Sajna (Geneva, Switzerland)

From this blog it might seem I go out for food a lot. While that is not entirely true (as  I have mentioned before 🙂 ) I don’t often revisit the same restaurants because I keep seeing new, interesting places I want to try.  But one of the few restaurants I have visited several times was not even on my blog! Until today, that is.

Interior at Sajna

The first time I went to Sajna, I had recently moved to Geneva, and I was supposed to meet some former colleagues for dinner. They asked me to pick a place because they were a bit unsure what places serve vegan food ! (If only my blog had existed at that time :D) Since I hadn’t visited any restaurants in Geneva yet, I decided to randomly pick an Indian restaurant (because I like Indian food) that was conveniently located. That is how I found Sajna! Of course I checked the menu online, which seemed promising. When I called to make a reservation, I asked about their vegan options, and I was assured that there was plenty of vegan food available. I was not disappointed!

Interior at Sajna

Sajna serves Bengali (eastern India/Bangladesh) dishes, and the more typical Indian restaurant dishes. What is kind of interesting is they have another branch of this restaurant in Bangladesh, which existed there before the Geneva location.

Appetizer at Sajna
Appetizer of papadums with 3 sauces (2 of which are vegan)

The interior is kind of typical Indian restaurant style. There are two rooms and a small terrace outside. However, the terrace is on a very noisy street, so that is not ideal. As often in Indian restaurants we got a papadum with 3 sauces for appetizer. Two of the sauces are vegan (the tamarind and the spicy chutney), and the other is with yogurt.

As mentioned there are plenty of vegetarian dishes, and some of those are vegan. In most cases, in the description on the menu it will say clearly whether the dish will have cream or paneer (cheese) but it won’t hurt to ask. The staff will happily sub non-vegan items like cream if requested. Another nice thing is that Sajna has vegan chapati (flat bread) !

Starters at Sajna
Mixed pakora (left) and samosa

We started with samosa and mixed pakora. The samosa have a nice shape, a sturdy dough exterior and are filled with slightly spicy potato mash. There are several types of pakora on the menu; you can also order just a set of one type but choosing is hard:), so we went for the mixed pakora and you get one of each type.  (In the menu description it says that it is a mixture of the potato, aubergine, cauliflower and onion pakora, but since there is also a paneer pakora, it won’t hurt to explicitly mention that you don’t want that one)

Mains at Sajna
Baighan bartha (left) and mixed vegetable korma with coconut milk. On the side safran rice and basmati rice. Not pictured: chapati

One of my favourite Indian dishes is the baigan bharta: grilled aubergine with tomatoes. This version is a little bit spicey, but so so good. We also got this time the mixed vegetable korma, which is normally not vegan (made with cream) but was made with coconut milk and cashews upon request. The coconut milk was pretty present in the taste and creaminess of the dish. It was naturally a bit sweet, and went well with the vegetables in the sauce. We also got chapati and rice with it.

Baighan Bartha at Sajna
Baighan bartha ❤

The service at Sajna is very good. They actually mention on their website that they are very willing to accommodate specific needs. It is always better to mention this upon reserving. But this time we didn’t reserve and they still made us the special korma sauce (it was not very busy when we were there, else we would probably not have asked it) Another time, when I did make a reservation beforehand,  I asked about dessert options and they actually prepared a dessert for me (kheer; a rice pudding with coconut milk)

So in summary, good food, great service, will visit again 🙂

Type of place: Indian Restaurant
Completely vegan: no
Vegan desserts: upon request 🙂
Website (French, English) :http://www.sajna-restaurant.com/

Veganism in: Indian cuisine

Last time we talked about Italian cuisine, which might seem daunting for vegans but is in fact not. Now, let’s talk Indian food, which might sound easy for vegans, but in my experience can be more complicated than it seems. But not impossible, of course! Let’s get to it.

 

Pakora at Swagat
Vegetable pakora from Swagat (Vevey, Switzerland)

Just a little disclaimer. I have only eaten Indian food outside of India (both in restaurants and in Desi people’s homes) and that I have unfortunately not visited the country itself (yet). Therefore, the Indian food I have eaten might be a ‘Western European’ version of actual Indian food. However, since most of the people that read my blog will most likely also only enjoy Indian food in restaurants in Western Europe and the US (since that is where most of my visitors come from), I think this is not a problem.

Also, like with any cultural expression, books can be written about this topic and this is just one article. So I will try to cover the things that I think are interesting and relevant, but I might miss something. Feel free to let me know in the comments if that is the case!

 

Regional variations

India is a huge country, and there are large differences in people, cultures, climate and thus food across it. Some products are used in many regions, such as wheat, rice, pulses/lentils (in the form of dal). In India a variety of spices are grown, such as mustard, black pepper, cardamom and turmeric and they have been used in cooking for centuries.  Interestingly, potatoes, which are quite common in some regions of India, are in fact originating from South America and brought in by the Portuguese. Also chillies were introduced this way.  In the South and East of India, it is more common to eat with the hands rather than cutlery, which is not the case in Northern and Western regions.

Biryani and aloo gobi at Swagat
Vegetable biryani to the left, aloo gobi to the right

 

Most of the food served in Indian restaurants in Western Europe is actually from Northern India. The food is characterized by its heavy use of dairy; cream, yoghurt, paneer. Also, the tandoor oven is mostly associated with the Northern regions. From the Western regions, there are the chutneys, and stronger use of coconut milk and fish.  South Indian curries tend to be drier and less creamy compared to Northern versions. Dosas, a type of filled fermented pancakes, and papadums (crunchy chickpea flour breads) also are a South Indian speciality. Eastern India is mostly known for its desserts and many restaurants actually serve East Indian desserts.

 

Religion also plays a role in Indian cuisine. The major religion in India is Hinduism, followed by Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, and several others. There is the idea that Hindu’s won’t eat beef, which is not necessarily true, though most prefer to eat a vegetarian diet. Similarly, not all Buddhists are vegetarian. In Jainism, vegetarianism is very common and veganism is actually encouraged. In total about a third of the Indian population is (lacto-) vegetarian, which explains the plethora of vegetarian dishes available in Indian restaurants.

 

Dal at Sultan
Dal tarka at the lunch buffet at Sultan restaurant

So yes, for vegetarians, Indian food is a great option. Unfortunately for vegans, dairy products are hiding in a lot of dishes which might seem vegan. For example: naan is almost never vegan, it has yoghurt. The ingredient which makes most vegan-looking dishes non-vegan is ghee. Ghee is a type of butter which is used a lot in Indian cooking instead of oil.  (I did read that in Europe, since ghee is less easy to come by, vegetable oil is more common)

 

Likely vegan dishes in (Western) Indian restaurants

Here is a (non-complete) list of dishes which are likely to be vegan. Still, every chef will have their own recipe, so be sure to ask. In general, it helps to be specific, especially about the ghee because it is so ubiquitous. (But as mentioned: ghee is less common outside of India, it is possible though that a restaurant will use vegetable oil)

Another general tip: avoid all creamy dishes (such as kormas), and dishes with ‘paneer’ (cheese).  As mentioned above, the North Indian cuisine is more common in restaurants in Western Europe, so most dishes I mention here are from that region. However, there are also restaurants which specifically have South Indian cuisines.

Bread

Bread in Indian cuisine is actually used as a utensil. Pieces of flat bread are torn off (not cut) and are used (sometimes together with cutlery) to scoop up the food. The most common type of flat bread in West-European Indian restaurants, naan, are usually made with yoghurt.

Vegan alternatives for naan:

Papadum: crunchy thin flatbread made of chick pea flour  (Interestingly, I have been to Indian restaurants in several different countries and they all serve papadums with sauces as an appetizer)

Chapati or roti: simple flatbread, made of flour, water and salt (sometimes brushed with butter)

 

Samosas at Swagat
Samosas at Swagat restaurant

 

 

Starters:

These starters have been vegan at every Indian restaurant I have seen them at:

Vegetable samosas – dough with potato filling

Pakora or (onion) bhajji – vegetables in chick pea flour, fried

 

Mains at Sultan
Rice with Baigan bharta (eggplant) and Alu Channa (chick peas and potato curry)

Mains:

These dishes have mostly been vegan in places where I saw them. Some of these are very occasionally made with cream, though.

Aloo gobi – potato and cauliflower curry

Vegetable or mushroom biryani – a rice dish, note that it is sometimes made with ghee and often served with raita (yoghurt sauce) to the side

Baigan bharta – mashed eggplant

Dal – lentils with spices, vegan in its basic preparation but are sometimes prepared with butter and cream though

Aloo jeera/bombay – potatoes with spices

Chana masala – chick pea curry

Desserts:

Most Indian desserts are made with diary in the form of condensed milk, butter, so in general they are a no-go for vegans. Some Indian restaurants do serve “Western” desserts like sorbets. I have on occasion had a vegan dessert! So asking won’t hurt, especially if you reserve in advance.

 

Gulab jamun at Swagat
Some Indian restaurants do serve vegan desserts! (Gulab Jamun at Swagat)

Conclusion

This article became a bit longer than initially intended…it is not easy to condense the amount of information of such a diverse subject! Also I like to talk about food. Indian food can be tricky for vegans but it is worth the hassle in my opinion 🙂

 

Sources:

https://www.culturalindia.net/indian-religions/

https://veganuary.com/eating-out/indian-cuisine/   

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etiquette_of_Indian_dining  

http://upbproducts.co.uk/blog/indian-food-find-differs-region-region/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_cuisine

Swagat (Vevey, Switzerland)

 

While researching Vevey as a short introduction for this post I found on Wikipedia that it is known to be the last home of Charlie Chaplin, it houses the head quarters of Nestlé  and there is a beautiful lakeside promenade. I would have loved to go to the promenade, but as it was the middle of winter it was cold and dark…the view of Lake Geneva from the promenade will have to wait a few months.

Let’s talk about what I did do in Vevey. I went to an Indian restaurant, Swagat, and it was pretty good. The place itself has a nice décor, it is quite spacious. There is a buffet, with a fixed price. (For lunch there’s also buffet on weekdays which is in fact cheaper for vegetarians!) From what I could see there were not that many options at the buffet. We took from the menu, so that we could sample more different things. There were quite some vegan choices, and there are vegan flat breads in the form of paratha!

Samosas at Swagat
Samosas

Usually when in Indian restaurants your get a small appetizer in the form of papadums, crunchy chickpea crackers, with some different sauces. Not at Swagat which was a bit surprising. A small nit to pick, but since these appetizers are so ubiquitous I noticed their absence.

Pakora at Swagat
Vegetable pakora

We started with two of my favourite dishes: pakora and samosas. Both of these looked beautiful on their plate! The pakora were a little bit spicy. The vegetables were mixed before being fried, so they had a quite nice structure. And they were delicious, which is the most important! The samosa were good too, they were not very oily, as they can be sometimes.

Biryani and aloo gobi at Swagat
Vegetable biryani to the left, aloo gobi to the right. Not pictured: parathas and huge amount of rice

For the main we tried the aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower) and a vegetable biryani. The biryani comes usually with yoghurt sauce, which was left out here. A nice touch from the staff, I think, not to put it on the table for it to be not eaten anyway. The biryani was tasty but there were some strange spice globs in the dish. The aloo gobi was good too, it was a bit spicy but not too much. It came with a bit too much rice though!

Gulab jamun at Swagat
Gulab jamun for dessert!

Swagat also offers vegan desserts: sorbet ice and gulab jamun. I was surprised that the latter didn’t contain milk, and asked the waiter twice. But it was really vegan, so that is a nice surprise! The gulab jamun was very sweet, and somehow partially heated, which is unfortunate.

Overall Swagat is a bit more expensive, especially if you opt to choose from the menu card rather than the buffet. The food was good, the place itself was pretty busy. The staff was helpful about finding vegan items, which is always nice.

Type of place: Indian restaurant
Completely vegan: no
Vegan desserts:  yes!

Website (French):  http://swagat.ch/

Sultan (Nyon, Switzerland)

 

While I have been posting reviews of restaurants for several months now, somehow there has been a lack of Indian food here! Indian food is known to be great for vegetarians, and I think most restaurants also have vegan dishes, but it depends on the regional cuisine. For example, cream or ghee (a dairy product) are used in some cuisines more than in others.

Sultan interior
Tables at Sultan

The first Indian restaurant I’d like to discuss today is Sultan, in Nyon. During the “Christmas break”, when I visited, it was one of the few places that were open! We went for early lunch, and it was not very busy, which is probably due to the holidays. The atmosphere of the restaurant is modern, a bit bistro-like even, compared to (the many) other Indian restaurants that I have been to.

Onion badji at Sultan
Onion bhaji (before I ate all of them :D) and the salads on the buffet table

Sultan has a lunch deal, a self-service buffet with a fixed price. Naans (which are vegan!) and drinks are not included. The buffet itself is small but sufficient. There are several vegan options, and the staff knows which ones are vegan. Everything is accessible at once, but can be defined as starters/mains/desserts.

Vegan naan bread at Sultan
Vegan naan!

For starters there are delicious onion bhaji, a cucumber salad, and an apple- beet salad. The beet salad was interesting, and a bit sweet.  The vegan “main” options are rice with chick peas, dal tarka, basmati rice and vegetables (cauliflower and potato). There are some lychees for dessert, but I believe there are more dessert options at the dinner service (Not sure if those are vegan)

Dal at Sultan
Dal Tarka at the buffet table
Overall the food was of a good quality, and I am always happy to find vegan naans! The price is fitting for the food that is available. I hope to go back to Sultan for dinner one day.
Type of place: Indian restaurant, buffet
Completely vegan: no
Vegan desserts: yes

Website (French, English): http://www.sultanindian.ch/