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A raw deal? – mumbai guide

After over six months of closure, the state government last week allowed food courts and restaurants to open up for dine-in, subject to distancing measures. While it comes as a breather for the hospitality industry, according to the guidelines issued to restaurateurs, raw, uncooked or cold foods such as salads or sushi should be avoided.

Amid fears of the virus thriving in raw vegetables or fruits, the World Health Organization had stated that “there is currently no evidence that people can catch COVID-19 from food, including fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy diet and their consumption should be encouraged”. With eateries in the city opening up from today, restaurateurs whose menus focus on salads and sushi dissect the guidelines, and share possible solutions to ensure they can continue serving their fare or rework menus keeping hygiene and safety as top priority.

Sushi from Yazu
Sushi from Yazu

Need for clarity
Keenan Tham, MD, Pebbles Street Hospitality that runs the Pan-Asian tapas style chain of restaurants Foo, which specialises in sushi among other items, points out that there’s some confusion, and the guideline “is a recommendation and not a directive.” “We’re reaching out to clarify that,” he adds. Restaurants, including Foo, have been serving sushi and salads through the lockdown in any case, he asserts. “Sushi and salads are as safe as any cooked item. The bulk of our sushi is cooked and served at room temperature. But if the government demands it, we’ll modify the menu,” he says.

High on hygiene
Chef Nooresha Kably, owner, Izumi, one of the city’s most loved sushi joints, tells us that the only way patrons can contract the virus from food is if someone handling it has it. “The sushi, by itself, can’t contain the virus. So, if we keep our staff safe, the food is safe. That’s something we have been strictly focusing on.” Although they don’t plan to start dining services immediately, Kably claims they will stick to their line of sushi. “We will continue to serve our sushi, and the rest is up to the customer. We have ramen, rice bowls, yakitori, and other offerings that people can opt for, too.”

Keenan Tham, Nooresha Kably, Karishma Dalal, Ranbir Nagpal and Kaneesha Jain
Keenan Tham, Nooresha Kably, Karishma Dalal, Ranbir Nagpal and Kaneesha Jain

Karishma Dalal, owner of Bandra-based Bombay Salad Co — one of the largest salad bars in the city — also maintains that when it comes to serving raw food, thorough washing and hygiene is the most important aspect. “Since we are exclusively a salad bar, we take great pride in our stringent hygiene measures,” she shares, adding that they won’t be changing their menu. “Our main offering will remain salads and raw foods. Of course, for those who don’t wish to eat raw salad, we have a bunch of other options such as warm ones with a grain base like quinoa and cooked vegetables, as well as super meal bowls. The idea is to offer something to everyone.”

New tweaks
Kaneesha Jain, owner, Santé Spa Cuisine in BKC, feels that although the state guidelines may not be binding, it is in the best interest of all. Jain, whose restaurant serves various kinds of healthy salads, cold soups and guilt-free desserts, is currently ideating on different ways to tweak a large chunk of the existing menu. “We plan to do some warm salads and change a lot of the appetisers so that they look and feel like salads, but are cooked,” she explains.

Executive chef at Santé Spa Cuisine, Arnez Driver, elaborates that they want to ensure all their items are cooked above 75 degree Celsius, so they’re safe for consumption. “We can use greens like bok choy or spinach that can be blanched, throw in some grains and make multigrain salads that can be served warm or create dolmas [stuffed greens],” he says, adding that nutritious, warm versions of desserts, too, are on the cards.

Oshiwara’s pan-Asian supper club Yazu, popular for their signature sushi, is also looking to strike a balance between cooked and raw options on the menu. Ranbir Nagpal, its co-owner, shares, “We’ll introduce some flame-cooked sushi, along with yakitori grills. The aim is to offer customers, who have been waiting for so long to dine out, a comfortable experience,” he says. Nagpal believes that people will eventually get over the fear of raw, cold or uncooked food. “It’s a matter of perspective, but we have to be respectful of people’s apprehensions. On the bright side, this is helping us innovate,” he adds.

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