IF YOU are eating methi and palak bhujiya or khichhdi with tori or a barley risotto or air-fried fish and chips or gulping down a high-protein smoothie, you are probably dining at home or are on a diet plan. But what if we told you that it’s possible to eat tori at one of Mumbai’s hippest restaurants and that the fat-free fries are from a café in Delhi or the smoothie has been delivered to you from an online venture, or that you can get a vegan or calorie-counted dabba delivered to your office every day?
Eating out in India, generally associated with special occasions, unlike the West where people eat out on a daily basis, means food that is rich and heavy, and unlike what you normally eat at home. But that’s slowly changing, and if some restaurants do offer healthier options, there are some that offer just healthy food. It’s important to understand the difference between health food and healthy eating here. For instance, healthy food will not be just fruits, veggies and the like, but can even be French fries that are baked instead of being fried. And not just restaurants, even online ventures deliver food that is healthy and nutritious, besides dabba services that promise health, nutrition, vegan and more.
Popular restaurants like The Bombay Canteen and Masala Library have veggies like tori and karela on the menu. “New-age cuisine is no longer about who can make the swankiest dish, but about being smart with ingredients, which are sourced locally from your market. The inspiration and philosophy behind The Bombay Canteen is to celebrate the wonders of Indian cuisine. So we decided to put local and seasonal ingredients on the menu, closest to the time that they are in season so they are the best-quality,” says chef Floyd Cardoz of The Bombay Canteen (TBC).
The menu is testament to the celebration of local and fresh ingredients. For instance, a vegetable curry has robust and ‘meaty’ vegetables that are otherwise under-utilised, such as kathal and kohlrabi. In another dish, bathua fills in for spinach and green peas are substituted by green tuvar.
“Our food philosophy at TBC is the same as what our families followed in our homes for years—using what’s available in the market at its peak. In our kitchen, we insist on using what’s in season, as that is when the flavour and price are at their best. This is food we love to eat and what our daily tiffins are based on. So using us is like being at home without the work—staying home by going out,” says chef Cardoz.
At Pluck, one of the restaurants at Pullman Hotel in Aerocity, New Delhi, they take things a step further by growing food right inside the restaurant. Guests can actually choose the veggies they want to eat from the garden and get them cooked right there and then. Culinary director Ajay Anand proudly shows us around his patch of greenery, which has herbs, gourds, brinjals, ladyfinger, leafy greens, tomatoes and much more. “Most herbs used come from the garden. We pluck fresh vegetables as per the season and plan the menu accordingly,” says chef Anand, adding, “Low-calorie options with fresh and seasonal produce on the menu take care of those who want to eat out yet watch what they are eating.”
At Masala Library, Zorawar Kalra tells us how the tasting menu is carefully portioned and calorie-counted, so that guests don’t feel bloated after a meal.
At Getafix, a restaurant in south Delhi, the kitchen does not have a deep fryer, but several air fryers instead. Use of pre-processed and packaged goods is minimum. The burgers and pizza are made of wheat flour with added flax and pumpkin seeds. The desserts minimise on white sugar and use alternatives like jaggery. The juices are slow-pressed and freshly squeezed; the smoothies are blended with frozen yoghurt made in-house and all dips and sauces are freshly made. As the menu proclaims, it’s a revolution and they are among those heralding it. “Our basis for the idea was to start a place where you would be able to eat all your favourite dishes, but in a healthier version—an alternative to unhealthy eating,” says Aanandita Chawla, who runs the café with her brother Dhruv Chawla. “We were very enthusiastic about creating a place where people got nutrient values out of food. So we created a restaurant that didn’t make eating out a punishment to your heath, or eating healthy a punishment for your tastebuds.”
Restaurants apart, there are several food delivery services that focus on health. In Pune, animal rights activist Anuradha Sawhney is brewing a quiet dietary revolution in lunch boxes with a vegan dabba service. She packs whole wheat snacks, crispies made from oats and jaggery instead of sugar, chivdas made of brown rice, jowar roti, ragi pancakes, spinach with ginger, amla drinks and so on.
“I have observed an interesting trend. While overall demand has grown tremendously in the past two years, we have a lot of youngsters ordering our tiffins who are looking to eat healthy and not just because they are vegan. Earlier, we mostly got orders from older people who had been told by their doctors to go on a vegan diet to reverse their diabetes or lower cholesterol or just to lose weight. Demand for vegan lunches are coming from even outside Pune. Large corporates also want us to set up vegan food bases in their offices,” says Sawhney, adding, “My pursuit of veganism was born out of my own need and experience. High-cholesterol, triglycerides, hypertension and high sugar levels drove me to seek alternatives. It was only when I turned to the right kind of vegan food, along with light exercises, that my condition was reversed,” she tells us.
Some online ventures like Eatonomist, which is a Gurgaon-based food start-up providing calorie-counted gourmet meals, are spreading the health revolution further.
Meals from Eatonomist do not include any preservatives. Freshly-made sauces help them walk the fine line between healthy and tasty. A brainchild of two young women, Anisha Dhar and Nupur Talwar, the venture was born from their personal need for healthy lunch options while at work.
Another delivery service in Gurgaon, Zoe, is dedicated to healthy food for working professionals. They make and deliver cold-pressed juices, smoothies, vegan frappes and healthy meals. The mantra, ‘add satisfaction, not calories’ seems to be becoming a war cry.
With Geeta Nair in Pune