Books

France, in a vegetarian’s stride

La Veggie Table: She combined her love for exploring and food, with a dash of Paris, says Rashmi Uday Singh

La Veggie Table: She combined her love for exploring and food, with a dash of Paris, says Rashmi Uday Singh   | Photo Credit: Mail

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In Bangalore for the launch of her book, A Vegetarian In Paris, Rashmi Uday Singh shares a bit of French history and a bite of French food with Catherine Rhea Roy

Rashmi Uday Singh is the pop of an expensive bottle of champagne and the gregarious dance of bubbles in a flute glass, but she could just as easily be the tinkle in joie de vivre, a phrase that packs all her punch and pizzazz into a nutshell. In Bangalore for the launch of her book A Vegetarian In Paris, she walks into Le Creuset with aplomb and wastes no time before starting, “I don’t speak any French but I love exploring, and I love Paris; that was how this book happened,” she says, speaking of the gourmet capital of the world with stars in her eyes.

She studied journalism before she wrote the civil service exam and chose to become an IRS officer. She was in service for 15 years before she quit in 1990 to be a full-time mother to her then four-year-old son. It was around the time that India Today asked her to do a TV show and Rashmi thought, “I am a government babu, I don’t know TV.” But television clicked and so did journalism as she went on to become one of the celebrated food critics in the country.

Food itself is a way of life for her and writing about food is about discovery and meeting new people. “I am Punjabi and food is very important in our lives; everything is centred around food. When we feel low we eat parathas, when we are happy we eat parathas. You know how Punjabis are?” she asked rhetorically.

Rashmi enjoys cooking and understands enough about being a chef that assures her credibility, “It’s the co-relation between an artist and the art critic — do we expect the art critic to be an artist?” she asks and doesn’t wait for an answer before she continues, “You need to understand what they are doing but you also shouldn’t mix up the two. My job is to write for the average diner, to recreate an experience accurately and to tell the diner what to expect.”

As a matter of principle, Rashmi always pays for her meals. On further probing she says, “I make sure I go many times and take people along to get different palette opinions. I book the table anonymously and send my guests ahead so that they can order and nothing can be tampered with.”

Rashmi is inclined to be vegetarian when she eats at home simply because she eats out so much. “I have eaten everything from crocodile to kangaroo meat and I only drink when I am working. With bird flu, swine flu and what not the attitude to vegetarian food is changing. It is not about being a fanatic or religious but about living healthy,” says the critic who swims for 45 minutes everyday.

And what was the kind of research she had to do? “Oh, don’t ask!” she exclaims. “They don’t have vegetarian food at some of the greatest restaurants. I made several trips to France over two years, spent my life savings on this project and have listed about 300 restaurants which offer cheap, fabulous, crisp, French meals for vegetarians, to the most expensive meals you can have.”

“I hired a car and was chauffeured around by a baron who was in bad times, but he knew all the local places and facts. We went to a restaurant called The Pink Flamingo and a vegetarian specialty there is a pizza called La Gandhi, and for some reason it’s got baba ganoush, saag paneer and mozzarella topping,” she laughs.

“Do you like Hemingway?” she asks. “I love Hemingway!” she tells me and without pause she narrates an anecdote about Bar Hemingway on Rue Cambon in Paris. “Hemingway was an alcoholic and he used to frequent this bar and one day he went to the bartender and asked him to mix him a drink that bloody Mary couldn’t smell on his breath – Mary was his third or probably fourth wife and that’s the story behind the cocktail.”

Her excitement is barely contained and conversation is picturesque as Rashmi rattled on about bistros and boulevards, about the café where Lenin and Trotsky played chess and the café that was round the corner from Picasso’s studio and then another café where Oscar Wilde sipped tea.

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2019 11:49:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/france-in-a-vegetarians-stride/article3795263.ece

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