I should start by saying I’m not vegan, or even vegetarian. I grew up in a country where we threw great slabs of meat, fresh fish and seafood onto barbeques on a daily basis, and I struggle to imagine a world without cheese. I took part in Veganuary a few years back – mostly out of curiosity – and whilst I discovered some great plant-based products and alternative recipes during that time I couldn’t imagine myself making such a dramatic change to my lifestyle a permanent thing.
But vegan is a rapidly growing category in the UK with 1.5m Brits shunning all animal products, and a further 3.5m identifying as vegetarian. A recent study by Finder estimates that the number of vegans in the UK has increased by 40% over the past 12 months with more people focusing on making lifestyle choices that promote not only personal health but a better planet too.
Age plays a part in that decision, with studies showing that those aged 18 to 23 are currently the most meat-free generation. 20% of Gen Z’s currently go without meat by following a pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan diet and they are also leading the way when it comes to their intentions to adopt a meat-free lifestyle in 2021, with over 25% planning to ditch the meat this year.
Men are also more likely to forego meat, with 262,000 more men than women now consuming meat-free diets. Similarly, more men than women are planning to go meat-free this year (13% vs 11%) and if those who intend to go meat-free stick to their plans in 2021, there will be almost 1.2 million more men than women adopting a meat-free lifestyle this year.
But what about those – like me – who are not vegetarian or vegan? According to a recent survey by FeedItBack, 29% of UK consumers are actively trying to reduce their meat consumption. That’s almost a third of the population who are actively trying to consume less animal products. I’d personally describe myself as ‘veg-curious’. I won’t discount a vegetarian or vegan option on a menu if it sounds like something I’d enjoy, but it’s also not the first place I look. So, when I was invited along to Sanskruti, a local restaurant offering authentic and unique Indian vegetarian and vegan cuisine, I was intrigued to see what was on offer.
We started with the obligatory poppadom and chutney tray – five perfectly balanced chutneys and a tray of crunchy flatbreads. Whenever I’m eating out, I always endeavour to order something I know I can’t make myself. I’ve never attempted to cook a poppadom at home, but given that I struggle to poach an egg, I imagine it would not be a success.
I opted for the Tandoori Paneer Tikka as a starter, which was delicious. I’ve only recently discovered paneer – a beautiful soft, mild cheese that holds its shape in sauces or when lightly grilled. This cheese was marinated in yoghurt with just enough spice to keep me happy, and served with peppers, onion, and lemon.
I should probably mention at this point I’m on a bit of a ‘Spice Journey’ at the moment. I’ve spent most of my life opting for a Korma because “I just don’t like spicy things”. I’m no psychologist but I suspect this has something to do with picking a fresh chilli off a bush and eating it whole when I was just 3 years old… But yeah. I’m the person who orders Lemon & Herb at Nando’s. A friend recently explained to me that there’s a difference between spice and heat, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised when attempting some ‘spicy’ dishes I would previously have avoided.
We also ordered a side of Khandvi which was recommended to us by our lovely waiter. I’d never seen Khandvi on a menu before – delicate rolls of buttermilk and gram flour topped with mustard seeds and pomegranate. The texture is similar to a pancake, and they literally melt in your mouth.
For the main course I opted for the Sanskruti Dosa – a thin rice crepe filled with a tasty mixture of tomato, onion, and cheese. A pancake so big it protruded from either end of a large oval plate, prompting me to ask the waiter if I could see the pan this fantastic beast was cooked in. Just imagine trying to flip that! And of course, we had to have a pudding… Two perfectly spherical Gulab Jamun sponge balls, absolutely soaked in sweet syrup and served with Chantilly cream. The perfect end to a wonderful meal.
So, am I ready to give up meat? No, but I certainly wouldn’t discount a restaurant serving an entirely vegetarian menu, especially one that tastes this good. If you don’t already have a substantial vegan or vegetarian offering on your menu, then you may be losing out on a growing customer base as more people take a flexible approach to adopting a plant-based diet.
By the way – if you happen to be curious about Indian culture and cuisine, the Sanskruti blog is one of the best I’ve read – check it out here!