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World Vegan Day

Being vegan in Kolkata: how, what and where

#WorldVeganDay: How to sustain a vegan diet in the city

Aatreyee Mohanta | Published 01.11.21, 01:40 PM

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On Instagram, #vegan has over 11 crore results. Many believe veganism is a more right extension of vegetarianism, but there’s more to it than that, especially for those following the lifestyle. We spoke to a few people from Kolkata’s growing vegan community about what it means to be vegan in the city. 

To eat and not to eat

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While it's common knowledge that a vegan diet excludes animal products such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy, many who choose the lifestyle also give up things like honey and gelatine opting for substitutes like maple or agave syrup instead. While that might seem to limit everyday food options, there is an array of items that work for the diet.

Kasturi Khatnair, a 33-year-old dental surgeon and vegan blogger usually has hearty smoothies for breakfast. “I enjoy rice, dal and other grains like rajma, chola and chana. Mushrooms, soy nuggets and tofu are also great additions to a vegan diet,” says the Kaikhali resident, who has been a vegan since 2019. 

Surprising to those unfamiliar with the cuisine, Bengali food has amazing vegan options according to 33-year-old animal activist Altab Hossian. “My meals are made of simple Bengali food. I eat a lot of dal, rice and veggies. We just need to avoid putting ghee in every vegetarian dish.”

A fairly recent development in the vegan world are readymade meat and dairy substitutes. These plant-based proteins help maintain the levels of protein and B12 affected by eliminating meat. More retail store brands now make plant-based milk substitutes with almonds, cashew, oats and soy. 

Getting to the source of it

 

You can visit the fresh fruit markets in Kolkata like Lake Market and New Market to get your hands on seasonal produce

You can visit the fresh fruit markets in Kolkata like Lake Market and New Market to get your hands on seasonal produce

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Seven years ago, when he had just turned vegan, 33-year-old Topsia resident Hossain, had few sources for vegan food in the city. That is not the case today, and partly responsible for this change is his friend and owner of Vegan World Madhuja Dey. 

Three years back when 34-year-old Dey chose veganism, healthy alternatives to meat and dairy, and things like vegan chocolates and cakes were hard to come by. “It was difficult finding vegan products in Kolkata. Only frozen items were delivered online, because the things you could refrigerate usually came from outside Bengal or Kolkata,” says Dey. 

The wish to create a place where people could easily find diet-specific alternatives led to Vegan World, a distribution company specially for vegan foods. “We have every vegan substitute for milk, butter, ice cream, chocolates, cheese dips, whipped cream. There are also alternatives for meat, fish and prawns,” she adds. They now have 19 stores across the city and take orders on the phone. 

Outside of Vegan World, many people rely on the city’s robust local markets, online stores and supermarket chains to source their food. 

Dining out when vegan

 

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Eating out (or now, ordering in) is a quintessential part of socialising in the city. But hanging out with friends and sharing a meal can be difficult if your choice of meals aren’t available. It’s taken some time, but in recent years Kolkata has come through in a big way for its vegan foodies. 

For Madhuja and Khatnair, Kolkata’s cloud kitchens are also changing the dining scene for vegans. With options like Mizuki and Viva Vegan, there are usually many options to choose from. 

A community favourite is Ubuntu Community - The Vegan Café in Lake Gardens, and its delivery service Ubuntu Eat that delivers around the city. With a robust menu that includes Vegan French Toast, Mock Meat dishes, and the classic Buddha Bowls, the café’s popularity is hardly surprising. 

 

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When not catering to vegans with a sweet tooth, 20-year-old Mehendi Ghosh, who runs Kolkata Vegan Bakery in Salt Lake with her sister likes to visit Fab India’s café at Shakespeare Sarani.  “Fabcafe is a favourite of mine but dining out socially is not a problem if you have the correct people in your life,” she says.

@kolkata_vegan_bakery/Instagram

So, do they have to forsake their older favourite restaurants when switching to the vegan way of life? According to 38-year-old Sabrina Gaudin who lives in Narendrapur and runs cloud kitchen Viva Vegan, that isn’t necessary. “I love Chinese food and it has a lot of vegan options. You just need to tell the restaurants to omit animal products and make the dishes.” 

Last updated on 01.11.21, 10:00 PM
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