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Catering to Jain palate

Dishes without onions, garlic and root vegetables are slowly catching up in some restaurants in the twin cities

IF YOU have your favourite paneer butter masala, vegetable makhanwala, vegetable shahi korma, veg noodles, veg fried rice cooked in Jain style you may perhaps not realise the difference till you are told that these dishes are sans onions, garlic and maybe carrots and potatoes. If you visit some restaurants in Mumbai or travel on some international flights or undertake any of the ship cruises you would have noticed on the food preferences a Jain option along with veg and non-veg food. This Jain food option is slowly catching on in the twin cities as few restaurants are serving it.

Let's put your worry about what it is to rest. Simply put, it is food without onions and garlic and root vegetables. Such a diet may be unthinkable for many. But several Jains adhere to these food habits strictly. Followers of Mahavira, the Jain community believes in non-violence and leading a lifestyle, which does not harm anyone including plants. So they do not eat vegetables, which grow below the ground lest the insects get killed when the vegetables are removed. Even the brinjal, which grows above, is not preferred as it has insects inside.

We have heard of the three qualities rajasik, tamasik and satvik and the food we eat determines the quality of our mind and the body. In simple terms, satvik food is ideal for maintaining this. And Jain food is satvik. Simple (not too austere) and just enough to nourish the body, Jain food ensures a healthy body and mind.

With vegetarianism gaining ground and the veggie brigade increasing, restaurateurs are offering more veg options or opening veg places. Hotel Quality Inn Residency is one of the few places, which goes out of the way to make Jains comfortable. "We have regular clientele here. In fact some guests from outside make it a point to stay here as they get the food of their choice. At Venue (the multi-cuisine restaurant) normally there are two items in the lunch buffet, which are totally Jain. And even in the a la carte menu (for dinner) the guest can request for the dishes to be cooked the Jain way," says Ravish Daway, Deputy General Manager. The restaurant had its first Jain food festival recently where authentic Jain food was served. "When we cater to the people at any functions, they are surprised that tasty food can be made without onions and garlic and root vegetables," adds Daway. Although the choice of vegetables narrows down, quite a variety of items can be churned out. The influence of Gujarati and Marwari food is visible in Jain food. So while there are kadhis and dhoklas from Gujarat, there is also ker sangri (curry made from dried pods and berries which are available in Rajasthan) and papad curry (papad is extensively used in Rajasthan and is usually eaten at the end of the meal).

Jain food has been listed separately on the menu in some restaurants like Shanti Sagar and Galaxy, Taj Tristar. "We have a large clientele of Marwaris (even some here do not eat onions and garlic) and Gujaratis as well as Jains. So we decided to incorporate Jain dishes in the menu at Galaxy. We keep changing and introducing new items periodically. We have banquets where only Jain food is catered. Even amongst the community there are a few who are a little moderate and flexible when it comes to eating. Some relax their habits (some may eat garlic, some may eat potatoes and carrots). All taste preferences are catered to," says Pradeep Kumar of Taj Tristar. This view is echoed by Vivek of Shanti Sagar. "North Indian and Chinese items are made the Jain way," says Vivek. So any Jain can indulge in north Indian dishes and Chinese dishes with equal ease and without fear.

Jain food is also being served on international flights and ship cruises and even by some tour and travel companies as the number of people going abroad has increased over the years. More so, because quite a few Jains and Marwaris are also travelling either on business or on holiday. Also, the cost-friendly international packages (one can even travel and then pay back the loan) by many travel operators have spurred many to cross borders.

Darpan, who undertook a tour from a well-known travel agency sometime back , mentions that "the agency had tied up with restaurants to serve such food and had also taken cooks who cooked at some places." "Even on the Star cruise ship Virgo Jain food was served," says Smita, who went on the cruise about a few years ago. Venkat of Sri Lankan Airlines (in Hyderabad) says, "Jain food is served on long flights - to London, Zurich, Paris and other destinations in Europe."

Rahul Jain, who comes from a Jain family, is happy that there are some restaurants serving Jain food. "In cities like Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore there are quite a few restaurants serving Jain food. It will be good if there are more in Hyderabad too." (Are hoteliers and restaurateurs listening?)

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