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
So, 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
I 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
Step 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
She 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
There 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).
I 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.
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