Veggies going abroad do not have much of a choice when it comes to food

Everything seems great... you managed to catch the connecting flight (and so did the blessed baggage), the room has a splendid view, the weather is perfect, the children are not (yet) driving you up the wall... for a moment, it appears like heaven on earth. But of course, the feeling lasts only until you open the menu card. And then, whoops! it hits you. Not only is it all terribly confusing, written in some strange tongue, but none of the food items seem to have the reassuring green `V' sign next to it. From that moment (of truth) onwards, it all goes rapidly downhill. Well, welcome to the woeful world of vegetarian travellers. It's really sad, tragic even, that after spending a small fortune to get to a hip `phoren' location, the average Indian vegetarian suddenly realises that there isn't much to eat between the aperitif and dessert. Menu cards in many parts of the world read like an inventory of the local zoo — there's everything right from lowly crustaceans to highly-evolved mammals — only, they're all either dazed or dead. Sticking to Chinese or Italian restaurants (two cuisines which are highly Indian-veggie friendly, at least back in India) won't really get you anywhere either; for the rice/noodles is usually served swimming in some vague, fishy oil, while the flakes that garnish the pasta smells suspiciously beefy. Which leaves you with exactly two choices — bread and juice. Bah! Travelling all those miles to eat daily bread?!No meat, no fish, no eggs.While vegetarianism as a movement is gaining popularity, its practitioners aren't exactly evenly distributed throughout the world. Naturally, travelling to those parts where it's not particularly fashionable is going to cause you some trouble. "Being veggie in Cambodia and Bangkok is quite tough because they think non-veg is only red meat. Fish is considered a sea vegetable!" laughs Vasanthi, a social worker. "I've faced this problem in Norway too, where you get shrimps as veggie stuff in your salads!" "In the Philippines, when you ask for steamed rice, hoping you can't go wrong with it, they bring you a bowl of steaming rice and then put some dried beef in it," says Ramya, a journalist.

Boring bread

"No meat, no fish, no egg almost means no proper food in many parts of Continental Europe. Though it's true that you can survive on bread and cheese, it kind of takes the thrill out of a holiday. After all, aren't vacations about good food too," asks Kumaran, an IT professional. And so, ironically, in the very lands where milk and honey supposedly flow on the streets, vegetarians go about looking sad, hungry, and a little angry with themselves for not having bought along sufficient quantities of pickles and papads. Which, of course, is something well-seasoned travellers never fail to do."Typically, I stock myself with MTR ready-to-eat-stuff. Or else, by now, I should be comfortably wearing the complimentary tank top!" quips Vasanthi. "We generally find a Thai or Chinese restaurant, ask for plain white rice and add the instant mix to it. That's my recipe for a diet-free holiday," she says. "Our veggie holidays are quite amusing," says Kumaran. "Since our daughter, like us, is hard-core `thayir sadham', we drop into some unsuspecting friend/family's house and ask for yoghurt and rice. In fact, we have the (slightly notorious) distinction of having eaten curd rice both in front of the Louvre and the London-eye," he laughs. Indian vegetarian food, with all its tantalising choices, is clearly superior to the shredded-lettuce-topped-off-with-vinegar that passes off as a veggie diet anywhere else in the world. All right, that's not 100 per cent true, since there's the world's favourite vegetable — potato. But well, beyond leaves and fries, the vegetarian has precious little choice, limited mostly by the degree of vegetarianism (whether or not one consumes any eggs at all, hidden or otherwise, if one is fussy about the oils used in the cooking, that sort of thing). Naturally, sampling the local cuisine especially while travelling to the Far East and Continental Europe is something vegetarians hardly ever get to do. Now, is it any wonder then that veggies world over get excited when they spot an Indian restaurant, the only place where they might find food that delights the conscience and tickles the taste buds? "Even the Lonely Planet agrees that authentic vegetarian food is to be had only in Indian restaurants," says Vasanthi. And the rate at which desi food joints are burgeoning, holidays in the future (hopefully) need not be a French-fries, soy-burger, donut nightmare. APARNA KARTHIKEYAN

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