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, using a part of the Social Beat Digital Chai pe Charcha ad and my text

Irfanvertising | On the ‘Social Beat’

Irfanvertising LogoLogo of Chennai-HQed social-media agency, Social BeatSocial Beat is a, or even, the leading social media agency in Chennai. They’ve handled digital marketing (DM) and social media marketing (SMM) for clients ranging from start-ups to conglomerates. But that isn’t why I’m talking about them. And no, I don’t consult with them either.

The Digital Chai pe Charcha post for Content MarketingOnce a month or so, since January this year, Social Beat has been organizing these DM / SMM chat sessions called Digital Chai pe Charcha (DCPC). These are open to all and free of charge. (Why, Social Beat even sponsors beverages and biscuits for attendees.) Each session is around a chosen topic – which they publicize for about 10 days or so before the session – and goes on for about 1-1.5 hours. So far, there have been sessions around content marketing (one of my areas, which I ironically missed as I was out of the city / country), digital advertising, Instagram, ROI on DM (Social Beat’s baby, as ‘ROI’ is there in their baseline too, and thus obviously what their agency focuses on), and the first one was a generic one.

The sessions are beneficial for multiple, though perhaps expected, reasons: networking, knowledge-sharing and gaining, and in my case, refreshing. I had taken up a course in DM from NIIT about a couple of years ago when I started working in a digital agency. However, I didn’t start applying the knowledge until I started off on my own. These sessions at Social Beat thus act like monthly checkpoints, showing me how much more I know since yesterday or the last time and what gaps I need to fill. And even where I don’t seem to know much (like with the Instagram and ROI sessions), I still seem to end up being quite a vocalizer, as I am then eager to know more, or even all.

Logo for On1yDCPC has also been good as it has led to one work, or rather showcase, opportunity. I blog a lot about vegan stuff (under the series, IrfindingVegan). So, when Social Beat organized a food bloggers’ meet for On1y, a brand of gourmet herbs, spices and seasonings, I requested them to accommodate me, although I don’t really consider myself an “influencer”. (I don’t have too many followers on my blog, but that’s because I blog about several things – which is what my blog tagline says too – and I’m okay with this.) The good folk at Social Beat (am connected with most of the senior folk on social media) were kind enough to do so, and I eventually found myself at The Raintree, Anna Salai one Friday, first listening to a presentation about On1y and then tasting some fine dishes sprinkled with their range. I of course touched only the vegan dishes. Happily enough, all of On1y’s range is vegan.

The sessions seemed to have served their purpose for Social Beat too. I’m guessing they initiated this to be seen as thought leaders / experts in what they do, network with potential clients and other professionals, and provide a forum for DM / SMM / start-up discussions.

Not surprisingly then, I look forward to these sessions, and ever since they started being held on a Saturday evening (as against Friday evening earlier), it’s become even easier to go for them. Last time, they even asked us what we’d like to discuss next. Some suggestions that came up were influencer marketing, growing a brand organically on DM / SMM, handling negative comments (trolling) on SMM. I can’t wait.

A pic from the first Digital Chai pe Charcha session

A pic from the first Digital Chai pe Charcha session. Me at the back in blue. And trust me never to be looking at the camera.

And oh, why did I pen this piece? Is it some form of content marketing for them? (No, don’t think they need it, although any positive press never hurts.) Work opps from them or other professionals and clients coming there? (Nah, the info coming from there is precious enough for now, though again, chats with potential clients and new connects never hurt either.) Well, simply to return the favour. I don’t like freeloading.

And that’s not why I don’t touch the beverages and biscuits. One’s unhealthy and the other unvegan. But then again, the sessions are refreshment enough.

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
The back/reverse of my visiting card

Irfanvertising: Well, Advertising Myself

Irfanvertising LogoIrfanvertising, as most people who follow this blog and especially this series would know, is where I discuss and comment on most things advertising: from branding to design, with special love for logos. Well, just this once, I’ll be talking about my own.

My website for my profile as a writer and ad consultant is now live, and yesterday, got my visiting card made too. Designed it myself (while I’m basically a writer/copywriter, do have a visual sense – coming from being in a creative field – and also do some basic design from time to time). And here I shall be talking of the thought – communicative and visual – that I put into it.

Messagevertising

The key element in any bit of communication is the message. My message, or rather my philosophy/motto/slogan/credo as a writer and ad guy is: Insight. Simplicity. I try and look for a key insight to tap into for any communication and then like to keep the communication simple (though no less effective; but when you do both, it pretty much ends up being effective). Since those initials are the same as those in my name (ok, ok, that’s why I chose them), it also ends up being tied very very integrally to me and my work.

Visualvertising

How do you depict ‘Insight, Simplicity’? I like certain colours, which proved to work well for my philosophy. Grey for ‘insight’, coming as it does from your grey cells. White for ‘simplicity’, for obvious reasons. And a nice, vibrant blue (specifically turquoise) to hold these together. (Blue is my favourite colour, coming from belonging to the water-bearer sign, I guess.)

My work philosophy: Insight. Simplicity.

Mine is not a company and I don’t intend to initially use my name as a brand name (though, like most people in the creative field, I would love if it becomes so). So, I didn’t want to create a logo out of my name, or as typically happens, out of the initials. (You know, CK, DK, name initial-surname initial.) But I wanted a graphic element – as a visual element on the card and also something I could use as a device or hook later if needed. But what could it be?

Graphic depicting how the dartboard idea led to the creation of a visual element for my visiting cardInsight and simplicity. Together they help you be bang-on. So, hey, a dart-board. But since it’s been used in communication since almost the hieroglyphics, I decided to graphicize it, giving it edges rather than keeping it round. Also kept only two circles (for simplicity) and from the same brand colours (blue-white-grey).

Visual element of part of graphicized dartboard in the top-right corner of my visiting card designBut again, as I didn’t want to use it full-on at the start, have tucked it away into a top corner, as only a visual element for now. If later, I want to use it as a full-blown icon, I’ll move it from its present position to something more centre-stage. When for instance, I make the next 100 cards.

Designvertising

Visual design is one thing. Design – that is, useable design – is another. I had been looking at visiting cards closely for the past few months. And became fairly clear of one thing: while having a very creative card – folds, holes, shapes, and other whoops and whistles – is very cool, it should also be easy to handle.

Photo of a corporate man putting a visiting card into his suit pocket

I wanted it to be easy to zip out and give to the other person and wanted the other person to find it easy to put it into their pocket/wallet (the only places I wanted it to be), rather than they first wowing at the cool card I have with three strings and two folds that they now have to wonder where to put on their person/baggage. User-friendly, in short. And practical: less time engaged in an element of the transaction and more time involved in the actual transaction.

Readyvertising

Front (obverse) and back (reverse) of my visiting card design

Here then is the final product. My name, profile and essential contacts on the front (though with a couple obscured for this space), with a corner of the graphicized dartboard peeking in from above. The back has offsetting turquoise with my message, and the work-related social media contacts below.

Now, time to go networking and hand these out.

Logo of Chennai's first weigh-and-pay restaurant, Weigh-Out

IrfindingVegan: Weighing and Eating

IrfindingVegan Logo

IrfindingVegan has been about finding vegan eateries and products and writing about them, mostly in a good light (but that could be because most vegan stuff has good light). However, I’ve decided to extend its scope now. No, not because it’s difficult to find vegan options in a country like India, where while a good part of the populace is vegetarian, many parts are still to even register the concept of ‘veganism’. (Or maybe that’s why: As food, and religious, lines are divided very strongly along the habits/practices of vegetarianism/non-vegetarianism, it’s difficult for a third option to find a squeak in.) Even a city like Chennai, where I stay, while known for its veggie fare, has only three all-vegan restaurants. (But this could be because the city loves its curd and ghee too much to know any other way of life.)

Anyway, I felt the urge to extend the scope of this series because being vegan, if you take it intently, turns out to not so much about eating vegan but about living vegan. Living pure, living frugally, living consciously, and in the case of this post, consuming consciously (rather than conspicuously), and therefore wasting minimally.

Let’s start weighing

Newspaper ad for Weigh-OutSo, last week, after seeing its ad in the papers for a week, I visited Weigh-Out, an all-day buffet restaurant where you don’t pay for food by the menu but by the weight. Going by the ad, it seemed to be close to my ex-office. So, I figured it would be easy to locate. I couldn’t be wronger.

Weighing Google Maps

The actual location of Weigh-OutI Google-mapped it before going, on getting there (to the area), and even after getting there, but just couldn’t spot it. As per G Maps, it seemed to be in a small hotel, which is right next to my ex-office building, but as I knew this hotel well, knew it couldn’t be there, but still went in. And was told the same by the manager. Stepped out, and going by the address, felt I should try the opposite side. Did so, and there it was. (That in the image taken from Weigh-Out’s FB page is the actual location.) Moral of the story: Don’t trust Google Maps too much.

Weighing the exteriors…

The building looks new and spanking, and it’s got the Weigh-Out boards on all road-facing sides. So, you can’t miss it – that is, once you junk G Maps and look the old-fashioned way.

And the interiors

Part of the interiors at Weigh-OutStep in, and it’s quite spacious. Or maybe because it’s new, not many know of it yet. I look around inquisitively, and a lady comes up to me. I guess she’s the owner. Guess confirmed.

Weighing the concept

A patron weighing his filled-up plate at Weigh-OutShe explains the concept to me. “It’s only a buffet, an all-day buffet. You get a card, take a plate, fill up, and go to weigh the filled-up plate at the weighing counter. The guy there swipes the card, informs you how much (by weight) is on your plate. You eat to your fill, but obviously need to weigh and swipe with each filling. At the end, you go and pay for the final weight/amount.”

This wasn’t so easy to understand when she explained it. I’ve made it easier (hopefully) after going through one cycle during my visit. And I guess they factor in the weight of the plate.

Weighing the price

In their ads too, they say it’s 70p/gram. So, I ask her how much a typical bill for one comes to. She tells me that if you eat well, it comes to 400ish. Mine came to a bit above that. But I was hungry that day.

Weighing her response to “I’m vegan”

I inform her I’m vegan, and then proceed with my typical assessment of whether the other person understands what that means. We almost make a game of it. Earlier, I had asked her name, tried to spell it, and almost got it correct, just interchanging two letters (‘Buelah’ instead of ‘Beulah’). So, ask her to tell me what she knows of vegan food. She gets it right. Weigh-Out 1, IrfindingVegan 0.75. (Hey, ‘u-e’ is good enough.)

Weighing the vegan fare

A view of the vegetarian section at Weigh-OutThere is enough vegan fare, and some non-standard options, such as baingan (brinjal/eggplant/aubergine) wedges and nutty pulao. I fill up my plate with some salads (aloo/potato chat and spicy peas), the baingan wedges, gobi/cauliflower manchurian, noodles, and two varieties of rice (nutty pulao and veg biryani).

A view of the desserts' section at Weigh-OutI have a perfunctory look at the desserts’ section, and am not surprised: apart from cut fruits, there’s nothing vegan (but obviously). So, skip them. I also don’t have much of a sweet tooth.

Weighing the taste

The chat’s a bit spicy, but palatable; but the spicy peas are too spicy and tangy for my taste. The wedges are not very oily and give the taste of both the baingan and the besan (gram flour) in equal measure. The noodles too are nicely between crunchy and soft, and go perfectly with the equally perfectly-done manchurian. The biryani again is a bit too spicy for my palate. But the winner is the nutty pulao: everything in the right measure – nuts, sweet, salt, spice, oil.

The food overall has a taste that reminds me of something, but I’m not able to get my tastebuds on it just yet. So, decide to do a refill with most of the first-round items, but leaving out the very spicy peas, and this time, there are two new items: sautéed broccoli and daal without the cream, which the owner has had made specially for vegan me.

Getting the taste

I’m glad she made the daal, because that, and the second round, helped me nail where I’d tasted this kind of food before. It’s the distinct taste of Bengali food, which while leaning toward the sweeter side, also has the right blend of salt, oil and spices, and of course, baingan. (Bongs seem to love this king of vegetables as much as they love the king of fish, the hilsa. Their favourite way of cooking it, the brinjal, is frying – it’s called baegoon bhaaja – so, the wedges were a noticeable change. Their favourite way of cooking the hilsa is… hey, ask a Bong; I’m vegan, remember?)

Checked this (whether the chef is Bengali) with the owner after paying my bill, and again she confirmed it. Incidentally, further down in the same area, there are several Bengali messes, serving more humble Bengali fare. So, did the chef come (graduate) from there? Maybe I’ll find out next time.

Weighing Weigh-Out

Neat-tasting food. Decently priced. Amiable ambience. So, will it work? Let’s weigh what it’s got…

Location: This initially seems an obstacle. It’s in a commercial area with several other mainstream restaurants, but maybe that’s why it will work: upwardly mobile office-goers who want a decent-sized meal but with some space and quiet. And this is confirmed by the second point.

Concept: Would the concept itself work, or as I asked her at the beginning, “Is it too ambitious for a conservative place like Chennai?” She replied that they are aimed at people who want decent-tasting food and don’t like wasting or overordering, and she seems to be having quite a few people showing interest so far.

“Tension-eating”: This isn’t eating in a hurry or eating out of a psychological condition, but like this… Quite a few times during my meal, I kept on thinking, ‘I just ate 50 bucks’ more worth’, ‘Now, I ate 75 bucks’ worth’, ‘There goes 125’. I was counting my morsels the way many people count calories. It seemed tension-inducing. The last thing you want when eating a nice meal. Or was that just me?

Positioning: Again, this could just be the ad-guy me, or maybe not. While weigh-and-eat is an innovative concept, is it a sustainable one? Do we go to a place for how less it, and you, waste, or how good the food tastes? (Well, as I said at the beginning, maybe if you’re vegan.) Guess we’ll have to weight, er, wait this one out…

If interested, visit their Facebook page (from where I’ve taken the pix): Weigh-Out on Facebook

IrfindingVegan Logo

IrfindingVegan: The VeganeR ConfirmeR

It’s the first… It’s not… It’s 100% vegan… It’s not…

Ever since I visited and blogged about “Chennai’s first and only 100% vegan eatery”, Café Kripa, there has been some debate about that qualification. The owner of Café Kripa herself said she was the second, and so did one of my Facebook friends. Now, I’ve been to the other restaurant they were referring to, right when it opened, had checked the menu, confirmed with the manager, and thus could say with 100% surety, Kripa was actually the first. But just to settle any niggling doubts, I decided to return to the other.

BeginneR…

Veganer opened sometime around November last year, at the cusp of Shafee Mohammed Road and Khader Nawaz Khan Road, in the heart of Chennai, the latter locality being the city’s poshest, with high-end brands having upscale stores there. I went for lunch there just once, remarked that the place was really huge, though in the basement (or maybe that’s why), but also a bit dark (again, due to the basement), and remember wondering how they’d manage with such high rentals and such niche cuisine. I also remember remarking, and sharing with the manager, that the menu didn’t seem entirely vegan. He admitted to it and said that’s why they’ve named themselves such, as in “veganish”.

Entrance of the earlier Veganer

LateR…

When I passed by there recently, I noticed the place had given way to a pure seafood restaurant. There, I knew it couldn’t last there. And then, got to know a few days later, that it’s opening up shop not very far from my house. (Is Veganer following me, as some sort of karma?)

AdvertiseR

To step aside just a bit, ad-and-creative-consultant me likes their name and logo. Will write about this separately, but for now, am playing around with it in this piece. RevelleR?

Cafe Veganer logo

ReturneR

So, late last week, to settle the debate, I decided to make my way to Veganer again. The glow-board did proclaim: 100% vegetarian/vegan. As I made it up to the first floor, saw posters explaining the vegan lifestyle and its benefits. So, had Veganer actually turned 100% vegan?

BrighteR

I stepped in, and was pleasantly surprised at how bright this version was. It had a full-size glass window that looked outside to the busy road, light/white-coloured interiors, and a smaller size than the earlier avatar, thus reflecting light around. (In fact, the only thing dark here seemed the black outfit of the serving staff.) It was growing on me.

ManageR

I was the only one that early on a week night. So, everyone focused their eager attention on me. (Felt like a king.) The manager, Karthi, came over, and he seemed the same manager as at the earlier location, which I confirmed within a minute.

Time to settle the debate.

ConfirmeR

Veganer. Is. And. Was. 100%. Vegan.

However, when they started, perhaps due to the fact that veganism is in its early days in India, they had made some “inadvertent errors” in writing and communication. They had written ‘paneer’ (cottage cheese) in the menu in some places, and when asked, had reaffirmed that it is dairy paneer and not plant (soy) paneer. Now, they seem to have tightened the loose ends. The menu doesn’t bear mention of, nor actually have, any animal ingredients. The paneer is definitely tofu. In fact, the only mention of a non-vegan ingredient is honeymoon sauce, but that’s just the fun name; it doesn’t contain honey.

MonickeR?

In fact, Veganer has gone the whole-hog (maybe I should use non-animal ingredients in my text too; so, whole-log?) vegan. Even the plates are melamine, not the usual fine-bone-china ones you find in almost all restaurants. And I’m fairly sure the chairs were made of faux leather too. If so, well done. Think I figured out the real meaning behind the name. It’s more than vegan: it’s veganer.

WelcomeR

While I took my interrogation with Karthi further, they served me a welcome drink. Made of musk melon and pineapple, it was conversation-stopping. I asked for another, and they gladly obliged. I decided not to appear greedy, so stopped before my tongue called for a third. Also, I wanted to save space for the other items.

SnackeR

As they have just started off here (you can consider this its relaunch), like most new restaurants, they have a limited menu, of some snacks and a few meal combos, though will go full-up in two weeks or so. Not in the heart for a meal, I asked him to make a recommendation. His suggestion, falafel and hummus, seemed a safe bet.

ComplimenteR

In the meantime, we continued chatting – about the scope, owners, plans, response – though he excused himself from time to time to supervise my order… and also to get me another complimentary item: nachos with some tomato/salsa sauce. Quite tongue-teasing. Didn’t get ingredient-hunting here as this wasn’t on my menu. Also, I was wondering if they were thinking I’m a food reviewer. (Now felt even more autocratic.)

OrdeR

My order arrived. The falafels were nice and crunchy, and the hummus – light and soft – served as the perfect antidotal dip. There was some other sauce and a couple of julienned vegetables, but I was already getting a bit full, with the three complimentary items.

The falafel-and-hummus dish at Veganer

It Gets BetteR…

Meal complete, and deciding to come there again soon, though with a more pliant stomach, I asked for the bill. And then, they unleashed their final complimentary item. Thayir saadham (curd rice), a South-India staple, made of peanut curd. Seriously, veganers (hey, I’d started adopting their coinage) and even some non-veganers would not be able to tell the difference. I then realised that all their complimentary items were more satisfying than the one I ordered. Or was it just because I had to pay for that one?

BloggeR, RevieweR

Impressed, I departed but not without pulling out my phone and showing my blog and the vegan reviews therein, adding that while I’d of course be coming back soon, I’d be reviewing them sooner. (That way, I guess I’m also secretly hoping for more free treats next time.)

Er…

Veganer is still getting not just its restaurant into place, but also its digital presence. So, while it has a website, it seems to be revamping it due to the several changes it’s had since its inception, and so has only a screen announcing the new location. Also, no Facebook or Twitter page. (Gasp.) But they are working on it, Karthi shared. Here, for what it’s worth, is their renovation-in-progress website: http://www.veganer.co.in/

FindeR?

Finally, they are located in Shanthi Colony, Anna Nagar (West), opposite Gangotree Sweets. You can note the address and contact details on the splash screen on their site or the image here.

Splash screen on the Veganer website displaying the new location

Final ConfirmeR

As for the nomenclature, let’s just put it this way. Café Kripa is the “city’s first and only 100% vegan café”, and Veganer is the “first and only 100% vegan restaurant”. And now, I can really state both with 100% authority.