A vegan affair at Okapi

Okapi Vegan Kitchen in Aldona started as an experiment for personal vegan food self-reliance, but is now much sought after for its desserts, community dinners, farmer’s market and sustainability philosophy.
Okapi vegan kitchen has built quite a reputation for its desserts.
Okapi Vegan Kitchen has built quite a reputation for its desserts.

One fortuitous day in a quaint village in Goa, a girl with formal training in Hindustani classical music, who studied economics, turned into a psychologist and then practised music therapy was looking for interesting animal names. That search was not entirely random. Neither did it stem from the fact that she is vegan and an animal lover. There was an ‘edible’ reason. The moment she stumbled upon okapi (pronounced oh-KAHP-ee), a large animal with white-and-black striped hindquarters and front legs, she paused. The name Okapi was snappy and melodic. That’s it, she thought. The animal that lives deep in the forests of Congo and is the only living relative of the giraffe will lend its name to her dream: a kitchen/restaurant. That’s how Okapi Vegan Kitchen was christened. 

Okapi, the african forest dweller the vegan kitchen is named after. Image: shutterstock.
Okapi, the African forest dweller the vegan kitchen is named after. Image: Shutterstock.

That girl with an arm tattoo — Aarti Sinha — had moved from Mumbai to Goa to do music therapy in an old-age home. She had alighted and fallen off the vegan wagon a few times, but those vegan days were difficult —there weren’t enough vegan options available in Moira/Aldona where she dwelled. That’s when she started rustling up vegan dishes in her kitchen. What started out as a vegan self-reliance experiment soon turned into a kitchen for vegan food delivery. That was nearly three years ago. 

Okapi vegan kitchen is run by aarti sinha and mahi baid.
Okapi Vegan Kitchen is run by Aarti Sinha (left) and Mahi Baid.

Aarti has no formal training in culinary science but the sweet-toothed and the gourmands are eating tarts, cakes, banana bread, and cupcakes out of her hand. Literally. Aarti’s kitchen has moved out of her home into an old Portuguese house in Quitla (Aldona) that sits on the steep incline of a gravelled pathway. She now also has a business/kitchen partner, Mahi Baid, who has formally trained/interned in culinary sciences — with stints in a cattle farm in New Jersey (USA) and Auroville (Pondicherry). She can certainly bake a delish wood-fired bread. In Okapi, Aarti and Mahi run the kitchen together and conjure some of the best desserts in this part of the town. 

Okapi's banana bread; and (right) kung pao chickpeas. (chickpeas photo by tanushree singh. )
Okapi’s banana bread; and (right) kung pao chickpeas. (Chickpeas photo by Tanushree Singh.)

But this kitchen-sorority started with an enchilada. “I was already running the Okapi Kitchen but when Mahi joined about a year ago, one evening we decided to make an enchilada. None of us were proficient with the art or the science of a good enchilada but it turned out splendid. I have not forgotten that day and that first enchilada,” says Aarti as the three of us sit in Okapi’s broad verandah with Zuma and Flash, the neighbour’s dogs who walk in and out nudging Aarti and Mahi for more neck rubs. 

The success of the first enchiladas turned that Mexican dish into one of the most sought-after off Okapi’s menu. Desserts are their signature fare — cakes, tarts, and cupcakes with beautiful toppings are the most ordered. Of course, there are smoothies, coffee, sandwiches, kung pao chickpeas and khow suey on the consciously slim menu. 

The khow suey at okapi is full of fresh ingredients.
The khow suey at Okapi is full of fresh ingredients.

With a fresh coat of paint, Okapi is ready to seat 24 again (on a good day it can push the number to 30). It is the long communal table that often lures food lovers up that steep gravelled path. “Though we do not have a fixed schedule, once a month we do a community dinner. The spread is laid on a communal table and everyone sits together and self-serves. The dinner usually runs for two hours or until the last morsel is finished,” says Mahi who moved to Goa to magnify and manifest expressions dear to her heart: food, sustainability and emotional fulfilment in stringing those expressions. Mahi confesses she has finally found that fulfilment in Okapi. 

Sustainability steers Okapi. “We source our produce as locally as possible by tying up with neighbourhood vendors. Though we try to adhere to our zero-waste philosophy, it gets a little tricky within our delivery segment. We require packaging according to the dish which is not always the most sustainable of all options. We just have to work around what is tenable,” adds Aarti.

For Aarti and Mahi, food is not merely a commercial adventure, they wear the mantle of vegan and sustainability evangelist. Not through food pedagogy but through efforts. Every second and fourth Saturday (12-4 pm), Okapi hosts a farmer’s market within its precincts. Anyone with organic produce and/or sustainable household items can spread their wares at Okapi’s Farmer’s Market. The duo also buys greens from local organic farmers and sells at the Farmer’s Market. After the house painting and brick/groundwork is completed, Aarti and Mahi want to grow herbs and greens in their garden. 

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In the long run, they also want to offer cookery workshops to vegan-novices and the curious who want to alter their food choices. 

Aarti has traversed long miles and unforgettable milestones — from Jamshedpur to Mumbai to Goa; from being a psychologist to music therapist to running a vegan kitchen. For Mahi, the journey has been across oceans and fraught with emotional necessities — from shunning her parents’ textile business to working in a cattle farm in New Jersey to Auroville and finally finding her moorings in the Okapi kitchen. Together, through food, they are carrying forward what Leonardo da Vinci said in the 15th century, “My body will not be a tomb for other creatures.” Touché, girls! 

Okapi's mango and cream tart.
Okapi’s mango and cream tart.

PS: When you see the Okapi signboard at the bend with an arrow pointing right, do not drive up the incline. There is no parking, not even an arm’s length to reverse the car. I did not know, drove up and returned with bruises on my lily-white car. 

Okapi Vegan Kitchen, House #372, Pequeno Coimavaddo, Quitla, Aldona, Mapusa, Goa 403508, Ph: +91-9820816965

Timings: 10 am to 5 pm (Tuesday to Sunday, Monday closed)

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