World Over, eating habits of people are broadly categorised as Vegetarians and Non-Vegetarians. Ever wondered why it isn’t Meatarians and Non-Meatarians ? I was forced to think so last week and let me share with you how and why.
Let me first give you a little preface before the story.
Typically, like others, our weekly or fortnightly family eating out is a celebration or enjoyment, or in cool terms, is freaking out, collectively. And as typical Punjabis, eating out (and ordering takeaway or calling food at home) has to be Non-Vegetarian. Nothing unusual about it. Many of us feel so. If we are eating out then why not meat (mutton, chicken, fish, seafood etc). Daal-Subzi-Paneer we eat at home almost daily. Then why spend money on that? Isn’t it true for most of us?
In our family, there has arisen a little complexity. Many years ago, I decided to give up eating Non-Veg (eggs included) on Thursdays and still following it. So we stopped going for eating outs on Thursdays. Then, last year, after a gap of almost more than two decades, my wife has turned (though as per her, temporarily) strict Vegetarian. Now, whenever we want to go out, rest of us we three (me and my two daughters) consider that if she’s not going to enjoy, what’s the big fun of going out. She would insist that there’s no problem and she enjoys eating veg so no worries. In the heart of heart, we know she’s accommodating us and doesn’t want to spoil our plans (wife and mother are typically like those sacrificing heroes). That’s why, our eating outs have gradually become somewhat less but still we do go out may be once in three weeks now; albeit with a guilt feel in three of us.
Suddenly, last week, my guilt has gone away and I have a paradigm shift in my perspective. How ? Let’s see.
Last week, I was travelling and it got extended. Now, it was a Thursday and I was a vegetarian by choice that day and I was out. While work was on top of my agenda but also was thinking how to make best of the day with veggies (back home it’s not a problem, it’s a question when you are out and there are many choices of good non-veg food around- remember, the Punjabi eating out has to be meat). So, beginning of the day, in my hotel room , was listing down things to do during the day. Food that day, being vegetarian day, was last priority. How wrong was I.
The day started with a vegetarian breakfast in the coffee shop. Fruits and fresh fruit juice followed by some yoghurt. Then came in Idly with Gun Powder and Chutneys, Rava Upma, Pongal and Andhra Khichri / Baath. Amazingly, the delicate flavours in Baath and Pongal surprised me a lot. Very flavourful dishes and very satisfying. Very satisfying, even without eggs or sausages or bacon etc. I loved it and was very happy. Feeling satisfied yet quite light even after a meal.
The tight schedule thereafter and a satisfying breakfast, didn’t even allow me to think of food at least till late afternoon.
Having finished my last meeting before lunch I had to attend to some urgent documentation, so returned to my room. Having done with it, hunger crept in and it was almost past lunch hours. Thought of ordering something but then had some time at hand before my next meeting, so resolutely walked across to the restaurant to ‘enjoy’ some vegetarian delights. Also had decided in my mind to not to fall for the “regular ” roti, paneer, uttapam etc. It has to be something unusual and exciting. As soon as I settled on a table, Wow!! A beautifully laid Thali was awaiting for the eats to be ordered. Looking at the elaborate menu, I ordered an unusually simple lunch. I thought it was simple but the style of presenting and serving was extraordinary. First came in a spread of chutneys, including Peanut Chutney, Coconut Chutney, Ridge Gourd Chutney and Brinjal Chutney. The server explained each one of them to me while serving. These were followed by Pappadam decorated with a red fiery Andhra chilly. And finally, my order of Vegetable Stew and Appams came in. Vegetable Stew is basically a delicacy from Kerala. It has Carrots, Beans, Potatoes and Peas cooked in Coconut Milk and flavoured with Onions, Garlic, Ginger , Curry Leaves and spices. A seemingly rich white creamy dish, with colourful veggies popping out, had its own delicate flavours. The pipping hot Stew was enjoyed with appams. These are a type of Pancakes made with fermented rice batter containing coconut milk. The batter, with slightly lose consistency is poured in a lightly oil smeared kadhai ( if non-stick Kadhai is used then oil can be skipped) and then the batter is spread over by turning around the kadhai. What comes out is a light, fluffy, non-oily, smoking Appam. I enjoyed every bit of my lunch as it was delicious, flavourful and light.
The hectic schedule, after a wonderful break for amazing lunch, continued. Meetings, discussions, phone calls, papers etc went on till about 930 in the night. Didn’t realise that I didn’t have any tea/ coffee in the evening. Wanted a strong coffee badly but then sensed that I need something to eat since it was almost seven hours and I didn’t have anything. Again wanted to have something ordered but then, like lunch, wanted to explore veg food. A call to the coffee shop in the hotel and was informed that there was a Chinese and French Food Buffet laid there. Now another challenge; great French and Chinese Food and I am vegetarian. Equipped with yet another positive resolution, thought of giving it a try.
The experience once again was amazing. The starters were mildly marinated and comprised baked Mushrooms and Paneer Tikka with veg Cole Slaw and Salsa, of course not to leave behind the green chutney and veg shavings. A few bites in the mouth released a bouquet of flavours on your palate. Well begun half done thought encouraged me to go towards the main course. I scanned it and picked up Braised Potatoes in mild spices and Caramelised Onions, Spinach and Paneer Sauce filled Crepes, Veg Fried Rice, Veg Noodles and Mixed Veggies & Tofu in Almond Sauce. The Potatoes were a delight to savour, the crepes were soft and delicious, Veggies in that Sauce did wonders with rice. What a meal. Now the challenge came what to eat in the dessert ? Cakes, Pastries, Soufflé, Tarts and even Ice Cremes are not fully veg. They too have eggs. Reluctantly, explored the dessert counter and was in for a surprise. I picked up our very own North Indian Phirni, Khubani ka Meetha from the South and an eggless Chocolate Pastry from the continental spread. Ah !! What a satisfying and enjoyable meal……all vegetarian; unbelievable. Never thought that a full day of only veg meal can be so exciting and satisfying.
At the end, was forced to think….who says vegetarians don’t enjoy. They also do enjoy, albeit only if they want to. Only if they want to break away from the traditional Paneers and Palaks. And that’s when I concluded that it is right to distinctly categorise Vegetarians and Non-Vegetarians rather than Meatarians and Non-Meatarians; because we ALL ARE Vegetarians first and some of us eat Non-Vegetarian TOO !!! Some eat vegetarian fare by choice and some reluctantly. So next time, try to turn that reluctance into enjoyment. You would love it and love yourself for that feat.