MUMBAI: With German sausages, French duck breasts and homegrown chicken, Francis Menezes is cashing in on the growing appetite for meat among Indians - even in one of Mumbai's most strictly vegetarian areas.
In the upmarket neighbourhood of Malabar Hill, numerous shops, restaurants and even some apartment blocks remain meat-free.
But Menezes, co-manager of the Cafe Ridge food store, says he does a brisk trade in "non-veg", especially with those who have studied abroad.
"Things like Thanksgiving, which was never celebrated over here in Mumbai, is now being celebrated every year. The new generations are cool with eating anything," he said.Customers stand outside the Venky's fast food outlet in Pune.–Photo by AFP
India's booming middle-class is driving the demand for meat in a country with a traditionally low intake - a survey in 2006 showed that 40 per cent of the population were vegetarian.
Fish and meat have long been part of other Indians' diets but for many they used to be a rarity, said Arvind Singhal, chairman of the consumer consultancy group Technopak Advisors.
"With rising disposable incomes, meat consumption is increasing," he told AFP. "Before meat would have been seen as for a special occasion."
Members of the Jain faith and some groups within India's majority Hindu religion hold vegetarianism as an ideal. Father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi espoused a meat-free diet as part of his non-violent philosophy.
But fewer of the younger generation appear to feel the same.A cook prepares to grill a chicken at a restaurant in Mumbai.–Photo by AFP
Despite coming from a "hardcore veg" Hindu community, bartender Ishita Manek is an enthusiastic member of the Mumbai Meat Marathon, a group that gets together every weekend to try out protein-heavy dishes.
"It's just to do with the country progressing. The mindset is changing and no one really sticks to traditional values anymore," she said, although she admitted her mother dislikes her love of beef, a taboo under Hinduism.
India's per capita meat consumption for now remains well below the Asian average, but with its population due to become the world's largest in coming years, analysts are calling for greater attention to how its food is produced.
"India needs to realise it is not a vegetarian country," said food security analyst Sangita Sharma.