One of the vital reasons why the Marwari community has been so successful in business is its sharp business acumen and risk-taking and adaptable nature. Wherever Marwaris have stayed, they have and evolved and adapted themselves to become an integral part of the community and have even tweaked their community rules to suit their own. Their food habits are no exception! Although the foodscape in Kolkata has always been diverse, the urban populace— including Marwaris—is undergoing a swift change in their food tastes. Along their love for regional cuisine served at home, they are open to trying global food options outside home and enjoying it too. Global cuisine is gradually becoming a consistent food option for them.
The city of food lovers
Kolkata is also known as the city of food lovers. But if you think Kolkata is a food destination because of its cosmopolitan nature, think again! A large part of the Marwari community lives here and prefers eating out frequently, especially the next generation. Restaurant owners admit that while curating a new global menu or planning for food festivals, they consider vegetarian options to cater to the large Marwari populace. Murali Krishnan CMO and co-founder, Wow! Momo, the Indian fast food chain that originated from Kolkata, states, “According to a recent study of National Family Health Survey, nearly 32 per cent Indians are vegetarians and no restaurant can leave that chunk of the population isolated. I strongly believe that if a great restaurant has to survive and cater to the larger diaspora in India, it has to have sumptuous veggie delights.” Abhishek Kajaria, founder of Hammer and Octa, two of the most popular dining spots, seconds this. “We are known for our innovative and fusion global cuisine. Recently, we launched the Bengali fusion menu on the occasion of Bengali New Year. However, despite Bengali cuisine being primarily nonvegetarian, we had a complete set of vegetarian items on the menu. After all, a large part of our consumers is vegetarian.”
Serving vegetarian European street food lies at the very foundation of Piccadilly Square. Pooja Baid, founder and chief mentor, is completely gung-ho about running a vegetarian café in the city. “I have never felt any dissatisfaction in running a vegetarian café. In fact, there is a lot more to explore in the spectrum of vegetarian foods itself and a majority of food lovers are open to global cuisine.” The bistro was conceptualised in 2008 to introduce egg-free waffles, crepes, pancakes, gelato and other European favourites without compromising its authentic taste. Over the years, these signature dishes have received tremendous love and appreciation from both vegetarian and non-vegetarian guests. Sandeep Sehgal, owner of Broadway Hotel, agrees that having vegetarian choices in the menu is a preferred option as even non-vegetarian guests prefer vegetarian dishes sometimes. Besides, around 35 per cent of our visitors are pure vegetarian.
Pizza at Picadilly Square
Professor, writer and food historian Ranjini Guha insists that initially, eating out was dominated by the Bengali crowd that is largely non-vegetarian. However, in the context of more Marwari population eating out in restaurants, there is a massive shift being witnessed on the food landscape. “With an increasing footfall of clients keen to try innovative vegetarian dishes, eateries are developing a special vegetarian fare. Many of them are moving away from the commonplace dal makhni and palak paneer by choice and introducing vegetarian innovations specially curated by celebrated chefs,” she states. There are several, newly opened cafes catering to these options and are doing quite well in business. It seems that the fine dining and fast food chains are dominated by the vegetarian crowd, mostly Marwaris, and so not having vegetarian options in the city is not acceptable. Saloni Jhunjhunwala, partner, The Salt House agrees. “A large part of our clientele is also turning towards healthier vegetarian options, especially with the augment of pro-vegetarianism and veganism.” The same sentiment is echoed by Amrita Annie of Panchamer Adda, another popular cafe in the city. “Our pizza margarita and Italian eggplant arancini or bread stuffed mushroom are equally popular as our non-vegetarian items,” she says.
Gautam Purkayastha, partner at Tamarind, a coastal cuisine restaurant, known for its non-vegetarian coastal food says that despite serving non-vegetarian south Indian food, they have to serve vegetarian items on the menu thanks to the city’s vegetarian crowd who prefers eating out. The mandate for vegetarian meals is getting stronger with time. For instance, Wow! Chicken curated a special menu at the time of its launch, and introduced a range of veggie delights like cheese coins, vegetarian snack jacks and grilled loaders. These food options are becoming a rage with the city’s population.
Setting new food trends
So the question arises: Are Marwaris setting new trends in food or is turning vegetarian a lifestyle choice for many. Saloni Jhunjhunwala chooses to reply with, “Kolkata is a city that houses diverse communities so it is difficult to pinpoint exactly but it seems more of the Marwari, Gujarati and the Jain populations prefer these vegetarian meals.” Pooja Baid agrees that though the trend is not community-based, being a vegetarian is becoming a lifestyle choice. “The turn towards vegetarianism is a lifestyle change. The motivation behind this transition is backed by a strong conviction that makes it unlike other fad diets.” Dietician Mayanka Singhal agrees that it is a matter of choice. In a few places, the vegetarian crowd is cautiously treading the path even as some eateries are introducing mock meat in their menu. “We have launched mock meat called vegican nuggets in our menu as an alternative to chicken nuggets,” admits Murali Krishnan in his ending note. The food option is growing to become a trend and is here to stay.