Chennai: When you think of Chinese, Goan, Italian or Kerala cuisine, vegetarian is the last word that comes to mind. Thinking of a fish-less curry or a pepperoni-less pizza seems absurd. However, this ‘ludicrous’ idea isn’t as bizarre as it may appear. A keen eye can spot pure vegetarian restaurants for these otherwise ‘non-vegetarian’ cuisines scattered across the country.

‘It moves, it crawls, it walks – it has to be on the Chinese menu!’ This stereotype that typifies Chinese food received a jolt when Balasubramani opened Flower Drum, a pure vegetarian Chinese restaurant in the heart of the city.

“People didn’t believe that Chinese food can be 100% vegetarian. It took me nearly two years to convince people to visit my restaurant,” says Balasubramani, who decided to open the restaurant after his Gujarati and Marwari customers in his previous workplace suggested the need for such an eatery.

The vast menu has kept the picky vegetarian in mind at every stage. “We don’t use eggs and our noodles are made of flour. Minimal amounts of MSG are used as vegetarian Chinese doesn’t require much,” says Balasubramani, adding that dishes are tailored to suit Jain preferences also.

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The nine-year-old restaurant in Prince Plaza, Egmore has wooed customers with its large portions, reasonable prices and varied menu which has more than 100 lip-smacking dishes with a few house specialities like Buddha’s delight vegetable and Eight jewel vegetable.

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“The slight Indian flavour to the Chinese dishes makes it better than the food available in other places. Since it is pure vegetarian, we don’t get the smell of non-vegetarian food,” says graphic designer Nidhi Shah, explaining that for families like hers, which visit only vegetarian restaurants, this food joint has given them a taste of Chinese delicacies.

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Interestingly, the large vegetarian community in Poes Gardens led to Dario’s opening a pure vegetarian Italian restaurant.

“We have vegan options for our pastas and pizzas and our cheese is also vegetarian. All our desserts are eggless and the sauces are freshly prepared at our kitchen,” says Suresh Cumar, CEO (Operations), Rama’s F&B Co., adding that their mouth-watering homemade pasta has successfully replaced the pepperoni pizza.

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Goa is best known for its seafood and beaches. But two vegetarian cafés in Panjim, Goa – Café Bhonsle and Café Tato – have earned their credibility because of their authentic Goan cuisine over generations. Their finger-licking bhajis (gravies) like Patal, Sukhi, Tomato, Almi, Usal and Chole with pav (bun) or poori have been favourites among locals and tourists for years now.

“We are known for our chilli bhajiya and banana buns and our food is gelatin-free and eggless,” says the owner Milind Bhonsle whose 95-year-old café is now a landmark in Panjim.

Bhonsle, who owns a non-vegetarian café too, says, “Around 50% of my customers are catholics and they prefer vegetarian Goan food. Over the years, I have realised that 75% of the people prefer vegetarian food over non-vegetarian food here.”

Tucked away in the streets of Pallimukku, Cochin, is a small veggie diner – Ambiswamy’s – serving traditional Kerala Sadhya everyday. “We use red rice instead of white rice while serving Sadhya on the banana leaf everyday,” says owner Bindu Vijaykumar, explaining how even non-vegetarians opt for the Puttu kadalai and Sadhya as it contains less oil and can be had everyday unlike the oily fish curry.

Also, the healthy food and hygienic ambience make it a regular halt for patients visiting the neighbouring Cochin Hospital.

(I had written this piece for the Times of India, Chennai on the occasion of World Vegetarian Day (2015). But due to space constraints few parts of the story were cut out. Here’s the full piece!)


Cut Off : The words I associate with it are solitude, isolation and lonesome. It creates a very vivid picture in my mind of the poem – Solitary reaper – where the lady is bent down, sickle in hand, in the middle of the field. But why do I associate these words with such doleful scenes?

Attaching a positive or negative connotation to a word has always intrigued me. Just like someone once asked, “Why can’t we eat omelette for lunch? Why is it always a ‘breakfast’ item?”

So why do the words ‘Cut Off’ evoke the emotions of sadness? Why does it remind  you of a friend you’ve lost contact with, an ex-boyfriend you have chosen to stay away from or a brother you’ve argued with?

In this post, I want to break away from the conventional.  I write about a time when I am cut-off from the world –  willingly and happily. It is that time when I am feasting on some ghee-dripping aloo parathas or a cheesy thin-crust pizza or slowly biting into a piece of red velvet cupcake.

Yes, I am completely cut off from the world outside and delightfully so. When you bite through a creamy soft layer of chocolate icing and cherish the flavours of the tiniest sprinklers on your palette, you know you are cut off from the world.

At that point of time, you don’t need a friend to share in your happiness. Neither do you need them to give you a pep-talk to finish it. You don’t even need them to just be there.

It’s a bowl of Schezhwan fried rice, a mouth-watering doughnut, a corn-and-peas sub, a greek salad, a plate of nachos with liquid cheese and salsa and YOU. Place your hand on your heart and be honest, wouldn’t you just want to be lost in the experience of tasting a scrumptious meal or would you worry that you don’t have a friend to experience it with you?

For a foodie like me, food is also a getaway from stress. It is the perfect solution to a million problems – from best friend quarrels to boyfriend troubles to workplace drama and household tiffs. It is undoubtedly the solution when you are ‘cut off’.

The smell of hot, crisp dosas, the juicy flavours of a fruit salad or a tub of choco-chip ice cream can make you lose track of the world around you, if you relish each spoon and each bite. If you take in the aroma, hear the crunch, appreciate the colours and gradually let the flavours play in your mouth,  it’s bliss.

It could be in a nice coffee shop, a beach side resort, a posh restaurant or a lavish hotel. It could be beneath your cosy blanket or in your college canteen. It could be in the roadside tea stall or at the paani-puri cart near your house. It could be anywhere and at anytime.

It is still a realm of solitude where it’s just you and no one else. But you have your faithful pomodoro pasta or just a good cup of cappuccino to lend you some company. At that time, you enjoy not just your meal, but also your solitude. Well, you enjoy your solitude because of your meal.

So, the last time I was “Cut Off”, was when the layers of shiny, smooth sugar from the Original Glaze Krispy Kreme doughnut was in my mouth.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Cut Off.”





To me, Chennai is home. It has been home for the last twenty one years. Whether I decide to settle in London or Paris, Bihar or Kerala, Chennai will be my home. But what’s there in Chennai? Why is it synonymous to home?

Well, what Chennai is to me, Delhi or Bombay is to you. My childhood memories, the sights and sounds of Chennai, the people, the history, the culture, the food – that gives it the feel of home.

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