Ahmedabad’s favourite eateries are one kilometre apart from each other: the House of MG, a complex known for its vegetarian restaurants, and Relief Road, where New Irani Café serves non-vegetarian food like anda-keema and mutton sup.
While both places are among the city’s popular haunts, they might as well exist in different nations.
Gujarat has long been divided on the issue of meat. The division is felt first in childhood when Muslim children are instructed not to bring tiffin that has non-vegetarian food to school.
It deepens further in adulthood, in areas like Ahmedabad that are carved up on lines of food and religion. Non-vegetarian food is served only in localities where there is a Muslim majority.
In any place with a Hindu majority population, eating non-vegetarian is frowned upon to the extent that “people worry that their children won’t find a rishta if society finds out they eat non-veg,” said Mukhtar, a 46-year-old survivor of the 2002 riots who works at present as a shoe salesman.
The Mangaldas family is one of Gujarat’s most well-known businessmen. The family owned cotton mills set up in Ahmedabad. The current heir and owner of The House of MG, Abhay Mangaldas, has been interviewed many times about his fantastic heritage hotel and how he restored the place to its “old world charm”.
In comparison, the people who eat at The New Irani Café are a varied mix of Muslims, Hindus and anyone else who wants to eat meat. A plate of food rarely costs more than Rs 400, even though the actual eating is surreptitious – families of most customers, for instance, rarely know that someone in the house eats meat on the sly.
On one table at New Irani Café, a group of customers ordered dal fry and chicken. Every face turned to the man who had asked for the chicken. “Ghar pe pata hai kya?” Does anyone at your home know? his friend asked, elbowing him in the ribs. The men laughed at the impossibility of the notion. “No one can eat non-veg openly because he will be looked upon in a bad way,” a man who refused to identify himself said, as he tucked into his chicken curry.