Craving chicken, mutton or fish but can’t eat because you have vowed to shun all meat, are trying to lose weight or just observing the Navratri fast? For all the reluctant vegetarians out there, the plant world has two simple answers - soybean and jackfruit that can be moulded into faux meat but mimicking somewhat the taste of it.
And so there is soya chaap, soya tikka, keema soya matar, jackfruit kebabs, jackfruit curry and what have you to choose from, the texture and taste of each coming close to the non-vegetarian variant.
Sanchit Kapoor, 24, is among those who has managed to trick his taste buds with the go-to Navratri meal: soya chaap.
Soya chaap is a popular vegan Indian dish made with protein-rich soya chunks. It is made using soybean flour, tandoori masala blend and is grilled and wrapped around skewers or wood sticks to give it a meat-like appearance.
"Desperate times call for desperate measures. Not having non-veg for nine days is like torture for someone like me who has to have something non-veg every single day. I distinctly remember when my friend made me eat soya chaap two years back and I found the chewy taste very chicken like,” said Kapoor.
"Since then I have been having it off and on but without a miss during navratras. The fact that it is available in so many flavours also helps," added the Delhi-based IT professional.
The proof of eating chaap lies in the growing number of people ordering it.
Leading online food ordering and delivery platform Swiggy saw a "remarkable fivefold increase" in searches for plant-based alternatives to meat during Navratri last year, said an executive. Topping the list were soya chaap, malai chaap, tandoori chaap, afghani chaap, and masala chaap, he said.
Eating ‘raajasic’ and ‘taamsic’ foods, which non-vegetarian food and anything that includes onion and garlic, is a strict no-no during Navratri.
Ravi Kant from The Lalit, New Delhi, agreed that soya-based dishes are top favourites during the nine-day fasting season.
"This period often sparks a quest for vegetarian alternatives that can replicate the flavours and textures of their non-vegetarian favourites. The popularity of soya is grounded in several compelling reasons. "It is known for its high protein content and meat-like texture, rendering it a suitable substitute for meat in various dishes.
Its remarkable ability to absorb flavours results in a savoury and satisfying taste, said the executive chef.
His recommendations among the varied offerings in soya: chilli soya manchurian and keema soya matar. People looking for meaty flavours also go for mushrooms, tofu, eggplant and cauliflower.
Anu Puri, a gym regular, has settled for protein-rich tofu and inexpensive and healthy jackfruit for her non-veg-proof meals.
"Jackfruit is a blessing that I make full use of during Navratri. It is a delicious replacement for non-veg. You can literally make anything with it -- kebabs, curries and whatnot. Besides jackfruit, I have protein-loaded tofu everyday because for me it is taste second and fitness first. Tofu palak paratha is one of my favourites," said the Jammu-based homemaker.
Superfood jackfruit is indeed much in demand during the festive season, confirmed Sairaj Dhond, founder and CEO of Wakao Foods -- a plant-based food brand offering eight jackfruit based products.
His company supplies its products to over 150 restaurants across India and is available online. At this time of the year, the company sees at least "20- 25 per cent increase" in sales.
"People want to have something that is similar to what they like eating and what makes jackfruit so special is its texture, it is the most natural form of mock meat. We don't have to do anything to get its texture right, the fibrous texture that you have in jackfruit is available there naturally," he explained.
Though Navratri concludes on October 23, there are plenty of people who go for plant-based alternatives to meat because they have decided to walk the vegetarian path for a variety of reasons.