In 2012, CNN Travels, BBC (through AFP news agency) and even Bloomberg reported online that the world's first vegetarian McDonald's would open outside India's holy sites. Two of the country's most visited pilgrimage sites, where they planned to serve all vegetarian fare for the first time, are near the Golden Temple in Amritsar and Jammu and Kashmir's Katra town, the base of Vaishno Devi shrine. Out of the two, the all-vegetarian McDonald's is now operational at Amritsar.
Recently, the vegetarian counter of McDonald's was launched 200 metre from the Golden Temple, where free vegetarian meals are served to pilgrims.
But public relations functionaries of the fast food giant deny that McDonald's at Amritsar is the first vegetarian counter in India. They maintain that their first such outlet happens to be the Kurukshetra restaurant where the menu was changed to all-vegetarian to comply with norms after a municipal order extended the zone and prohibited the sale non-vegetarian food. Thus, according to them, it makes Amritsar the second vegetarian outlet of McDonald's in India.
The HT team visited McDonald's near the Golden Temple and spoke to the restaurant manager Harjinder Singh to get clarity on the matter. "Reports say that this is the world's first vegetarian counter of McDonald's. It is the first counter, which was born as a vegetarian restaurant in India. The one at Kurukshetra was initially a non-vegetarian outlet, which was later converted into a vegetarian one due to various reasons," he said.
"So it makes the Amritsar McDonald's first original vegetarian counter in India," he added. Terming it a 'very unique initiative', Harjinder Singh said, "Prior to paying obeisance in the Golden Temple it is good to have vegetarian food. I request and invite people to grab a vegetarian bite before going to the shrine," he said. According to Harjinder Singh, there are a number of pilgrims who complain about this outlet of McDonald's serving vegetarian food only.
"However, majority are those who have liked this counter for it is completely vegetarian. Surprisingly, many foreigners, too, have appreciated the vegetarian restaurant as nowadays many people prefer vegetarian food due to health concerns," he maintained.
Not many locals turn up to dine at this outlet as the place lacks parking facility, he said, adding that, "Our customers are mainly tourists."
The sumptuous vegetarian menu includes McAloo Tikki burger, a sandwich with a mashed-potato patty, Pizza McPuff and McSpicy Paneer burger and wrap and McVeggie burger. "McPaneer Royal burger, too, is available. In fact the vegetarian menu stays the same worldwide," says Harjinder Singh.
Johny Sharma, a tourist from Ganganagar, said, "We consume non-vegetarian food every time we step out for a bite. Every restaurant offers a good variety in non-vegetarian food that at times it becomes difficult to control the taste buds."
"But if we have a choice of consuming vegetarian food before entering a holy shrine, why not avail the opportunity as eating vegetarian food before worshipping in the temple is a better option. This counter will encourage tourists to consume vegetarian fare and stay healthy and light before offering prayers," he added.