Vegetarian Paradise - Saravana Bhavan
A relatively new entry into Kuwait’s dining-out landscape, Saravana Bhavan, which opened in mid-March of 2012, has managed to capture the palates of vegetarian food-lovers in Kuwait.
Located on the 4th floor of Humoud Towers, off the Gulf Road in Fahaheel, above the Centrepoint Store, the restaurant has easy access and plenty of parking in the vicinity; but finding an empty slot for your vehicle, during the busy hours, is whole different matter.
The Times was recently at Saravana Bhavan Kuwait, nibbling on nuggets of fried mushrooms sautéed with vegetables and crushed peppercorn, while sipping the famed special filter coffee. Served in a quaint little steel tumbler placed in a larger steel bowl, the proper etiquette to drinking the foamy coffee is to decant the steaming fluid in small portions into the bowl, relishing the flavor and aroma as you sip it. We did just that while enjoying the expansive view from the window of boats bobbing in the gentle waters of the Arabian Gulf.
Saravana Bhavan, an Indian vegetarian restaurant that started out as a small food outlet in a middleclass suburb of Chennai, India, in 1981, has in the three decades since, mushroomed across India and the world. In a telling sign of its growing popularity overseas, today there are more branches, 46 in the last count, abroad than in entire India, where
it is mainly limited to the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and to two outlets in New Delhi.
However, no matter in which outlet of Saravana Vegetarian Paradise Bhavan you eat, in India or abroad, their quintessential taste, the relaxing ambiance and unpretentious,
attentive service remains the same — whether it is New Delhi or New York, Anna Salai in Chennai or Abu Humour in Doha, the Saravana Bhavan experience remains unchanged.
While this replication may not appeal to everyone, particularly to those who insist on a new dining experience every time they visit a restaurant, to tens of thousands of loyal diners
across the globe, who pass through Saravana Bhavan doors each day, this is the way to vegetarian nirvana.
Moreover, there is no denying the immense operational benefits of having standardized processes that can be accurately duplicated ‘n’ number of times, especially when
you are rapidly launching restaurants around the world. This cloning process, which is relatively easy in the case of limited fast food options as served by international chains like
McDonald’s or KFCs, is a relatively new phenomenon in India and one made all the more complicated by the variety and intricacy of Indian vegetarian cuisine.
The fact that Saravana Bhavan has perfected this art of replication is a credit to the stability of the processes they have in place, the training and experience of the staff and the dedication, perseverance and commitment to consistency by the management. “When we opened, and even before, when we were in planning stages, everyone we talked to
was skeptical about the success of a solely vegetarian restaurant in Kuwait.
Most people we spoke to were of the opinion that in this country, where ‘non-veg’ is the general dining preference, a purely vegetarian and that to a specifically South Indian vegetarian restaurant had very little chance of success,” said Ananthi Natarajan, the vivacious and politely assertive proprietress of Saravana Bhavan in Kuwait.
“Nevertheless, I was convinced that most people, no matter how fastidious their preferences, are willing to try something new, at least one time as an experience. And that is all I
wanted, for people to come to our restaurant and try out the food, even if it was for the novel experience. I was fully convinced that having sampled our food one time, they would
definitely be back for more. It is this confidence, that as a franchisee of Saravana Bhavan, we would be able to deliver delectable South Indian vegetarian fare that would have
diners coming back for more, which made me open this restaurant.
I am glad that in the ensuing nine months my initial confidence has been vindicated by the growing number of new and repeat customers.” “The tremendous success of our first restaurant has given me the needed assurance to begin planning expansions. We are currently looking to enlarge with a separate banquet hall and to start an outdoor catering
division as well as a dedicated savories section.
We have recently started a small early morning breakfast menu and take-away to meet needs of customers who come
after their night-shifts. Also, in the wake of strong growing demand, we are planning on opening a second branch, most likely in Salmiya, in the near future. More than finding a new
place, it is obtaining the necessary visas for staff that is holding up our expansion plans. South Indian cuisine generally needs more specialized manpower with specific chefs for
each of the different specialties.
The immigration people were surprised when we asked for 40 personnel to run a restaurant. Besides, as a franchisee of Saravana Bhavan we employ only staff who have been
trained at the franchiser’s institute in India; so we cannot hire anyone locally,” said Ms. Natarajan Joining the conversation, Sundareswaran, Chezhiyan and Govindraj, the manager, the main chef and the kitchen supervisor respectively added their thoughts on what made Saravana Bhavan different from other eateries in town.
“It is not just that we are a vegetarian haven in the midst of a flood of nonveg restaurants; even among the few vegetarian restaurants in Kuwait, we are unique in that here, there is
an added emphasis on delivering authentic South Indian vegetarian dishes, spiced, flavored and served the way they are meant to be. There is no mish-mash of different styles of
cooking and neither are the seasoning nor zest of a dish tamped down,” said the manager.
“Our delicious food prepared with passion under very hygienic conditions and served with élan at very competitive prices is what makes our brand so appealing and enduring,” he added. “There is a consistency to the Saravana Bhavan taste, irrespective of which branch you visit. Whether you eat in Malaysia or Mylapore in Chennai or at Wembley in the UK,
everything from the size, weight and diameter of our dosas to the taste of our chutneys and curries to the little steel tumblers in which we serve our coffee, the dining experience will
be the same,” added the main chef.
“All of us are trained at our culinary institute in Chennai; no staff is sent to a branch without undergoing a minimum of 15 days orientation on different aspects of working for
Saravana Bhavan,” said the kitchen head, adding, “We are taught not only the specific spices and quantities to be added to a curry or soup, but also how to select the best
and freshest ingredients and how to roast and grind the spices to correct consistency.”
So what, we asked, were the most popular dishes at Saravana Bhavan?
“The most ordered dish is Thali, a whole meal on its own, which comes on a steel platter with a mound of rice in the center circled by tiny steel bowls holding soup, lentil curry, vegetable fries, yogurt, sweet dish and pickle among others. Another favorite is the dosa, a brittle, paper-thin pancake either served with chutney on its own, or folded over to enclose loosely mashed potatoes and onion masala, to form the famous masala dosa. And then of course there is our famous special filter coffee at any time of the
day,” said the manager.