At Lower Parel’s newest restaurant, The Bombay Canteen, tava beef kheema kothu roti, a Sri Lankan street food variation, is one of the best selling dishes. However, the recent ban on the sale and possession of beef in Maharashtra prompted its owners to show solidarity with rest of the beef lovers in the state through a message outside their restaurant. “Our govt roasted beef without its consent,” it read. Chefs at the restaurant are planning to substitute buffalo meat with chicken in the dish, until they finalise an alternative.
According to the new law, anyone found selling beef or in possession of it can be jailed for five years and fined Rs 10,000. A search for ‘beef’ on Zomato throws up more than 600 establishments in the city. Currently, many restaurants in the city that sell beef-based dishes are either in a fix or simply unaware of this law. For instance, at Sneha, a Mahim-based restaurant that serves beef fry and beef biryani, meat from bullocks is being used. Earlier, slaughter of cows was prohibited under the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act of 1976 but slaughter of bullocks and buffaloes was allowed based on a fit-for-slaughter certificate. However, with the new act, slaughter of bullocks and buffaloes will not be allowed with the exception of Asian water buffaloes, which provide carabeef.
While India is the world’s largest producer of carabeef, this variety doesn’t find favour among local restaurateurs.
Low on fat, it is considered tough, chewy and of inferior quality, and thus less flavourful.
Imbiss outlets at Colaba and Bandra have been selling buffalo meat as part of their menu. The restaurant, popular for its beef burgers, will be forced to redesign its menu. “We will need to tweak the menu and replace regular buffalo meat with carabeef now,” says Atish Lokhande, a steward at Imbiss. Similarly, at Between Breads, another Bandra-based restaurant that specialises in meaty treats, buffalo meat is used in their specialties such as the Spicy Beef Chilli Burger and the Meat Feast Sandwich that comes packed with bacon, beef, chicken and ham.
“Between Breads uses beef in several dishes. We use buffalo meat because the carabeef is of extremely poor quality,” says owner Paresh Chhabria. Meat from water buffalo makes for 25 per cent of the total beef market in the state. According to Chhabria, the ban on beef will affect the suppliers first, before authorities crack down on restaurants. “Currently, I get my beef from a local supplier. Once he tells me he’s stopped stocking it, I will rethink my menu,” says Chhabria. He is not sure what this law means for restaurants and is waiting for more clarity.
At fine dining restaurants in South Mumbai, such as The Table and Ellipsis, a certain variety of beef meat was being imported. However with the ban, these dishes have been put on hold. The executive chef at Ellipsis, Kelvin Cheung too is “waiting for more clarity from the authorities”. However, The Table claims they were always using carabeef in most of its signature dishes, such as beef burgers and beef tacos.
Riyaaz Amlani of Impresario Hospitality that runs brands such as Smoke House Deli, Salt Water Cafe and Social, says that buffalo meat is not an “inferior quality of beef” but merely leaner than cow meat. “Some people in fact prefer lean meats. Buffalo meat is a rage in Japan right now,” says Amlani, who is also the president of National Restaurant Association of India.
However, within the restaurant business, while the ban will likely shoot up the prices of mutton and pork — meats that are considered more flavourful and are hence the preferred replacement for bullock meat — the eateries that are likely to take the biggest hit are smaller establishments. These include tiny eateries in Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods, such as those in Mohammed Ali Road, Jogeshwari or the famous Sarvi in Nagpada. These serve beef kebabs, at times priced at a mere Rs 20 a plate. With the demand for carabeef likely to shoot up manifold, it will also push the prices up for this variety, thus making business unviable for these establishments.