Thursday, December 07, 2006

being vegetarian in india!

being a vegetarian in india is a piece of cake (the eggless variety, of course)! i didn't realise how easy it is to be vegetarian in india as compared to other parts of the world till i started travelling.

here in india, whichever part of the country you are in, you will find enough choice available to you for vegetarian fare. even if you don't find a 'pure veg' restaurant you will find enough options on the menu even in a non-vegetarian restaurant. (for those of you readers who are not from india or have never been here, these are how the regular restaurants are classified!).

in india, we also have regulations which require all packaged foods companies to clearly color code their product with 'green' and 'brown' dots on the packaging to differentiate veg and non-veg foods. in many restaurants you will find separate kitchens or separate vessels, cutlery, etc being used in deference to the sensibilities of the vegetarians. (the vegetarians in india, i have come to realise, are very well taken care of!)

but the moment you set foot outside the country and you realise how different the world out there is as far as this distinction in culinary choice is concerned.

in most parts of asia vegetarian dishes include fish or egg. some places even do not think anything wrong in topping your vegetable fried rice with fried shrimps, shredded pork or a fried egg.

you can't even walk into a mac-donald's and hope to grab a quite bite like you would do back here in india. you will not find a single veg item on the menu there, except for the sodas and the ice-cream. while in india almost half the options on the menu are vegetarian. (i think it was a smart move on the part of mac-donald's to cater to local tastes!)

most of the people i meet and interact with in places outside india wonder how i survive as a vegetarian because they cannot think of managing it in their own countries. thats when it struck me that in india we have so many different choices and cuisines and there are so many different ways in which the veg dishes are cooked with all the myriad ingredients. a vegetarian doesn't ever find it challenging or boring to be one in india!

and i don't know if it is completely true, but i believe that even the non-vegetarians in india do have 'pure veg' meals more often than they have non-veg meals. and in indian we also have many occasions and festivals where non-veg food is avoided.

i believe that 'vegetarianism' which has ingrained itself as a value in our collective psyche (even if we don't adhere to it) has strong cultural and traditional roots. its as deep and strong as our value for the divinity in ourselves and others around us - don't we all touch the other person with our fingertips and touch our foreheads when we accidentally kick or brush our feet against them? i think our sensitivity or appreciation of vegetarianism is also as deep-rooted!

p.s. i think india must be the only place in the world where pizza hut has a 100% veg outlet. (the one at marine drive towards chowpatty. i am not sure if there are any more of them.)

do you have any interesting stories about food that you would like to share here?


Balaji said...

Very true Guru!
Once, in Kuala Lumpur, I went to a MacDonalds outlet and asked for a vegetarian burger. The guy at the counter didn't know the meaning of the word "vegetarian"! I had to explain: "No fish, no chicken, no beef, no mutton". He replied, "Then, no burger!"

Anonymous said...

In US, You have to specify that you need your food without Meat or Eggs.

ggop said...

Outside India the word non vegetarian is never used - there are only meat eaters and vegetarians. But you have to really probe and ask if the vegetarians are really veg because like you say fish is considered veg in some cultures.