Now imagine the awesome Dal Makhni. Can you think of a non veg equivalent? I didn't think so. I don't think there is any restaurant serving Chicken Dal Makhni. Because by simply adding chicken (or mutton or fish) to this dish does not do it any favours. While the jokes are all on the biriyani, (search for veg biriyani jokes), no one seems to make fun of the vegetarian burger. Or the vegetarian sushis with their little sticks of stale cucumber or paneer in buffets.
Is this difficult to achieve? I don't think so. Time consuming before you crack it? Maybe. Difficult to bring yourself to do this? Maybe. But once you're done making it once, there are excellent ways to enjoy vegetarian versions of non veg dishes. We have even gone to the extent of passing off soya as mock meat knowing fully well that it is fake! An article by Vir Sanghvi about mock meat and his opinion about it being totally fake is so right.
At his first chef's table in Kappa Chakka Khandari, a mallu restaurant in Chennai, which is probably the best mallu restaurant in the country, Chef Reji Matthews wowed with his Asian menu. While you can read more about KCK (as the restaurant is fondly called) here, I didn't write about the chef's table because currently it is a very hushed and premium affair and not accessible. Yet.
At the event though, there was a sushi course. With no fish. While it may not be surprising for an Indian audience to not have fish in the only sushi course of a tasting menu, I was a little disappointed. Chef Reji, the rock star chef decided to do a vegetarian sushi course? Having come back a week or so ago from Japan with an overdose of everything Japanese, was like having salt rubbed on the wound.
Till that piece of sushi hit my mouth. With mango cut to a similar thickness of the real sushi and the rice perfectly vinegared, if I had closed my eyes and didn't know it was vegetarian, the sushi wouldn't be far off from the good sushis of Japan. He probably slightly under flavoured the rice as it did not need as much vinegar to cut the strong flavour of fish, so the balance of the dish was near perfect. Heck, no, it was perfect.
And that got me thinking. Have we been fooling our vegetarian friends by passing off terrible replacements of food as veg versions of non veg dishes?
While thinking about this, I was taken back to a burger that Chef Ashutosh made in a food festival at The Park. The patty was made of jackfruit and almost perfectly replaced the beef patty. Like near perfect. The texture and the feel of the burger was just like the original and not like a glorified vada pav.
So, is it too difficult? Maybe. But certainly doable and I think we deserve it.
But will I ever accept a vegetarian biriyani? Why not. But is there any chef up for the challenge?