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Occupational Hazards: Karuna Ryan, vegetarian cook


Karuna Ryan who works from a purpose built catering trailer.

Karuna Ryan who works from a purpose built catering trailer.

Karuna Ryan who works from a purpose built catering trailer.

Karuna's Kitchen operates from a purpose-built catering trailer which we lovingly designed and completed in January 2013. Previous to that, for 12 years, we traded from a canopy and tables which we carried in a van, and which we would set up and break down for each market.

We describe our food as "world vegetarian", as we sell products from India, Italy, Spain and Greece. However, Indian is our main emphasis. Our best seller is our "half and half" which is a tray of basmati rice, with one ladle of vegetable curry and one ladle of cheese subji (paneer).

Everything is home made – all natural ingredients, and some organics, such as flours, chickpeas, some spices, some rice, and sometimes some of the vegetables. We have a kitchen in County Fermanagh where we live, and the cooking is done there, and transported by us to the markets.

We sell at the Temple Bar Market on a Saturday and then on Sunday in the People's Park in Dun Laoghaire. Both markets have quite different atmospheres to them, with Saturday being very busy, whereas Sunday sees a more tranquil setting, in a large park by the coast.

Most of our business is made up from regulars, some of whom have been with us from the very beginning. It is very satisfying to see them return week after week, enjoying the food, and expressing their appreciation. It makes it all worthwhile.

I run the business with my husband, Gopa. We moved on from the name we inherited – Pure Vegetarian – when we took over the business in 2001 from a friend of ours who had started up in Temple Bar farmers' market. I go by the name Karuna, and I guess it just seemed a natural choice to put the kitchen after it.

The Indian influence in the food comes from the fact that we are members of the Hare Krishna community (ISKCON), which of course has its roots in India. I became a Hare Krishna because I had always been interested in finding answers to life's purpose and meaning. I had a gut instinct I should follow a religious life, yet I didn't manage to find the answers to my questions within the Christianity that I was brought up with, unfortunately.

In my late teens I became an atheist for some time. Then, at age 22, I met my (now) husband who had committed himself to the Vaishnava tradition (more colloquially known as the Hare Krishna religion). I gradually discovered answers to all of those questions I had since childhood. It felt like coming home, and brought a huge relief and solace.

We follow what is knows as a "Sattvic" Indian diet. Sattvic refers to foodstuffs in the mode of "goodness". Meat, fish and eggs as well as even mushrooms, onions and garlic belong to either the modes of passion or ignorance and are therefore avoided. As well as this, our diet is "lacto-vegetarian", so we use dairy products.

My father recognised that it was immediately having a positive effect on me, and that was enough for him to accept it. My mother came around in time. My friends at the time were not so over the moon to see me changing my lifestyle and giving up my partying, pub going and general student lifestyle. They didn't want to lose their social buddy.

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The business has been very exciting and fun to be a part of, although also hard work to build it up over the years. Vegetarian food is much more popular and widely accepted these days, but when we first began to trade, 14 years ago, this was not so much the case. I think that people have generally become much more open to trying a veggie option. I see it as part of Ireland becoming more open minded and cosmopolitan.

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