Being Woke is about being conscious, and being responsible says Mohanlal Chowdhary, one of the founders of Ewoke Vegan Cafe and Store. The well-stocked store is like a poster display of all Indian brands producing alt-protein, plant-based and vegan food alternatives, and organic brands. There is a dazzling variety of imported brands as well.
And as you walk through this vegan manna, you enter the conscious café, where the extensive and ever emerging menu boasts of French, Italian, Mediterranean, and Asian cuisine. Coconut milk cheese, almond milk, tofu, alternate meat etc., are all used to create food fare that includes classic dishes that one would assume were not possible without using dairy or meat.
E`woke is a product of passion and a dream envisioned by Mohan, along with Vaid Mohan and Anil Chowdhary.
In an interview over some amazing vegan, gluten-free pizza and Spaghetti Meatball Pasta, Mohanlal Chowdhary introduces the café, which is one of the foremost on the vegan curve in Hyderabad, India, and explains the concept and future plans for Ewoke Vegan Cafe.
How did you become a Vegan?
I am a born vegetarian by virtue of being from a Marwadi family. I personally have always been conscious of the environment and an activist too. After watching a few documentaries, I thought to myself - to teach compassion we have to be kind towards animals too and in order to be able to preach one must practice. And that’s when I decided I will be a vegan.
How difficult was it to convince your family?
Ghee is big time part of life and culture in Rajasthan from where our roots are. When my mother first heard about me turning into a vegan, she thought I went crazy. She even wondered how she could cook anything for me at all. I had to tell her to just remove dairy while cooking food and I shall happily eat. Even today she thinks something will happen to me and that I will fall ill because I have removed animal sourced dairy totally.
What were the main challenges that you faced as a new vegan?
One of the major challenges was non-availability of vegan alternatives. There was no access. Before becoming mainstream, vegans used to order online. Shipping was exorbitant and would take time, I have been a vegan for two years now. Even earlier to that I was on and off a vegan mainly because I was finding it difficult to source food. We wondered what we could do to bridge the gap. That is the main reason for me to start Ewoke, as a dedicated store where one can get everything that they need to make a meal in their kitchen.
How did Ewoke Vegan Cafe come about?
I am originally into wholesale distribution in the construction industry. After starting Ewoke, I realized this needs more attention and so I spend most of the time here attending to customers, and answering to the curious customers. Especially, post pandemic more and more health-conscious people are wanting to know about veganism and many walk in with a bunch of doubts. In addition to having access to a store, people need to know how to integrate the ingredients into cooking. If someone picked up almond milk, or vegan cheese they must know how to use it. They must know that vegan food in addition to being healthy is also tasty. And, for this reason we started Ewoke Vegan cafe, where we use ingredients from our store to create the menu.
We did a whole lot of research that went on for six months before we started. Most of the Vegan products are manufactured on smaller scale. And, for us, we need to be very careful about the quality and check if a brand is consistent in maintaining it. We need to place trust, but we need to also check everything, read the backside of the packaging, and understand the ingredients, and this is an ongoing process.
We experimented a lot while creating menu as well. There have been hits and misses. We tried using various cheese varieties and combination to create vegan versions of familiar dishes - burgers, pizzas, bolognaise made of vegan meat…
What is the status on the challenges in procuring ingredients?
Sourcing and price continue to be a challenge. While it is value for money if we consider the health benefits of eating vegan food; ours is definitely a price sensitive market; and we continue to face the challenge.
Unlike in the US where Veganism has become mainstream and hence better researched, the scale of Indian made vegan alternatives is much smaller than the demand. That said, with big companies like ITC trying to bite into a chunk of the market indicates, Veganism has surely arrived. With film actors Riteish and Genelia starting Imagine Meats, now a lot more people are inquisitive, and the number of vegans converting for health reasons is increasing. We need to have more standalone stories selling vegan products. Accessibility has to increase. We are planning to open few more standalone stores and a café in Jubilee Hills soon.