Planting the seeds: Dubai Vegan Days

Founder Ananda Shakespeare discusses the growing popularity of her pop-up vegan events. (Supplied)
Updated 23 July 2019

Planting the seeds: Dubai Vegan Days

DUBAI: Dubai Vegan Days held its latest event — an Indonesian plant-based brunch — at the city’s Rove Healthcare City hotel on July 6. Zendy Marsam, an experienced vegan chef of Indonesian heritage, created the menu, which — on the main course platter, following the salad buffet appetizer — included her flavorsome signature vegan rendang, an excellent banana-blossom curry, spiced tempeh, an inviting Balinese satay, a baked Javanese corn cake, and a delicious serundeng (a mix of peanut and spiced coconut floss). The only real let-down was the yellow rice cone that formed the centerpiece of the platter — which was undercooked and clumpy.

The dessert platter held a sumptuous tropical fruit gelato (created by Vegan Artiserie) and a bubur ketan hitam (a black-rice pudding with passion fruit, mango and coconut-pandan sauce).

For those looking to work up an appetite ahead of the brunch, there was a free 30-minute neuropilates class included in the $27 price per head.

This was a fairly typical example of a Dubai Vegan Days event, according to founder Ananda Shakespeare, who launched the initiative around 18 months ago as a pop-up “just to bring the community together.” Many of the events since have taken place at Rove Healthcare City — its funky, rustic space is a great setting for a community event — but Shakespeare has also taken her project to other locations in the city, including a sunset event at Dubai Herbal & Treatment Center, as well as various restaurants (usually around the time they launch a vegan menu).

“It’s not really run to make money,” Shakespeare explained. “The philosophy behind it is more just talking about veganism and encouraging people to come along and try it.

“I thought I was the only vegan in Dubai,” she continued. “I didn’t realize there was this whole movement happening over here and it was becoming so popular. I joined a vegan meet-up and realized there were other vegans around, and now I’ve made loads of vegan friends. We’ll meet up for barbeques and pool parties. It’s great.”

Veganism is becoming increasingly popular globally, and the UAE, it seems, is no exception. The Indonesian brunch had a crowd of around 50 when we attended, in an 80-seater restaurant, and with two hours still to run by the time we left.




Ananda Shakespear. (Supplied) 

“None of it’s new,” said Shakespeare. “I’m 45 years old and I’ve never eaten meat, fish or eggs. My parents were vegetarian and vegan 50 years ago. So it’s not new to me, but there’s definitely a movement that makes it very of-the-moment right now, and that’s probably because of celebrities endorsing it. But we’ve known these things for ages: We know they’re cutting down rainforests just to raise cattle for the meat that we want to eat. We know about battery farms. We know about fish farming. It’s crazy. It’s not a sustainable way to live.”

There are, she believes, three main reasons (apart from celebrity endorsements) that people turn to veganism.

“It’s either for health, for the environment, or for animals,” she said. “I’m an environmental activist. I’ve started two environmental charities in the UK. So, if anything, I’m vegan from an environmental standpoint. I do think it’s good for your health to not consume dairy or meat or fish too. I believe fish are just in the dustbin of our world — the oceans. I think animal cruelty is probably the biggest reason that people turn vegan. That’s the power of films like ‘Forks Over Knives,’ that have really opened people’s eyes.”

She stressed, too, that Dubai Vegan Days isn’t just for vegans: “I don’t consider myself very militant about it. I really welcome non-vegans along. People who just want to try it. There’s room for everyone. It’s not nice to have a them-and-us mentality.”

She is aware, however, that just as veganism is growing in popularity globally, it is also attracting a lot of negative attention.

“There’s a lot of vegan hatred. You see it everywhere,” she said. “For years, I told people I was vegetarian, I didn’t say I was vegan because people see it as so extreme and they don’t understand it. I think maybe people feel like you’re judging them by what’s on your plate. The truth is, they know they’re eating an animal that’s been killed for them. And that’s hard to cope with, I think, so they’ll attack you and put you down. But if you break down most of the arguments, they’re not very logical.”


Tonda delivers authentic Italian flavors at the double

The Italian establishment’s first GCC branch is a welcome addition to the Dubai scene. (Supplied)
Updated 19 August 2019

Tonda delivers authentic Italian flavors at the double

DUBAI: With organic ingredients and an eye-popping variety of authentic Italian dishes, the Dubai-based Tonda Pizza is a perfect choice for fast-casual dining.

The roots of the business lie as far back as 1948. The Italian founders apparently used to sell pizza to holidaymakers on the beach in Pescara, by the Adriatic Sea. The small-pan pizzas were ideal for people who wanted to grab a snack on the go.

Tonda Pizza has multiple branches around the world and is planning to bring its concept to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, but its first regional outlet opened recently in Index Tower, in Dubai International Financial Center.

At the doorstep of the restaurant, you will be welcomed by the friendly staff who are enthusiastic and happy to serve you. Some of the Italian words may be hard to understand, but the waiters will be able to answer any questions.

The interior is cosy and just as welcoming as the staff. The atmosphere is classy, relaxed, and quiet. For the many employees in the area, this is a great spot to take your mind of work for a while.

The restaurant serves a seemingly endless variety of pasta and pizza made with organic flour, olive oil, and tomatoes imported from Italian farms. It also offers a range of special homemade starters and desserts.

Tonda, meaning ‘round,’ offers “guilt-free” pizzas. The thin crispy slices are full of authentic Italian flavor, but the dough does not contain animal fats, and it’s gluten-free.

It always fun to watch your food being cooked right in front of you, and Tonda’s open kitchen means you can do just that. The service is impressively fast, too.  The meal is best accompanied by one of Tonda’s traditional Italian drink offerings, which include Chinotto, Gassosa, Limonata, and Spuma. 

The tasty burrata salad was a more-than-generous and delicious starter. Fresh balls of cheese decorated the bowl, which was overloaded with mixed tomatoes and fresh basil.

Next up was a delightful range of pizza. Thick mozzarella cheese (10 out of 10 on the cheese-pull test), shreds of well-cooked beef, and a sprinkling of rocca leaves coated each slice of the thin-crust bresaola, while the tartufo boasted a delicious truffle spread and mushroom topping.

The undeniable highlight of the meal, however, was the salamino pizza. Its spiciness might make your eyes water as well as your mouth, but it was well worth it. The salamino was topped with organic peeled tomatoes, spicy beef salami, extra virgin olive oil, and decorated with oregano leaves.

The pasta that accompanied the bolognaise gave a good firm bite — perfect for those who like their Italian cooked al dente. The portion was ideal for one person. 

 

Once you are done with the main course, the restaurant offers a tasty selection of desserts too. We’d recommend its unique Nutella pizza topped with sliced bananas as a must-try.   

Tonda may be a little on the expensive side for what is, essentially, fast food (albeit high-quality fast food) — an appetizer, main course and beverage could cost up to $21 — but we’d say it’s worth the price for some tasty, healthy fresh Italian fare.