I have never pictured myself going fully vegetarian. Yes, I enjoy salads but even in my salad picks, I gravitate towards those with shredded bacon, chicken, or tuna. So you can picture the skepticism once I stepped into a vegetarian restaurant.
On realizing they have about six branches across the globe, my interest was piqued. Kailash Parbat which was started in India in 1952 has opened a vegetarian restaurant in Nairobi.
I found a perfect seat at the terrace but before I could start ordering, I had to contend with a little matter; understanding the menu. Monica Vaid is the Kenyan franchise owner.
As I slurped a mango-yoghurt, a drink flavored with crushed fennel seeds, she explained that Kenya’s Kailash Parbat was the result of a craving for authentic Indian street foods.
“I had a limited number of places that could cater for my vegetarian leaning pescatarian diet. While my family members eat meat, I prefer fish and eggs having stopped eating meat when I was 11-years-old.
“So one day, craving chaats, my husband took me to a restaurant whose offering was disappointing. This presented an opportunity and with our association with a descendant of Kailash Parbat brand, the Kenyan franchise was birthed,” she says.
Getting the right spot, however, was not that easy. It took several years. When they eventually settled on the current location, the Kenyan franchise took off almost instantly. While she retains loyal customers, Monica feels the time is ripe to familiarize non-Indian communities with Indian foods and the health benefits of a vegetarian diet.
“Every so often we receive diners who come here, sit and go like, ‘can we have chicken?’ she muses with a smile.
While they have toyed with the idea of introducing meat, Monica notes that that would have to be a separate entity. What they are keen on, however, is to spread the chaat flavor by setting up pop-ups in different locations in Nairobi.
Acquainted with the menu, I tossed my hat into the vegetarian extravaganza. To start us off was paneer (Indian cottage cheese) and mushrooms made in tandoori clay pot appetizers and an exciting chaat platter of dahi wada, bhel puri, sev puri and crispy corn basket. Indian food is best eaten by hand.
I quite warmed up to the puri balls filled with spiced mashed potato served with spiced mint water and tamarind sauce and especially the Bombay version dumped in yoghurt.
I was not prepared for the value-for-money food portions. Before I realized it my table looked like a cross between a kingly presentation and a glutton’s feast.
There was Chole Bhatura which is fried fluffy bread served with spicy chickpeas masala and onions, Samosa Ragda which is spicy potato puffs served with chickpea sauce and from South India was the Dosa pancake which came highly recommended for healthy gut-building properties.
All that and I barely scratched the menu. While Monica admits that the vegetables available locally are of superior quality, spices and essentials like watermelon seeds and tamarind are shipped from India.
They also employ experienced chefs who have worked at the mother Kailash Parbat for at least a decade and are familiar with the recipes that have been passed down for generations.
While it will not happen instantly, I finally can picture myself picking a vegetarian date over a nyama choma one and while at it debunks the myth that ‘African vegan’ is an oxymoron.
Common as a breakfast dish, the Dosa is created from rice and lentils soaked together overnight then pureed in a machine then the naturally fermented butter.
The mains are especially where my soul rested with Dal Mahkni winning me over. That Black Urad (lentil) and rajma (red kidney peas) combination simmered overnight and then enriched with butter and cream was simply delightful.
Coming close was the Paneer Tikaa Lababda chunks of barbeque paneer tikka swimming in special tomato gravy. These were matched by a choice of garlic Naan that dining experience.
All that and I barely scratched the menu with the soup section as well as the Bombay Nagri section (that is a food immersion through the various Mumbai street foods) and the Oriental Kitchen (that is Indo Chinese fusion kitchen) saved for my next visit.
To ensure that the coroner reported that it was death by food, syrup however, I managed to stuff myself with Jamun E Jannat which is a Gulab Jamun (fried dough balls that are soaked in sweet, sticky sugar) served with a base of rabri ( sweet, condensed milk).