09 July 2006

A vegetarian??? How strange....

That would just about sum up the reactions of people in this neck of the woods when told about our dietary preferences.

Vegetarianism, in this part of the world, is looked on as a joke. Why on earth would someone want to restrict their food choices???

Sachi, at the International Forum, asked if I could demonstrate 'Indian' food to a local cooking club. That sounded interesting, and I agreed. On the condition that I be assigned an interpreter for the session. My Japanese is still farily rudimentary, and the most I do is go to the local markets and somehow come back with all the right things!

So one day last month she called back and asked that we get together with the co-ordinator of the cooking club and plan the menus, and help them write the recipes in Japanese. The meeting started off well. Their brief was quite simple... Would I demonstrate 3 main dishes, one side dish, and maybe one appetiser or dessert. And yes, they would so appreciate it if I could use fish, seafood and beef in each of the main dishes. I just gaped at the lady. I very gently told her that I was vegetarian and had no clue how to cook meat of any sort. She was quite sweet about it. Of course, then lets just use fish. "Er.... Excuse me, W-san, but I am a vegetarian... and er... fish is not really vegetarian, you know...." Even as I said uttered these words, I could see the shock spreading over her countenence. What?? No fish?? How could you eat no fish?? This concept was totally incomprehensible to a Japanese. Don't eat meat, that's fine... but how can one not eat fish?? What is there to eat otherwise?

With my limited Japanese, and with W's even more limited English, we pulled Sachi away from her work to sit down and translate. So there followed just what went into a vegetarian diet. It wasn't easy, and I soon began to believe that this demo was about to be called off. Finally, curiosity got the better of W-san, and she said that she would like to see just what a person eats in a meal without any dead animals on the table. And we started to work on the menu.

My idea of a nice lunch was some vade-sambar, maybe rava-dose, one or two chutneys, maybe puliyogere and, the traditional south Indian staple, curd-rice. I painstakingly wrote down the recipe for each one, and gave W the list. She started ticking off some items on the list of ingredients, and of a total of 20+ ingredients, only rice, salt and sugar were available locally. So what, I said, we can order it in advance from one of the Indian stores from Tokyo. But turned out that any 'foreign' cooking had to use only locally available ingredients. This in turn necessitated a very comprehensive survey of all local stores, markets and supermarkets. Finally I came up with a very toned down menu for some simple (toned down, modified and simplified) north Indian type of dishes.

On D-day, the club gathered in full force. As I started the session, one gentleman pointed out that his recipe sheet was incomplete and could he please have a complete set? I looked through his papers and pointed out that everything was there. I guess he just took my word for it, and we started the session. At the end of the cooking class, he got into an arguement of sorts with W-san. I couldn't follow head of tail of it, and decided to let it be.

We all sat down to lunch and had our fill of pulav, raita, palak-paneer and egg curry, followed by payasam...

Finally, some hands went up and I was told they had questions.

"Did you forget the fish??".... Yes, their famed politeness carried them so far, but no longer... I had left out the main part of the meal, after all.....

3 comments:

Hema said...

I wonder what they would think when we tell these people that a lot of traditional South Indians and Jains in India do not eat Onion or Garlic...leave alone eggs!!! Was surfing around and found your site. good posts.

Anonymous said...

Don't you think it will be nice if you didn't pass snide comments on people who Do eat meat...after all it's a personal choice and should not be criticized.

bjkdy said...

hey anon! its not snide...just a factual description...its meant to be amusing...take it easy :)