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!