No more butter chicken, eggs sunny side up with a just-so wobbly yolk or a slice of pepper chicken salami to spice up that pizza. The flip-flop on on the sale of chicken and eggs and fresh cases of bird flu in Delhi has many foodies spooked and sent restaurateurs scrambling for alternatives to keep business going.
On Tuesday, the Red Fort was shut for visitors after samples from a dead crow tested positive for avian influenza. Three days before that, a dead owl in the Delhi zoo had tested positive. And the panic for many was complete.
Like fitness enthusiast Ajay Kapoor, one of those who has, well, chickened out of chicken and egg.
"I am a gym person. Both chicken and eggs are important for my diet. But then I don't want to take any risk. If I have learnt anything from the pandemic, it is not to take these things lightly. I'll look for other options that are high protein food, but stay away from chicken and eggs for sure," the MBA student told PTI.
A recent survey by Public App, one of India's largest location-based social networks, bears out what he says. According to it, 61.68 per cent of the nearly 3,500 Delhi-NCR residents surveyed said they won't eat chicken and egg amid the bird flu scare.
Last week, the Delhi government banned the sale of processed and packaged chicken brought from outside the city and ordered the closure of the Ghazipur poultry market in east Delhi for 10 days after samples taken from crows and ducks at parks and lakes in the city tested positive for bird flu. This was withdrawn within 24 hours after 100 samples taken from Ghazipur tested negative.
Few people are taking the risk, even if it means giving up on the essential protein intake for fitness fiends, the quick fix morning meal for those in a hurry and for all those who swear by the aroma of anything chicken. The challenge is also to keep cravings of tandoori chicken and chicken tikka masala at bay.
Chefs, in luxury hotels and in humbler eateries, are putting on their thinking caps. Some have shifted focus to mutton, seafood and fish and others are experimenting with guilt-free mock-meat or plant-based products, made using soya protein, wheat gluten or vegetable substitutes such as jackfruit.
The food industry, already reeling under the impact of COVID-19, has lost little time in rejigging their menus to make them ‘bird flu proof’.
Jasneet Sahni, owner of Pikkle restaurant in west Delhi’s Rajinder Nagar locality, for instance, said he has added “exquisite seafood and plant-based dishes".
"With people cautious about having chicken and eggs, we knew we had to stir things a bit. We have introduced soya mince that just tastes like chicken but is vegan. It gives a meaty chew, but is absolutely healthy and chicken free," he explained.
According to a 2019 study by Ipsos, an independent market research company, 63 per cent of Indians are willing to eat a plant-based substitute for meat.
With eggs slipping low on the list of favourites, breakfast buffets have undergone a dramatic change too. Eggs or egg-based dishes are being replaced with preferred choice of meat, soya, mushroom, tofu or paneer.
And bakeries are stepping up on eggless cakes, pies and breads. Eggs are being replaced with substitutes such as unsweetened apple sauce, mashed bananas, chia seeds, silken tofu, yogurt, arrowroot powder or gelatin to prepare eggless dishes.
For the rest, mutton and fish are the go to meats in the winter.
Meatigo.com, an online platform serving over 150 products, said the sale of raw chicken has dropped by 15 per cent on a "week to week basis" while the sale of raw meat -- mutton, pork and seafood – has gone up by "10 per cent combined".
Udit Bhasin, co-owner of the OTB Courtyard in Connaught Place, is sticking to mutton and lamb, staples for Delhiities in the winter, even when there is no bird flu.
"In this winter weather people usually enjoy more red meat. Hardcore non-veg lovers are more inclined towards mutton/lamb based dishes which are much more flavourful. Goat meat is nutritionally more superior over to all other meats," he added.
Five-stars such as Hotel Crowne Plaza Today in Okhla have also noticed increased demand for mutton, lamb and fish dishes. Their best-selling dishes in the category: fish dumplings, lamb shakshuka, meat con carne, braised fish, lamb stew and fish roulade.
"As a standard precaution, WHO recommends that poultry and poultry products should be prepared under good hygienic practices and cooked properly. Hence, eating chicken and eggs at the trusted restaurants is totally safe," said Sumit Sinha, director Of Food and Beverage Crowne Plaza Today.
"However, we have seen that a lot of non-vegetarian guests are demanding mutton, lamb and fish based delicacies to satiate their cravings," he added.
Bird flu or no bird flu, vegan is the way for the future, said Dr Kiran Ahuja, vegan outreach coordinator of animal rights group PETA India. Interest in vegan dishes is skyrocketing over concerns on animal welfare, human health, and the environmental impact of producing animal derived foods, she said.
"These days, there are many delicious vegan meats available for people who want the taste of meat but want no part of the cruelty. Many companies sell vegan meat in stores and online, including Good Dot, Vezlay, and Veggie Champ. Urban Platter, Vegan Mall, Amazon India, Vegan First, and Vegan Dukan have large selections of vegan meat and other vegan foods that ship to your door," said Ahuja.
For tips on making the transition, PETA India offers a free 'Vegan Starter Kit' that can be ordered at PETAIndia.com, she added.
Before you polish off those melt-in-mouth mutton chops and gorge on your favourite pomfret tawa fry, remember that balance is key.
Sandhya Pandey, chief clinical nutritionist at Gurgaon’s Fortis Memorial Research Institute, said mutton should not constitute more than "50 to 100 gm" in a regular diet -- that too once or twice a week. Processed or cold cuts meats are also a big no-no, she said.
"Yes, these days (winter) you don't have to worry about cholesterol that much. But your intake of saturated fat should be less than 10 per cent of your total calorie intake. You can have fish but if you are having tinned fish, look at the sodium content, if the sodium content is higher than that fish is also not right," she explained.