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The low-cal conveyor

Looking around for interesting low-fat food? Aiwo's new outlet on Nungambakkam High Road could be an option



At Aiwo: Where style meets substance

LIFE IS so unfair.

Why can't rich, crumbly chocolate cheesecake and pizzas oozing cheese be low fat, while boiled beans and steamed carrots become high-calorie foods? Forget Utopia, now THAT would be an ideal world.

Unfortunately, all of us french-fries fans can't rewrite the rules. So, perhaps the next best thing would be to look around for interesting low-fat food to drown our sorrows in. And that's where Aiwo, the latest addition to Chennai's cautiously growing health market, comes in.

I have to admit, my friend and I were sniggered at as we entered their bright new outlet on Nungambakkam High Road, which was filled with the curious, all gingerly sipping pulpy, unsweetened orange juice as they hungrily waited for lunch.

After all, attempting to convert the land of ghee dosas and glistening kesari, armed with nothing but broccoli and tofu, does smack of tilting at windmills.

But, to its credit, Aiwo is certainly doing it bravely. And from the looks of it, doing it right.

Dev Malhotra, from the Taj Group of Hotels, who is general manager of the Aiwo project, says that Aiwo, which means `love yourself' in Chinese, is a "food for life restaurant designed to enable its clients to reach optimal well being." Since the Taj is a technical partner of Aiwo, their chefs have spent the past six months planning the menu. This food, made with extra virgin olive oil, contains about 150 ingredients, all selected because they are `good' foods. So instead of rice, they use barley to make dishes such as barley biriyani (yes, you read that right), barley bisibellah and barley pongal.

We seat ourselves at the table, which overlooks a sushi-bar style conveyer belt loaded with tiny bowls of food. Each bowl, they say, has about 50 calories. "No way!" goes my dining companion, holding aloft a tiny triangle of `tandoori millet roti' as her eyes widen with horror. "If that's 50 calories, I'm a monster! I normally eat about 20 times this amount."

Healthy ingredients

Actually that's fine. The meal on the conveyor, which has 14 items, is unlimited, so you can eat as many bowls as it takes to get you full. And, Malhotra says that they are `good calories,' since the ingredients are healthy and none of the food is fried, so you don't need to feel too guilty about polishing off a dozen. Or more.

We begin with a steaming green bean soup, which is thick, peppered with bright green spots of coriander and served with a sprinkling of crisp almond slivers. It's actually pretty good, and is followed by a bowl of delicious hummus twanging with a hint of lemon, which even my diet-allergic friend wipes clean — with her tandoori millet roti.

The stuffed zucchini, however, is considerably less interesting. As we poke it suspiciously with our forks, grilled mushrooms float past. "Grab them," squeals my hungry friend, as she dives for two bowls. "Gosh, eating here is like living in a safari park. You actually have to hunt down your food," she adds, spooning up the succulently spicy pair (yes, there are just two per bowl), served with a splash of pepper sauce.

Enhances skin

The tofu chilly garlic looks much better than it tastes, as do the sweet and sour vegetables. But that is compensated for by the black dal Aiwo style, which is incredibly creamy despite the fact that it's devoid of cream and butter and their unusual broccoli usli. My friend loved it so much, she poked me and hissed "Eat more... or we'll be dead by tea," as she pounced on the conveyor and grabbed 200 calories worth of palak.

Yes, there's dessert. I'm not too sure about what it was, but it tasted like a pool of ragi, sweetened with smashed apples. Not too bad really, especially when you consider the fact that you can get through a huge lunch and dessert here, and still not commit any calorie crimes. And still feel full for hours after your meal.

Aiwo also says that this food "enhances your skin, reduces obesity and, because it's rich in antioxidants, works as an anti-ageing mechanism." And besides, you also get a kick out of chasing beautifully designed calories down a conveyor.

A meal for two at Aiwo costs about Rs. 400. Call 55514241 for reservations.

SHONALI MUTHALALY

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