t have this…”, I decided to drop my vegan guard for those two hours. Maybe that’s why the massage wasn’t so restful for me.

Signboard of Aryaa's Restaurant, Bangkok, serving 100% vegetarian foodBy now, our appetites were really worked up, but we had planned it judiciously: Aryaa’s, the veg restaurant from Day 1, was on the floor above. By now, we were familiar faces there (the friends have come there on earlier trips too), and our menu was familiar too. Still, we attempted a couple of new items (one of them “Hyderabad Veg Masala”, which I didn’t seem too hot about), and this time, of course, no rumaali roti for me.

“No thanks” – The sequel

When the food came, and F2 started swirling the Hyderabad Veg Masala to dissipate the trapped heat, I noticed chunks of white in it. Ouch, paneer. ‘What will you do now’, F2’s eyes looked askance. F1, as if, responded with, “It’s okay, let the paneer be and have the gravy…” Ah, that old chestnut. I reminded him, “When I gave up eating non-veg, you would tell me the same thing, and I still wouldn’t…” None of us wanted to have a repeat of the Day 2 friction, so we kept silent, and F2 had most of the experimental dish he had ordered.

A really good night…

We were really bushed, came back, barely exchanged GNs, and crashed. Or at least, they did. I had my multiple packs of Vegemil almond & walnut soymilk to make love to.

This is the penultimate part of a five-part series on how to be vegan in Bangkok, or at least try. Parts one, two, three are linked below. And watch out for the final part tomorrow, which combines Days 5 and 6…

Day 1: All’s Well

Day 2: All’s Not Well

Day 3: Getting One Back

 

 

Ad for Lactasoy soymilk showing all its variants

IrfindingVegan… In Bangkok | Day 3 – Getting One Back

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1 – 1. The score-line read after two days in Bangkok. One day that was good on the vegan front, one day that wasn’t on the friend front. So, which way would day three go? Read on…

Same old, same old

By now, we had slipped into a routine. Wake up, finish ablutions, meet up in F2’s (friend two, vegetarian) room for a breakfast of thepla and khakra. But there’s only so much of T&K you can have. So, we decided to have less of it today and head out for proper breakfast, at Dosa King. We would have brunch of sorts, skipping proper lunch, as we were going with F1 (friend 1, non-vegetarian) to an exhibition he had come to the city for.

Kingly setting, kingly price

Exterior of Dosa King restaurant in BangkokDosa King was nice and spacious, and more decorous than last night’s Bukhara’s, and showed in its prices: breakfast here was as steep as dinner there. But then, your food in a foreign land always costs dearer. (Saravana Bhavan has opened up in Amsterdam recently, and a tumbler of filter coffee there costs… Rs 300.) I asked for upma – I had already had soymilk and the theplas, so was quite full. But I lingered with the menu – it held my attention not just due to the fascinatingly high prices, but because it was entirely visual, that is, every item was mentioned not in a list as in a traditional menu but had images showing the dish in its full finesse. Brilliant strategy: patrons aren’t confused, neither are the Thai staff (while the managers were Indian, many of the serving staff were Thai). The friends had paper and masala dosas. We finished brunch quickly, paid reluctantly, and took a cab speedily.

Nothing to talk about – vegan-wise – at the exhibition as it was one big walk after another, F1 checking out lots of stuff, F2 buying a lot of stuff, and me storing all that stuff as I was the only one with the backpack. There were food-stalls and a café there, but we were too busy and also didn’t want to take a chance.

Villa Market, a supermarket in Soi 11, BangkokBut food was on our mind. On our way back, we decided to stock up on breakfast for the rest of our stay there – we wanted to go beyond the Indian stuff we had brought but didn’t want to have overpriced breakfast that too almost at lunch-time. So, we headed to the nearby supermarket, Villa Market, which was an organic and foreign foods’ paradise. Most fruits looked as big as a watermelon, which was surprisingly missing, so we don’t know how big watermelons are there. As big as a ruby? (Thailand is called the Ruby Capital of the World.) The fruits, not surprisingly, were highly priced too. I am yet to come across three bananas for 80 bucks (am talking INR here), so I passed. F1 bought a lot of red rose apples, all as big as a normal mango in India. And then we hit the cold store section. Paradise.

Soymilk Capital of the World

Actually, first, it was hell – as there was tons of red around. And then in the dairy section, well, tons of dairy. But somewhere in the section, were to be found little rubies for me: packs upon packs of soymilk. Of different brands, sizes and variants. And the price, unlike the fruits, very cheap / reasonable: some 14 bucks, some 30, some 60 (again, INR). So, where Bangkok ODed (for the vegan) on seafood, it made up for in soymilk. I started visualizing settling down there. I heaped in one pack / bottle of each brand / variant – whichever was good, I would come tomorrow for repeats. And then, went into the next aisle… where there were more soymilk brands. I started visualizing settling down in that aisle.

Three variants of Tofusan, a popular Thai brand of soymilk

Into the basket went these. Tofusan (in India, I guess, that would mean ‘Tofuji’, as ‘san’ I understood is a form of respect for males in Thailand) in plain, with sesame seeds, with a tofu sheet (hmm, how would that be?). More Lactasoy. Good old Silk, but without the import price it has in India. And a new brand called Vegemil. It had different variants: almond and walnut (sounded very promising) and a couple of kiddie flavours. I wanted to extend my trip already.

We went back to the hotel, deposited our stash, and they decided to stay in. They were too whacked after all the hopping and shopping and wanted to do very Bangkoky Saturday night things (don’t ask). I wasn’t game, and saying that we could very well do separate / individual things, headed for the nearby mall. They seemed too tired to resist.

Little Arabia, lotta horrors

Soi Arab, the Arab quarter in Sukhumvit, BangkokI didn’t know which mall I’d go to – there were tons on the way – but I started walking. For the heck of it, I decided to walk through the Arab quarter (known locally as Soi Arab), as I was seeing tons of Arabs streaming out of this lane, like they were returning from Mecca. (Umm, I didn’t realise I had a fascination for Arabs; damn Russell Peters.) But big mistake. Watching dead seafood, which we had been doing all throughout, is not as grisly as seeing stripped, naked, beheaded chickens on skewers; taking in overpowering smells of big meats and of strong spices to mask those smells; noticing tossed-out inedible parts, with bits of flesh still sticking… But hey, here I could afford to display my disgust: this wasn’t a Thai space after all. But only a bit: those Arabs are huge, you know.

I came to a big crossing, saw a big mall there (Central World), sensed a big buzz, and decided this is where I’d hang for the evening. There was a weekend market in full swing, of both fashion and food. Mercifully, here, the food didn’t trouble me too much as there were so many competing sights and sounds, from buyers and shopkeepers alike. I waded through some of these stalls, but they seemed very teenyboppery, so decided to enter the main mall.

Hunger strikes at the mall

A few floors up, I started thinking, malls seem to be the same everywhere, just that the brands and buyers are different. And okay, this one is huger than most Indian malls, except the ones at Gurgaon, from what I’ve heard. Five floors up, a book purchase down, and a movie ticket in, I was getting hungry. Remember, I had not really had anything since upma at Dosa King. The top two floors was the food court; yes, two whole floors. I was in luck. Or. So. I. Thought.

Omu, a Japanese restaurant on the food court at Central World mall, BangkokI looked. And looked. And then some more. And couldn’t see beyond seafood, seafood, and more seafood. From all the different South-East Asian countries, and even from China and Japan. And as if this wasn’t enough, there was fusion food from these countries. And for a change from seafood, there was “good” old pizza – all non-veg, of course, so forget vegan – and even steakhouses. I was done in. My face was falling. My spirit was crushing. What would I eat? And no, not fries at McD’s or KFC.

And keeps striking…

I spotted an oasis – a supermarket. I went in and scoured. No relief. I spotted an Indian counter there – Mrs Balbir’s restaurant – but good old Punjabi / Sardarni Mrs Balbir, even if she gives up her butter chicken can’t give up her palak paneer. So, all the veg items there had either paneer or cream. But, wait… No, I don’t want to have samosa either. That too, overpriced.

Big lesson learnt: When vegan in a non-vegan place, prepare to not eat for a long time. Actually, that goes for any place.

At the end, soymilk proved to be the saviour yet again. Spotted Lactasoy (what would I have done without this brand?) in the dairy section, and this time a different flavour: green tea. Paid up, sipped up. Awesome. Made up for all the misfirings, or rather, mis-sightings so far.

All-vegan movie

It was time for the movie. Didn’t have much hope for vegan items here – even in India, popcorn and Coke is my standard order these days – but that would be okay. Lactasoy was still in my senses. And so popcorn and Coke it was; the only difference, super-sized. Just like the fruits at the supermarket.

And the movie? For the situation, the cruelly named and conceived Zootopia, where carnivores and herbivores live peacefully together. That, I guess, can only happen at the movies.

And the score is…

There might have been seafood to the right of me, and red meats to the left of me, but thanks to all the soymilk, and some steadfast determination, the vegan had managed to hold his own in Bangkok. Day 3 was done, and the score-line read 2 – 1. In the vegan’s favour.

A pack of Vegemil Almond and Walnut SoymilkAnd then at night, returning to the hotel room, I had the Vegemil almond and walnut soymilk. Make that 3 – 1. I was definitely returning to the supermarket in the morning for repeats. And then some more.

This is part three of a five-part series on being vegan in Bangkok, or at least trying. Read parts one and two below, and watch out for part four tomorrow…

Day 1: All’s Well

Day 2: All’s Not Well

Directions to (New) Bukhara's restaurant in Bangkok

IrfindingVegan… In Bangkok | Day 2: All’s Not Well…

IrfindingVegan LogoDay 1 had gone vegan-perfect. Now, would Day 2? Well, it didn’t – not food-wise, but otherwise. You’ll see what I mean. And based on the knowledge of that, Day 1 hadn’t gone perfect either – and this time, vegan-wise. You’ll see what I mean too.

Bingeing at breakfast

A serving of theplas with pickle on a plate

Theplas, or how an Indian vegan can survive in Bangkok

I woke up for my first full day in Bangkok, and within a short while, got a text from F2 (vegetarian) checking if we were ready for breakfast in his room. Reminder: the hotel wasn’t serving breakfast, but we had come prepared with Indian snack/breakfast items such as thepla (he), khakra (me) and, ok, American peanut butter. I crunched through a few khakras, but found his theplas much more appetizing: they were soft, moist, and delectable with the chutney the manufacturers had managed to squeeze in next to the vacuum-sealed theplas. Mercifully, F2 had come prepared – he was going to stay back after we left, for a conference, and had got enough for all three of us and even some of the hotel staff.

Breakfast over, we made our plans for the day. F1 (non-vegetarian) was going for some work (this wasn’t all a holiday trip for him either), so F2 and I decided to do the touristy thing and go to Grand Palace.

We met downstairs after a shower and all after an hour or so, and made to the main road. Just as we waited for a cab, I noticed some pigeons pecking away on the ground – the first time I was noticing animal life on the roads and outside here. Agree, it was less than one day in Bangkok, but I hadn’t noticed street dogs or cats or even crows, pigeons, parrots and other avians regular in Indian skies. My friend educated me, “You know, ‘stray’ animals aren’t considered a symbol of an urbanized city in the rest of the world…” So, did Thailand too shoot eat its crows and other birds as well as quadrupeds, as Singapore is known to do, or worse, eat them, I mused…

Piscine birds, piscine everyone

A flock of pigeons in Bangkok Back to the pecking pigeons, I noticed something jaw-dropping: they were pecking at fish pieces. Suddenly, all that I’d known of grainovorous pigeons went flying away with them. Bangkok’s pigeons, at least, the few I had seen, had done the classic Mother Nature thing of adapting to their environments. And evolution seemed to have followed suit: these piggees looked leaner, sharper, meaner than their veggie Indian counterparts. You live and learn, you live and learn…

Fried insects at one of the many street stalls in BangkokIt was going to be a day of further extreme sights, it would seem. For after Grand Palace and Wat Pho, as we started making our way to the pier Tha Tien, with me happy that I had managed to survive on vegan snacks and beverages there (iced tea – actual iced tea, not ice tea; fresh juice; cut fruits – so, when in Bangkok, a vegan becomes a fruitarian), we came across the next level of non-veg “food”: insects. Big, brown grasshoppers, curled-up maggots, and other entomological beings I couldn’t get myself to look at, forget identifying. I bent over, feeling like throwing up, but remembering the cultural lesson from the first day and also realizing I’m the outsider here, steadied myself. Barely had I done so, than there was another display. And then all the strong and sullen (to me) smells from all the sea-food joints at Tha Tien. It seemed people weren’t just going cruising at the pier, they were also indulging in fishing, and then bringing their fresh catch back to the bank to devour immediately, though with seasoning.

With so much non-vegan, non-me smells to endure in one afternoon, I needed some air to feel my senses again. So, we hung at the pier for some time, and just to be doubly sure, for our trip back to the hotel, we took the airy tuk-tuk.

But if you think that was the tough part of the day, it’s still to come…

Duels at dinner

We rested the evening out, and early night, decided to hit town – it was Friday evening after all, and the world and his horny brother seemed to have descended on the City of Angels. I was enjoying trying to identify the different nationalities, in between frequent exhortations of “Boom boom” (that’s not the tuk-tuk, but, urm, calls for “fuk-fuk”). Having taken in enough and not really having eaten properly since breakfast, our insides were firing up. We wanted to try out a different place today – again, Indian; “always safer” in F1’s opinion – and came across a comforting name, Bukhara’s; I guess, related to the many Bukharas back in Bombay. We stepped in, the manager seemed Indian, so more familiarity welcomed us. The place looked elaborately done, but also a bit dark, as if it didn’t want you to notice that the elaborateness was a bit of a show and perhaps hiding a lot of squalor, or seediness, behind. Or maybe I should stop analyzing so much…

The interiors at (New) Bukhara's restaurant in Bangkok

Menus in hand, orders being placed, I started with my standard question, “There is no milk, cream, ghee, butter, etcetera in this, right?” Perhaps because he was hearing me for the second night in a row saying this to the server/manager, F2 thought of helping me out, by informing the manager, “He’s vegan.” At which, the manager piped back to me (all this in Hindi, by the way), “How is it possible to be vegan in today’s day and time…” He already looked shifty and smooth-talking, and now he was acting smart as well. But I prefer not to bite back at once, so I tried a combination of humour and comment with the equally swift rejoinder, “Actually, it’s exactly in today’s day and time that people are going vegan…” But Shifty wasn’t going to rest, it seemed. He paused and came back with, “Then, you can’t have the rumaali roti – it’s got milk in it… and in some places, they even put egg…” I returned with, “Simple, I’ll have the tandoori roti then…”

Fake smiles exchanged with the manager, I turned to F2, seething for having put me through this with his no-doubt well-intentioned gesture. The words came out slowly, “You know, I took over a year to go vegan… To figure out how exactly to deal with situations like this… I know what people typically say… So, I don’t tell them I’m vegan, but rather ask them if the food has got dairy and stuff… I find that a better way to check with people… Only when I feel the person may know what’s vegan – and doesn’t appear smart-assy – do I tell them… Basically, I like to control the communication…” F2 was almost incensed, I could feel – the atmosphere felt as hot as the oven of a tandoori/rumaali roti. Dissed, he just repeated, “Ok, ok, I got it…” F1 tried to calm both us down.

Rumaali roti in making

Lesson learnt: Rumaali roti is not vegan

Things a bit cooler, F1 asked me, “So, what about the (non-vegan) rumaali roti you had yesterday then…” I smiled, paused and replied, “You might remember, when I had turned vegetarian 20 years ago, in the very first year after that, we had gone to our (earlier) favourite bakery and I’d asked for potato chop. Only when it came and I had chomped through more than half of it did I realized that ‘chop’ in any form means a chop of mutton. I typically make most mistakes in my first year since having gone vegetarian/vegan, so I’m okay with it…”

Phew. To douse all the fires at the table, they needed lots of lassi. I wanted to get away from Shifty’s restaurant asap. And the moment I did, I went again to the nearby 7/11 and filled myself with Lactasoy non-dairy soymilk. Thank god for small comforts.

My own mind too calmer now, I did some more thinking, ‘May be, more than controlling the communication, I should aim to handle the communication…’ You live and learn, you live and learn…

This is part two of a five-part series on how can you be vegan in Bangkok, or at least try. Read the first part here: Day 1: All’s Well. And watch out for part three tomorrow…