Guest post: Vegan food experience in India
Guest post by Ian McDonald:
I think this is the best vegan pizza I’ve ever had. I loved the cripsness of the base, the home-made cheesiness of the topping. Perhaps it’s the freshness of the ingredients. It’s definitely in the same rank as the vegan pizzas in East London, but it’s hard to do a side-by-side comparison.
Because this one is in Ahmedabad, India.
Ahmdedabad was the first port of call in India for my radio series “Vegetarianism: The Story So Far”. It has Gandhi’s ashram, and an animal hospital based in a traditional Jain cow sanctuary. (You can hear the latter in the latest episode, about Indian’s animal advocate king.)
It’s in Gujarat, the corner of India closest to Pakistan and the Middle East, and the poor beasts of burden include camels as well as horses and bulls. Many Gujaratis follow vegetarian faiths – Jainism and Vaishnavism. (An Italian traveller in sixteenth century Gujarat once said the locals “do not feed upon anything that contains blood, nor do they permit among them that any injury be done to any living creature, like our Leonardo da Vinci.”)
What’s that? Shut up about history and talk about food? Okay, here’s another picture of food.
This is a raw chocolate cake. I don’t usually go for raw, but this really moist and tasty.
The recipes are by the fantastic chef Gemma Ferre. Gemma moved to Ahmedabad from London, starting the cafe with her friend Nimi Hirani. Nimi was born in Gujarat, raised in Kenya, worked for the NHS in London, and is a vegan campaigner who provides a home to camels, cows, goats, and even two emus on her land in nearby Kutch.
The Philosophy Club takes up a shopfront in the ground floor of an office block. It’s between the main Hare Krishna temple and a large glossy air-conditioned shopping mall. I’m geeky enough to want to tell you that the district is named Satellite for its space research institutes. When you enter the Philosophy Club you discover a welcoming homely cafe with hardwood furniture, improvised light fittings, and eclectic mismatched crockery that could be in Hackney. Except better.
What Gemma cooks up is truly amazing. She brings much of her native Catalonian experience to the menu – from homemade gnocchi with garlic to Mediterranean cream potato soup. And the folk of Ahmedabad agree – the cafe won “Casual Dining – Best European Cuisine” at the Times of India’s Food Awards for Ahmedabad. Word is, Gemma is planning open a bigger branch closer to the centre of town.
And feast your eyes on the chocolate brownie with walnuts. Delicious.
The Philosophy Club lives up to its name, with a gentle ambience, a bookshelf, and the occasional music or poetry reading. It’s a great little cafe that actively promotes veganism. Part of me wishes it was nearer to home; but I know I shouldn’t be so selfish. For now, I’ll just have to salivate over food pics on the Philosophy Club’s Facebook page.
Ian McDonald produces “The Vegan Option” (tagline: really interesting radio that just happens to be vegan), and is currently working on “Vegetarianism: The Story So Far”, a fascinating exploration of meat-free and compassionate history. Dr Ian McDonald is a BBC-trained digital media producer whose work has been broadcast on national radio in the UK. He lives in East London with Mazzy, a rescued cat.
- Full disclosure: Nimi was also astoundingly helpful to me in my travels around India, including advice and interpreting Hindi. It became a bit of a base of operations in Ahmedabad. I’ve tried to be objective about the food, but judging by the rave reviews from mainstream Indian media it’s really not just me.