Kaati Zone offers tasty combos packaged neatly for a quick working lunch
Kaati rolls, like Kolkata, are about languid indulgence. About elegantly unperturbed ‘time pass.'
Sitting on a park bench drinking sweet milky tea from a clay pot and arguing about Das Kapital. Popping plump rasgullas in your mouth between swapping scandalous stories about the neighbours. Languidly savouring the tangy coolness of puchka after puchka amid frenetic traffic.
In Kolkata, kaati rolls come straight off a noisy tawa sizzling in oil: fiery, flaky and fantastic. Generously stuffed with fried onions, kebabs and — for some extra indulgence — fluffy golden omelettes. You eat them slowly, peeling back the paper wrap as it gradually dampens with hot oil, and watch people go by. Park Street's an ideal venue. All those girls in nice shoes. And all those boys checking out the girls in nice shoes.
It seems inevitable that shoving the deliciously greasy roll into a QSR (Quick Serviced Restaurant) format will kill the romance. “Yeah, people from Kolkata get very heated up about it,” laughs Kiran Nadkarni, CEO of Kaati Zone. Admittedly, it does seem like an attempt to stuff a regal kanjeevaram-clad aunty into a leather biker-girl miniskirt.
However, their modus operandi becomes clearer with a glance at their first outlet at Express Avenue's lively food court. Kaati Zone's not attempting to reinvent the kaati roll. And a good thing too, considering the challenges it offers to a QSR menu, which demands healthy, quick and chic food. (Lets be honest, some of the most delicious Indian street food is so recklessly fried/ salted/ sweetened, it can only be eaten regularly by the truly metabolically-gifted.)
Instead, they take the spirit, and main ingredients, of the kaati roll and then structure it like a wrap. So although my malai chicken roll does come off a tawa, the traditional shallow-fried paratha is replaced with a sort of home-made chapatti, since I choose the ‘diet version' made with whole wheat flour. There's also a maida version, of course, which is admittedly tastier, if less healthy.
Besides the kebabs/ vegetables/ paneer, they add some lettuce, and then pipe in an array of spicy sauces. Ask them to go slow if you're sensitive to spice. My chicken bhuna is so hot, I have enough tears in my eyes to audition for an Ekta Kapoor serial.
In an attempt to stand out, the chain offers a range of options, in the style of Subway, so you can design your own kaati roll, putting in what you like. While the options aren't wildly creative — cheese, egg whites and egg — they do give you some wriggle room to keep things interesting.
While these rolls might not be as extravagantly luscious as traditional kaati rolls, they're unexpectedly tasty. Especially when you realise that the more virtuous ones add up to less than 200 calories. Their neat packaging makes for a fast, convenient working lunch. They also have ‘combos' as well as all those frills that make lunch fun: masala fries, cutlets, nuggets.
But the bottom line here is the rolls, and the menu's deliberately kept simple. It's a practical move. After all a format like this is far easier to set up, run and replicate.
So it is not surprising to learn that the concept was created by an ex-IIT Kanpur, ex-Silicon Valley venture capitalist. “I was looking for something Indian that could be translated into mainstream, international food,” says Nadkarni. After 20 years as a venture capitalist, determined to find something more meaningful than a ‘retirement hobby' he started searching for a project that would reach a population much wider than Indian immigrants, the traditional target base for all Indian products.
Nadkarni began Kaati Zone in Bangalore in 2004, intent on nurturing it into a global chain. After opening 14 outlets in Bangalore, he's now starting in Chennai. We particularly like their website, www.kaatizone.com, which allows you to tailor your order exactly the way you like it. It certainly beats spelling everything out to a sleepy delivery boy. Unfortunately, right now it only lists the Bangalore outlets.
On the plus side, this means you have to head to the mall for your healthy kaati roll. Add a vigorous round of window shopping. Now that's an invigorating lunch break!