CHENNAI: Tucked away in a corner opposite Stella Maris College stands a little joint enough to seat 20 people. We are intrigued by the name Tamu Tamu. “It means ‘good food’ in Swahili,” says BG Shivakumar, co-founder of Tamu Tamu, an all-vegan Lebanese cafe in Gopalapuram. “I picked up a liking to Lebanese food when I was working in London. There are many such joints and most of them are little road-side shops you can stop by, for a quick bite. I wanted to introduce the same concept here in Chennai.” The cafe has large glass doors which face the Dhwaraka temple which sits under a giant peepal tree. You can also see the busy main road behind it.
“A lot of people walk-in during late evenings, because we are on the main road and it’s easy to stop and grab a bite,” he says. A staunch vegan himself, Shivakumar seeks to spread his concern for animals by offering all vegan options that will fill your stomach and is light on the pocket. “India is five years behind the UK when it comes to vegan food. When veganism hit India, it was perceived to be a rich man’s plate only because it was a niche market and vegan products were new. Now, vegan milk costs `28 a litre which is akin to regular milk prices,” he says. The animal rights activist is against the slaughter of animals for meat and has taken a moral stand. “I was born into a family of vegetarians. In 2010, I turned vegan. It was an immediate switch after I had a conversation with someone in London. The poultry and dairy industry has become a manufacturing unit to satisfy our needs.
Animals are not treated like living beings and no one cares if they feel pain. They were created for a purpose and they live their lives living out that purpose,” he says. Shivakumar goes on to explain that Lebanese food in itself has many vegan options. Most dishes have items like hummus and falafels which are packed with protein and vitamins. He wants to run Tamu Tamu as a single-cuisine restaurant. “I want to stick to Lebanese cuisine and experiment with those flavours. My cafe does offer authentic Lebanese food, but we also adhere to the Indian palette and use ingredients like mustard and chilli sauce as well as jalapenos to add heat,” he says. Born in Chennai, the entrepreneur spent around 12 of his formative years growing up in Tanzania.
He then returned to Chennai, completed his education and 15 years later joined a firm in London where he spent another 10 years working in the banking industry. “I learned how to cook after I left home. I started with easy recipes and then tried to veganise them. I fell in love with Lebanese food because it was easy to make, didn’t have too many loose elements and everything came together in one bowl,” says Shivakumar. He believes that veganism cannot be enforced on people. It is a realisation that they have to come to themselves. “Anything with a central nervous system can feel pain, loss and sadness. I would never want to inflict any of that on anyone and this restaurant is my way of reaching out to people and spreading that message,” says Shivakumar.