As a chef, Vikram Khatri, of Guppy by Ai, would love to work with beef but, he admits it’s a hot-button topic, especially in Delhi, the country’s capital and nerve centre. When he went to Pune for a pop-up, he had to ensure he got a stamped certificate from his supplier, following Maharashtra’s recent ban on the sale and consumption of beef and the prohibition on slaughtering buffaloes, save the Asiatic water variety, which renders the poorly-regarded carabeef. While the Delhi meat market isn’t as stringently regulated as Maharashtra’s, it’s not the most consistent either.
“If you call up a supplier and ask for the meat, he’ll say he has bhesa. Depending on demand and supply, you get either buff or carabeef. That’s something that hasn’t changed over the last 10 years. Several years ago, you might have got beef once in a blue moon, from Bangalore or Calcutta, but now, because of the sensitive nature of the subject, that’s a strict no-no,” says Khatri. Abhishek Patnaik, who co-owns The Hungry Monkey and Ploof Delicatessen and Restaurant, which retails buff (not beef) to gourmands, adds, “If anyone says they’re serving beef in Delhi, that’s absolute tosh. It’s buff, or carabeef; whether they say it explicitly or label it as Tenderloin.”
Indeed the trouble with tenderloin, one that can confuse culinary novitiates, is that it refers to a cut of meat and not its actual nature. Referred to as a supreme in chicken, tenderloin is literally the tenderest part of the loin of pink and red meats, including pork, beef and buff. Several restaurants in Delhi, and beyond, adopted the nom de guerre to avoid negative connotations and provide their diners with a veneer of pious feeling. More often than not, the tenderloin you’re having is hacked off the shoulder of a buffalo, Asiatic or otherwise.
Naina de Bois-Juzan, owner of Le Bistro Du Parc, has a slightly different take on the subject. “We’ve never served beef despite being a French restaurant. We use buff exclusively and that is because the meat is delicious and beautifully-textured. We have never felt the need to procure beef. Indeed, I have to convince many of our clients, who want only beef, to try the buff, either rare or medium. If you overcook it, it becomes tough and leathery,” she says, adding that her firm belief in locavorism is another reason she avoids the meat.
As indeed do all stand-alone restaurants, beef being not kosher in the Capital. “You can order beef from Bangalore, where the slaughter is legal, but they only deliver if you order a 100 kg. No stand-alone restaurant has the wherewithal to store so much meat. Indeed, a lot of hotels don’t. That’s why they import their beef in much smaller quantities from abroad,” says Abhishek Patnaik, who co-owns The Hungry Monkey and Ploof Delicatessen and Restaurant, which retails buff (not beef) to gourmands.
He adds that the prohibitive cost of the beef, imported from countries such as Japan and Scotland, and which runs to the tens of thousands for a single kilo, is another reason stand-alones eschew beef from their chow. And while five-star hotels may serve Angus or Wagyu, they still need certifications in order to do so. So really, in Delhi at least, there’s no beef with beef.