India's first: A backpacker hostel for vegan wayfarers

India’s first vegan backpacker hostel in Bengaluru is a boon for people with different food choices.
Happiness Cafe.
Happiness Cafe.

It’s called Happiness Cafe and is nestled in the leafy downtown of Bengaluru’s Koramangala. The sunny vibe of this two-month-old eatery pairs well with the aroma of the fare. A guest is digging into a freshly baked Puddu Cake ­ — a creamy pudding made from cashews, coconut, dates, walnuts, almonds, and jaggery. At another table, a young couple is devouring Greek pockets — toast topped with fresh mango jam and paired with coconut iced coffee.

It could be any boilerplate swanky new café in the city, except there is a difference. Happiness Cafe is a vegan café situated in a vegan backpackers hostel, supposedly India’s first (and perhaps the only) such vacationing space. The hostel itself is three years old, and the addition of the cafe two months ago makes it evident that veganism is a growing trend in the Garden City.

Founders of the hostel Lakshman Badami, 30, and Vanessa Zwick, 26, believe their meet-cute at a music festival in Bengaluru in 2016 was karmic. Both are architects who share a love for travel. In 2018, they launched a small sustainability-based travel company before setting up the vegan hostel. During one of their trips, they heard some vegan foreign travellers complaining about the lack of good hostels that cater to their food choices. The result was the vegan hostel ironically named ‘Be Animal.’’ Isn’t that a bizarre name for a vegan establishment? “The name is meant to remind us all that we are part of the ecosystem and depend on the same things that keep every other animal on the planet alive such as sunlight, fresh air, good food and clean water,” explains Zwick. The hostel can house 30 guests.

For Rs 550 per night and mini-meals for Rs 120, it is an affordable choice for many backpackers. But how vegan can a vegan hostel get? “Even our coffee is sourced from a brand called Climate Wave Coffee whose founders visit coffee estates all over the country to choose beans produced using the most sustainable methods,” says Badami.

From the segregation of organic waste and recycling wastewater to sourcing pre-loved, salvaged furniture, their responsibility to the ecosystem is evident in all their actions. The couple, who got married a year ago, say that the café’s gourmet collection has 10 vegan brands in Bengaluru curated by them. The Sunday brunches at Be Animal are a vegan paradise with a huge variety of food options. Guests dig their Puddu Cake Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel — a speciality made from organic cashew nuts, fresh tender coconut, rich cocoa powder, almonds and pecan nuts. A chocolate lover’s favourite. Their innovative drinks such as Lemongrass Cooler (lemongrass and ginger with a dash of lemon juice) and Vietnamese Filter Black Coffee are popular on Instagram. The latter is an artisanally roasted manual brew coffee sourced from sustainable coffee beans from permaculture farms.

Every week there is a new menu. Guests arrive by noon. Shortly after, the food reaches their tables with the host couple elaborating on the ingredients, process and technique. Each brunch is limited to 25 customers and is priced at Rs 490. “We have hosted 55 brunches so far. There are about eight dishes. The brunch ends with the guests introducing themselves and their stand on veganism and a great opportunity to meet new people and have some great food,” Zwick explains.

They offer the diners in the room a better understanding of why people turn vegan. The brunch is also a chance for people to interact and make new friends. And like any other hostel, it is followed by guided meditation sessions, a flea market visit, a Thai yoga massage, board game nights and dumb charades. The couple predicts that sustainable and affordable housing will be among the tourism industry’s biggest challenges in the next decade. What are their future plans? “Creating a low-cost, highly modular building system for house construction,” they say.

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