KOLKATA: If you can't eat meat, let there be fish - or even vegetables.
That seems to be the mantra of foodies in Kolkata who have replaced meat-based dishes on their plates with prawn, fish and vegetarian items in view of a recent rotten meat sale racket unearthed by the police.
The city's top restaurants have claimed that people were opting for non-meaty dishes, but clarified that there was no decline in footfalls over the weekend, though some customers approached them with queries about food quality and their source of supply.
"Roughly, there has been a 60 per cent fall in the orders of meat items across our member restaurants this week.
But we cannot say that the profit margin has gone down as people are ordering fish and prawn delicacies instead of meat dishes," Sudesh Poddar, the president of Hotel and Restaurants' Association of Eastern India (HRAEI), told PTI.
Earlier this week, the police busted a racket and arrested some people allegedly involved in the selling of decomposed meat collected from the city's dumping grounds.
The police seized nearly 20 tonnes of rotten meat, apparently meant to be supplied to restaurants after chemical treatment, from a cold storage in central Kolkata.
The incident has made restaurant owners more cautious about the quality of raw supplies delivered to them.
Nitin Kothari, owner of the city's two iconic restaurants -- Mocambo and Peter Cat -- said chefs and other employees had become more alert since the scam surfaced.
"We have adopted stricter measures to check the quality of raw materials that come into our kitchens," he said.
He, however, seemed confident that such rackets would not affect sales at his restaurants as be believed his patrons had faith in the quality of food served there.
"Our restaurants have been serving quality food for years. We do not make compromises to lure more customers," he said, adding that their meat supplies come from established outlets.
US-based casual dining chain TGIF also said their meat was sourced from top brands.
"TGIF is a renowned brand and we would not do anything to taint our name," said Kingshuk Das, restaurant manager.
A cashier at 'Arsalan' too echoed Das and denied any cascading effect of the carcass episode on the biryani major's sale.
"I cannot see any fall in demand for our signature items. People know about our food standards," he said.
Shiladitya Chowdhury, the owner of Oudh 1590, assured his customers that there was no need to panic, at least not at his restaurant.
"There has been a marginal decline in the sale of mutton items in three of our outlets, but the demand for chicken items has only increased. Our loyal customers have not changed their preferences," he held.
Over the past few days, 10 people, including a leader of a political outfit, have been arrested in connection with the racket.
The ongoing crackdown has also sparked rumours about the sale of non-edible meat in popular eateries.
Akhtar Hasnain, the owner of Shiraz Golden Restaurant, said he was forced to initiate legal action against "some people" who were trying to taint his brand.
"We procure goats and slaughter them at our own facilities. There is no chance of any adulteration. Some people are disseminating false information to destroy our goodwill," he said.
According to Pranab Singh of Opium Bar and Restaurant, the carcass case was a serious issue and should be dealt with at the earliest.
"People know which eateries serve meat items at low prices. Quite obviously, the roadside stalls are facing the heat," he said.
The West Bengal government has constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to examine the issue and directed all police stations in the metropolis to keep a watch on the sale of meat in their areas.