As a college student in Ahmedabad in the early ’80s, Himanshu Desai, 53, from Navsari, was stumped by the unavailability of non-vegetarian food in the city, except for a few run-down places in the older (eastern) part of Ahmedabad. “That changed only after 1999, when a slew of non-vegetarian eateries sprang up in the western part of the city. When I moved back last year, I saw that the food scene hadn’t really changed much even if a few Subways and McDonalds have opened,” he says. Desai launched
Sandwichworkz, a fusion street cafe in Vastrapur, last September, where every second item is non-vegetarian.
Food in Ahmedabad is more of a socio-cultural marker than a gastronomical experience. The city in the past has shown zero tolerance for meat-eaters, forcing even multinational giants like KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) to buckle under its strict vegetarian code. In 2011, when the American food company launched at a high-end mall in the city, local residents, a majority of who were Brahmins, Patels and Jains, staged a protest. After weeks of stalemate, the brand placated them by including different coloured uniforms for staff members who would serve vegetarian and non-vegetarian items, besides separate counters, cooking areas, oils and even utensils. Pizza Hut and Subway chains too were forced to open their “only all-vegetarian” outlets in Ahmedabad.
The city’s ‘meat politics’ harks back to the ’60s. “At that time, there was a huge movement against cow slaughter and this is still the only region where on certain Jain festivals, the slaughterhouses are compelled to remain closed. It speaks of the economic dominance of the Jain community living here. Despite their small numbers, they are very influential,” says Ghanshyam Shah, a city-based sociologist and political scientist. The restrictions saw the number of slaughterhouses and eateries serving non-vegetarian food dwindle. Shah speaks of his own experience in 2004 of buying eggs packed surreptitiously in a black polythene cover in Ambawadi, a neighbourhood dominated by upper caste Jains, which had several Jain temples in the vicinity. Things have improved since.
In those days, in post-riot Gujarat, it was difficult going