Until last week, I had what I now call the ‘soy tofu’ glow. A glow that came from ingesting inordinate amounts of said protein during my recent trip to Indonesia.
That’s pretty much what I had during my whirlwind trip of the country across four destinations. Grilled tofu, soya chunks in sweet sauce, tofu wraps, soya crackers – you get the drift… one competed with the other to give me, ahem… interesting options. Yes, they finally took pity on me in Bali and gave me some vegetarian nasi goreng. And I finally understood the meaning of the term ‘breaking the fast’.
I am a vegetarian. And somehow the entire universe conspires to forget this fact. It begins with the travel agent who conveniently forgets to add AVML (Asian vegetarian meal) to my itinerary. And so I risk long-haul flights on a plate of sad-looking green pasta which I deprive some crew member of (yes sir! they do not forget to remind me it’s a crew meal!). And from then onwards, it’s a constant battle of trying to make people understand that I don’t eat anything ‘that at any given point of time crawled, walked, flew or swam’. And when the cute Indonesian waiter goes, ‘You are vegetarian (pronouncing it ve-get-arian) and plonks a plate which has soy and vegetables on top of an omelette and some prawn crackers on top!), I look upwards and mutter, “Why me?” Yes, again!
In some places, if you are vegetarian, you are drowned in pasta. Of all shapes, sizes and sauces! And the best part is that the chef presents it with a flourish… leaving me seething… And the word, ‘again’ dominates my vocabulary feeling jarred to my own ears. And yes, I’ve not even got to the Fresh Garden Salad as yet. While I wait at the table with visions of tomatoes (cherry, if I must be specific), bell peppers and cucumbers, I am presented with a plate of beautifully decorated greens that come with a Masterchef-like squiggly. I cannot recognise the various hues of green but I know they are vegetarian alright. I am not snooty but definitely hungry and do what I usually do with food I find difficult to stomach. I sprinkle liberal amounts of salt and pepper, squeeze some lime, close my eyes and fork the stuff down. The rest of the group, and let’s not forget the chef is sure I’ve attained vegetarian nirvana. My so-called whole-hearted acceptance of the greens is enough to send the chef scampering to make more of them ‘green’ delicacies.
Being vegetarian in a diverse group (read press trips to faraway lands) is an enlightening experience. You are enlightened by the fact that even though the ratio of vegetarian dishes to the others maybe in the range of 3:10, the other side will always want to dip into what’s been offered to you. At a restaurant in downtown Zurich, my plate of tofu in white sauce trumped over the meatier version of veal in white sauce. And at a fish joint in Beirut, I had to fight for my fattoush, tabouleh and hummus. And all I could do was grin and bear them, the others who were depriving me of my ‘greens’! They were having their food and mine too!
It can get embarrassing too at times. When I am suspicious of a particular dish (despite the many reassurances!), someone would volunteer to taste before I ate. And let me tell you, having my own personal taster is hugely embarrassing. You get all the attention, the wrong kind, obviously!
So how do I survive? On family vacations, there’s always time to explore Google Maps to find the nearest Subway or Pizza Hut or if it’s the Far East, Little Indias. On ‘barely-anytime-to-breathe’ press trips, I pray for understanding chefs. And sometimes it works. Like in Istanbul, I met a chef who had worked in India for a considerable period of time. He treated me like an old friend, understood my plight and served me bowl after bowl of delightful lentil soup, vegetable wraps and sandwiches. And did not even once mention pasta! At other times, I survive on just breakfast. And discover fruits with a vengeance.
People travel all over the world for different things. Perhaps to even get their mojo back! I travel… and find what’s on my side of the ‘green’ fence. And yes, to get that ‘soy-tofu’ glow!
(This piece has been published in the January issue of The Woman, the magazine I edit. Changed the headline here 🙂 http://www.almarathewoman.com