Cover pic for this post, with Meena Tai in the logo saying, "Baseline mangta..."

Irfanvertising | Meena Tai’s, Meena Tags

Irfanvertising LogoAs an ad guy and a branding- and logo-lover, I not surprisingly find myself scrutinizing the same in ads I view. And as an ad consultant, I often find myself emphasizing the need for this to potential clients. However, perhaps because the potential clients at my level and stage of working – I started out on my own just about a year ago, that too in an Indian metro not really known for its ad industry (Chennai), compared with the earlier metro I was in, which is considered the Mecca of Indian advertising (Bombay / Mumbai) – are “relatively small”, I find them not quite getting the necessity of having a baseline to emphasize their promise to their potential customers, or at the very least, to accentuate their branding.

So, when I get a chance to come up with the baseline / tagline of a brand, that too of a category I love (food / hospitality), that too for a restaurant I have been to, loved and blogged about, how can I pass up the opportunity?

The logo for Meena Tai's, the newly opened Maharashtrian restaurant in ChennaiThus, when the relatively new upscale Maharashtrian restaurant, Meena Tai’s, announced a tagline contest on its FB page, I dove right in. Into my scribbling pad. I sweated and swotted over it for a few days, then as the end date approached, decided to go for gold by not just putting it in the comments section of the post as most folk seemed to be doing, but creating a PPT for it. Complete with a ToC, notes, routes (Maharashtra-based, Tai-based, Maharashtra- and Tai-based, Marathi-based), and yes, even an end Thanks slide. Any surprise then… that I ended up winning!?! That, and the fact that I love the restaurant, and was born and have lived in its source state for the better part of my life.

Below are some of my entries, the one that won, links to the blog posts I’ve done on it (from a vegan perspective, of course) and the site’s own links. Check them out while I go do nom-nom. The prize is a dinner for two.

A few of my entries for the Meena Tai's tagline contestThe acknowledgement post for my winning entry for the Meena Tai's tagline contest

The first of my two blog posts on Meena Tai’s, this one a prologue: Meena Tai’s – Prologue

The second of my two blog posts on Meena Tai’s, this one the main post: Meena Tai’s – Vegan / Friendly

Meena Tai’s on FB: MeenaTais

Meena Tai’s on the web, or should I say, bheb: meenatais.com

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 the text 'On1y The Best', the 'On1y' formed using the On1y logo
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.

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