Tag Archives: Seoul

Tales of vegetarian travel

Aesthetically pleasing vegetarian meali was at a party recently and I found myself in a conversation with two other vegetarians where we shared our vegetarian travel stories and general experiences of eating out as a vegetarian.

As I launch back into the world of airline food and foreign travel, it brings back many vegetarian-specific moments. There was that time in Rome: I think it was the first meal I’d ever tried to order there and we were at the art gallery. With my extremely minimal knowledge of the local language, I was convinced I’d ordered a vegetarian pizza. However what eventually appeared was an entirely tuna-laden pizza creation. It was so hot and the wait for the foot was long and I might easily have mixed up the word for some vegetable with the word for tuna. So, whether it was the waitress’ mistake or mine, I decided to grit my teeth and force feed myself. Even if I did eat meat, I think that’s the last time I’d ever order a fishy pizza – it reminds me too much of the children cheekily ordering sardine ice cream in The Faraway Tree. I’m afraid the names tuna, salmon and sardines are mainly associated with cat food in my mind. In Japan I learnt to say I was vegetarian and so avoid being served red meat, however seafood did not seem to fall into the meat category there. Many a vegetarian meal was filled with fish cakes that I had fun times trying to catch with chopsticks and eject from my meal, and topped off with a sprinkling of all-pervasive fish flakes that could never be eradicated.  Probably the three countries where I struggled most as a vegetarian were France, Germany and Japan. In Japan the group I was with did the early morning Tsukiji Fish Market excursion to see the tuna auction & all the weird and wonderful ‘fruit of the sea’. Afterwards we were given two choices for breakfast: seafood restaurant or McDonalds! I definitely didn’t go to Japan to eat fast food, but that was my only vegetarian option (and I can’t deny a penchant for hot cakes on ocassion). 

In France I think it was agreed that I was insulting the national cuisine and I remember being given, somewhat distainfully, s plate of beetroot and carrot while others were eating garlic snails. In Germany I struggled to stay vegetarian and avoid diabetes, living for three weeks on a diet consisting almost entirely of cake, coffee, cheese and potatoes, with the ocassional sour kraut or boiled broccoli. I have to say the most nutritious meals I had there were I think Italian and Mexican…

Vegetarian heaven was a couple of temple food restaurants in Seoul’s Insadong district, where acres of bowls of different vegetables all cooked to preserve individual flavours greeted us, and Korean meals always come with veggie side dishes at least. Filling up on buffet breakfast is sometimes your best vegetarian move, Danish cheeses and salad breakfasts come to mind, along with Thai fresh fruit spreads. 

Vegetarian meals on flights are an interesting prospect: if there is one thing non-veggies often leave out of veg meals (apart from the obvious one: meat), it’s protein. Pasta with red sauce and sporadic zucchini cubes is not high in protein… Then there is the choice of whether to say you want ‘Ovo-lacto’, ‘Asian vegetarian’, ‘western vegetarian’ or some other combo. Sometimes I’m disappointed when someone obviously equated vegetarian with ultra-healthy and gave me fruit cubes, while all the meat eaters got lemon cheese cake! 

In China, they taught me how to say I was vegetarian, but warned me that if you get the tones wrong, you can end up saying ‘I eat trees’. If there’s one thing about being a vegetarian, it certainly makes travel interesting! 

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Just passing through…

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Streets are a means of getting from one place to another, and sometimes our destination is a house or business on a particular street, but are streets destinations in themselves? I was looking back over some travel photos and trying to remember famous streets that I’ve visited, and work out why they were famous.

I once visited the extremely steep cobbled street in Shaftesbury, England, which is called Gold Hill, and was apparently made famous by a 1970’s TV commercial for a brand of bread I’ve never heard of. It is very photogenic, but I’m glad I don’t have to climb it every day – definitely not the street to learn to ride a bike on! Of course there are many other streets that have been made famous because of prominent TV shows or movies that featured them. In Melbourne you can go on a tour to the Ramsay St made famous by ‘Neighbours’ – but I have made a point of never going on that tour. When you travel, you often see special polished plaques that show where famous people were born, or died, or where historic events took place – I always feel ignorant when I’ve never heard of the person mentioned on the plaque. In Germany I saw ‘Hier war Goethe’ (Goethe was here) on a house – I believe there’s a bit of a joke that he was just about everywhere in Germany, perhaps the equivalent of claiming Queen Victoria spent a night in your town’s hotel. Streets are even famous because fictional characters lived there, like Baker St and Sherlock Holmes, or Lyme Regis and Louisa Musgrove’s fall from the steps of the harbour wall in Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Some cities are famous for all the streets, rather than just one, like Hanoi and the chaotic motorbike and other traffic and the constant din of horn honking, or San Francisco and the steep steets and iconic trams.

I visited Drosselgasse in Rüdesheim, a town on the Rhein in Germany. Originally a thoroughfare to the river in the 15th century, Drosselgasse is a very narrow laneway in the old part of town, which is full of elaborately decorated taverns and restaurants – apparently in the summer crowds of tourists flock to it and there is music playing along the street all day and night long – but we were there in May and I was able to get a photo with no people in it ( don’t remember hearing any music either). Other streets are known for a particular ethnic group that inhabited the street, like Singapore’s Arab Street and established shops or restaurants there, and like Chinatown in many cities. On a visit to Seoul we were looking for lunch and emerged out of a train station onto Seoul’s street of toilets and bathroom fittings. It was a long walk to find food…

The streets near your home or work often become the places where your own history is based. I remember certain streets because I lived there, or a friend did, or I once visited a shop there that has now closed down (like the chemist where I accidentally hooked my umbrella on the corner of a glass shelf and sent a whole row of bottles of calamine lotion cascading onto the ground where they broke and made a large puddle on the carpet – the people in the shop were very gracious, but I avoided that shop for a year afterwards and was sort of relieved when it closed down)… Sometimes I remember a street because I took a walk with someone and had a significant conversation. The subject of the conversation somehow becomes interwoven with the places you pass as you converse, or the fences and walls you stop and rest against.

Last year at a film festival I saw two French films that were filled with scenes of characters walking. One film, Tirez la langue, mademoiselle, translated into English as Miss and the Doctors featured the two male leads (brothers who are doctors) and the female lead walking separately through the 13th arrondissement of Paris at various times of the day and night, meeting up in a cafe, or going to or from work. The prevalence and extent of these scenes made me ponder why they were there. Was it a statement about French life? Did the individual walking styles of the characters reflect their personalities? Or was it just an opportunity to show the street scenery – the walking equivalent of a car chase film shot in narrow Italian streets?

Rohmer in Paris was another film that brought together numerous scenes of characters from the films of director Eric Rohmer walking through Paris. The director of this film, Rohmer in Paris, also weaves his own history of Paris and his intersections/obsession with Rohmer into the movie. The streets of Paris are very scenic, of course, and there is something dynamic about walking scenes. Something about the action of walking seems to help the mind to process things.

What do streets mean to you? Do you have a favourite street? On the one hand I liked experiencing the over-the-top lighting display of Singapore’s Orchard Road on a night near Christmas, while on the other hand holding fond memories of an unpaved avenue lined by elms half disappearing into early morning mist. Sometimes I do like to stop and ‘smell the roses’ on the street, but other times I’m just passing through…

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